Shaping Responses to Terrorism, Muslims, and Syrian Refugees: The Role of Right-Wing Adherence and News Media Exposure
Right- (vs. left-) wing adherents often hold more anti-Muslim attitudes, disapprove of Syrian refugees in their country, are more concerned about terrorism, and endorse military action to combat ISIS (Islamist terrorist group). Past research suggests that media shapes attitudes generally; however, the role of news media in explaining left-right differences in attitudes regarding Islamist terrorism has not been explored. Study 1a asked experts (N = 22) to assess the political leaning of news sources used in Canada. Study 1b (N = 201) subsequently assessed whether use and trust of liberal and conservative sources (as determined in Study 1a) explained left-right differences in anti-Muslim attitudes, anti-refugee attitudes, and terrorism imminence beliefs. Results showed that greater right-wing adherence was associated with greater trust of conservative news and less use and trust of liberal news. There were indirect paths between right-wing adherence and attitudes through liberal and conservative news use and trust (combined), with specific indirect paths between right-wing adherence and attitudes through liberal news use. To assess the causal effect of terrorism-related news on attitudes regarding terrorism, Muslims, Syrian refugees, and military support, Study 2 randomly assigned participants (N = 305) to watch news clips on terrorism from liberal or conservative sources, or to watch sports news (control). I assessed whether there was an indirect path between media exposure and attitudes through fear or anger regarding ISIS, and whether right-wing adherence moderates the relation between news exposure and negative affect. Results revealed that conservative-terrorism news elicited more negative attitudes relative to both liberal-terrorism and control conditions, and that liberal-terrorism news did not elicit more negative attitudes relative to the control. These relations were not explained by differences in affect elicited, nor did right-wing adherence moderate the relation between news exposure and affect. However, exploratory analyses revealed that conservative news had a particularly strong effect on attitudes when participants trusted these sources. Overall these results suggest that conservative (relative to liberal) news increases negative group attitudes, particularly when participants trust these sources. As such, undermining trust in conservative news and encouraging use of liberal news outlets may be important avenues for prejudice reduction.