The Affect Effect: Dynamics of Emotion in Political Thinking and Behavior

By W. Russell Neuman; George E. Marcus et al. | Go to book overview

PART III
Macro Models

Part III extends affective politics from neurological and psychological theories of the brain and of the individual to broad-gauged theories about how politics works at the societal level. Clearly, matters of consequence for individuals as emotional beings will have an impact on how they interact with each other and produce political outcomes. What is important, and largely unknown, is precisely how much of the theory of political affect gets translated into our theories of politics. Each of the chapters in this part takes a cut at that translation, showing how emotion may well move beyond the individual and into the polity.

Chapter 11, by Doris Graber, pushes emotion-driven attention out of the laboratory and into the buzzing confusion of everyday life. She uses Pew's monthly surveys for the period 1986–2003 to identify news stories that captured the attention of a majority of the public and then examines the ways in which the most engaging stories differ from comparable news stories that missed the mark. Employing a careful and thorough empirical assessment of the news stories and their associated media coverage, in each case examining the actual news footage with an eye for nuance, she is able to assess the character of coverage in great detail. Factors such as the dramatic presentations or the nature of the characters or the story framing all are linked to attention. But the single dominant theme is that events that generate substantial losses of life or physical damage are more likely to capture the public's attention than are similar sorts of events that were substantially less harmful. The data thus accord well with the psychological expectation that people will pay closest attention to matters that generate fear or anxiety. This expectation is confirmed in the real world, outside the contrived setting of the laboratory, and is confirmed directly rather than indirectly in terms of measured attention.

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