Remembering Attack Ads: An Experimental Investigation of Radio

Geer, John G.; Geer, James H.
March 2003
Political Behavior;Mar2003, Vol. 25 Issue 1, p69
Academic Journal
This article seeks to advance our understanding of the influence of attack advertising on the public in two ways. First, we examine whether the content of individuals' memory differs when exposed to positive or attack ads. Critics of attack advertising fear that “negativity” has pernicious effects on the citizenry, ranging from lessening people's faith in the political process to decreasing people's willingness to participate in elections. This article extends this general line of inquiry. How do attacks affect memory? Do they lead people to remember more things about the ads? Do they affect the accuracy of people's memories? Questions about memory are important from an information processing perspective, since the stored information is used to guide and shape behavior. We find that subjects' recall as many things about positive ads as attack ads. However, when taking a closer look at what they recall, it turns out that attack ads yield many more inaccurate memories than do positive ads. We discuss the implications of these findings. The second way this research advances the field is that we employ an experimental design that uses radio ads as our stimulus. Nearly all the work in this field has focused on television. Yet radio serves as an invaluable way for candidates to communicate with voters, especially in nonpresidential elections. We are a multimedia society, and we need to broaden our knowledge of the impact of political ads beyond television, especially if we want to forge a better understanding of how advertising works in state and local elections.


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