Television news exposure and cognitive processing in political learning

New study “How You Watch Television News Matters: A Panel Analysis of Second Screening and Political Learning from the News” by Masahiro Yamamoto and Weina Ran from Washington State University, and Shan Xu from Ohio State University studied how different forms of television news affect political knowledge.

Past studies have highlighted the importance of television news for political learning. Nowadays the ubiquity of smart technology means that many people “second screen” during the watching, engaging simultaneously with social media, for example. Additionally, there is the option of searching for additional information after viewing the news, and similarly many take that option.

Second screening has political and cognitive implications. The study at hand tested how a task-relevant second screening (i.e. looking for additional info etc.)  and a task-irrelevant second screening (i.e. engaging with social media about unrelated issues etc.) affects political learning. 

The previous studies on second screening are mixed. Some suggest that task-relevant second screening enhances learning while task-irrelevant screening hampers it. However, the role of task-relevant second screening is questioned in some studies, where it has been found to narrow the political learning, presumably because the users engage more in detail with some topics at the detriment of others. 

Cognitive past studies have explained the reduced performance using two models. According to one by Lang (2000), the limited capacity model, people can utilize all their cognitive resources to a task when single-tasking, but must divert some when multitasking. 

The other and further explaining model by Salvucci and Taatgen (2008) posits that performance in multitasking may not suffer if the tasks utilize different parts from the pool of cognitive resources, but if the tasks are cognitively similar, the performance drops.

In this study, the authors hypothesize that task relevant second screening will be positively associated with political learning, and task-irrelevant negatively. TV news exposure itself will be positively correlated with political learning independently of tasks. 

The authors assume the correlation between the tasks partially because task-relevant second screening will increase systematic processing, while task-irrelevant screening will lead to heuristic processing. 

To test their hypotheses, the study employed a panel study in Japan on the items in question. A total of 1214 answered the questions in the first screening, and of those, 728 answered the second screening. There were nine questions measuring political knowledge, and Likert-type questions on task-relevant and task-irrelevant second screening, and news exposure. Systematic processing and heuristic processing were similarly questioned about.

It was found out that task-irrelevant second screening indeed had a negative impact on political knowledge, but task-relevant second screening had no effect either way. It was also found out news exposure had a positive impact on political knowledge, based on the study via systematic processing. This was one of the main findings of the study. 

The study  “How You Watch Television News Matters: A Panel Analysis of Second Screening and Political Learning from the News” by Masahiro Yamamoto, Weina Ran and Shan Xu is in Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. (free abstract).

Picture: Untitled by Erik Mclean 

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