Matthew A. Baum

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In the Eye of the Beholder: How Information Shortcuts Shape Individual Perceptions of Bias in the Media (with Phil Gussin)

 

Research has shown that human beings are biased information processors. This study investigates an important potential example of biased information processing: when ex ante assessments of a media outlet’s ideological orientation “cause” individual’s to perceive bias.  We conduct an experiment in which subjects evaluated the content of a news report about the 2004 presidential election identified as originating from CNN, FOX or a fictional TV station.  Our results suggest that in an increasingly fragmented media marketplace, individuals not only distinguish between media outlets but, more importantly, outlet “brand names,” and the reputations they carry, function as heuristics, heavily influencing perceptions of bias in content. Individuals sometimes “create” bias, even where none exists. This suggests that assessments of media content operate on a more nuanced level than has been captured in previous research.

 

You can download this paper, in pdf format, along with a replication dataset here.

 

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