How emotional reactions influence the way audiences understand news

Findings suggest that a high “need for affect” (NFA), or desire for strong emotions, can mislead readers into thinking they learned more than they actually did.

 

A little bit of knowledge: Facebook’s News Feed and self-perceptions of knowledge
Research and Politics
By Nicolas M. Anspach, Jay T. Jennings and Kevin Arceneaux
February 4, 2019

A little bit of learning can be dangerous, according to a new study published in Research and Politics.

According to researchers, “Audiences who only read article previews are overly confident in their knowledge, especially individuals who are motivated to experience strong emotions and, thus, tend to form strong opinions.”

Researchers measured how much subjects learn from a full news article compared to a Facebook news feed with only a preview of the article. After reading, subjects answered six factual questions about GMOs, which was the focus of the article and one of the previews on the news feed.

The full article group answered more questions correctly. “Among subjects exposed to a limited amount of information, those with a high NFA exhibit significantly more overconfidence than those scoring low on NFA,” the researchers wrote.

Key Numbers

  • The full article group had an average correct answers of 2.21 out of 6 questions, while the news feed group averaged 1.32.
  • When people with NFA read the full article, they learned more. When people with NFAs only read the news feed, they had a higher overconfidence score than those with lower needs for emotions.

Study Details

  • Three hundred and twenty participants read the full article, while 319 participants read through a mock news feed with four article previews.
  • The survey experiment was conducted through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform.
  • The survey measured demographic information as well as attentiveness and cognitive styles, especially NFA.