Social Comparisons With News Personae

Social Comparisons With News Personae

Social Comparisons With News Personae Selective Exposure to News Portrayals of Same-Sex and Same-Age Characters
Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick The Ohio State University Matthias R. Hastall University of Erfurt
Appeal of personae in news is investigated based on social comparison theory. Participants (N = 276) of two age groups browsed through online news while selective exposure was unobtrusively logged. Manipulated articles focused on individuals and varied along three within factors: sex and age group of portrayed individual and story valence. After browsing news, participants completed a questionnaire including a self-esteem scale. Recipients preferred news on same-sex individuals, and young readers favored articles about sameage characters. Impacts of self-esteem to positive and negative articles, offering upward and downward comparison opportunities, were mediated by sex of recipient. Exploratory analyses indicated that this interaction results from gender-based preferences for comparison contexts—social issues for women and achievement topics for men.
Keywords: social comparison; selective exposure; self-esteem; gender; age Alarge portion of daily social encounters occurs through media consumption. Although these encounters do not involve interactions, as mass communication is characterized by a one-way flow of information, social-cognitive and socioemotional processes certainly take place during media reception (e.g., Bandura, 2001; Horton & Wohl, 1956; Zillmann, 1994). Interestingly, by the time children enter kindergarten, they tend to know more media characters than real persons (Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988), and media personae may also form a very large portion of adults’ social environments. Clearly, the media’s strong tendency to focus on individuals in entertainment and in news coverage (e.g., Gans, 1979; Graber, 1990; Iyengar, 1991; Oegema & Kleinnijenhuis, 2000; Rucinski, 1992; Schudson, 1978) gives media consumers ample opportunity for social perceptions. Bennett (1988) even identified personalization, the tendency to focus on the individuals involved in a covered topic, as a key convention in U.S. news production. Depictions of individuals in the media are not limited to celebrities and key personnel of public life

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