Hot off the press! Gender-matching can diversify exposure to political content – Representation Matters

We had students browse a custom-programmed news aggregator site featuring political content taking pro- and contra-stances on a variety of perenial political and politicized science topics: everything from gun control to teaching evolution in public schools. Journalistic bylines featured either common male or common female first names, by random assignment. To get these names, we used a search of the Social Security Database.

How did gender impact browsing behavior? If these students indicated that their gender was personally important to them (compared to, say, their religion or their race), they spent more time reading content by same-gender authors.

Further, students who though their gender was esteemed by society also spent more time reading work by same-gender authors. This suggested that representation matters, but only for students who already thought that their group was societally esteemed. In other words, while a few instances of exposure to representation in the news media did not shift students’ overall attitudes-it would take a lot more than a few exposures to do that-these instances likely helped these students maintain their positive beliefs.

Importantly, these social-identity related processes in turn diversified information exposure, leading these students to spend more time on attitude-challenging political content, when it had a same-gender author.

Westerwick, A., Sude, D.J., Brooks, D., Kaplan, B. & Knobloch-Westerwick, S. (2022) Self-consistency and self-enhancement motivation impacts on selective exposure to politics — A SESAM Model Application. Mass Communication and Society.

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