Anxiety, Immigration, and the Search for Information

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Abstract

In this article, we use the issue of immigration to explore the role of anxiety in responses to political appeals. According to previous literature, anxiety motivates citizens to learn and pay more attention to news coverage. Literature in psychology demonstrates that anxiety is associated with a tendency to pay closer attention to threatening information. We predict that anxious citizens will seek more information but that they will seek out and be attracted to threatening information. In an experiment, we induce anxiety about immigration and then subjects have the opportunity to search for additional information in a website designed to mimic online news sources. The website has both immigration and nonimmigration stories, and the immigration stories are split between threatening coverage and nonthreatening coverage. We find that anxious subjects exhibit biased information processing; they read, remember, and agree with threatening information.

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