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This experiment was fielded as part of a TESS telephone survey. Data and materials for all the studies included on this survey is available here.
West Virginia University
SUNY Stony Brook
Sample size: 502
Field period: 02/2005
In this study, we examine individual responses to threat and the political implications of these responses. Specifically, we are interested in emotional reactions to personal threat and the manner in which they influence preferences for government action directed at the source of threat. Employing breast cancer as the potential threat of interest, we incorporated an experiment into a national telephone survey that manipulated the magnitude of threat posed by breast cancer. Reactions to personal threat are examined by comparing the emotional reactions and policy attitudes of men and women – two groups with markedly different levels of personal risk for developing the disease. Although we do not find significant gender differences in emotional and attitudinal reactions to breast cancer, careful examination of the determinants of these reactions suggests dramatically different processes underlie the reactions of men and women to this issue.
Political responses to a threat should be a function of four key factors: The salience of the threat, its personal relevance, the degree of anxiety it produces, and levels of trait anxiety. Responses to threat should be a product of the interaction of these factors. We should see the most pronounced reactions among those for whom the threat is personally relevant and who have high levels of trait anxiety. Anxiety in response to the threat (state anxiety) is the critical component in this framework. When the appropriate conditions generate state anxiety we should observe increased support for policies to deal with the threat and this political response should grow stronger as trait anxiety increases.
Perceived Breast Cancer Threat
Support for Government Programs to Address Breast Cancer
As expected, men and women differed markedly in their perceptions of the personal risk posed by breast cancer. However, they reported comparable levels of perceived risk to women in their families and to women in general. Beyond this, men and women reported identical levels of anxiety towards breast cancer and support for policies designed to address this health issue. However, the similarities in reports of anxiety and policy support mask considerable differences in the underlying dynamics of these emotional and attitudinal responses. The threat manipulation and levels of trait anxiety had pronounced effects on reported anxiety among women. The effect of anxiety on policy support was also moderated to a substantial degree by threat and trait anxiety. Though levels of anxiety among men were no different from those of women, there was no effect of trait anxiety or threat. Instead, the major predictor of anxiety for men was perceived risk to women in general. Similarly, while anxiety had an effect on support for the government policies for men, there was no moderating effect of threat and trait anxiety.
It is surprising to find no evident gender differences in overall levels of anxiety about breast cancer and the strong effects of this anxiety on policy support for men, even controlling for various risk perceptions, party identification, and ideology. Yet, anxiety toward breast cancer among men was not determined by threat or trait anxiety, as it was for women. Instead, men reported greater anxiety as their perceptions of the risk of breast cancer to women increased. It is possible the different dynamics of anxiety for men and women can be attributed to the multidimensionality of anxiety. Several studies indicate that state anxiety may consist of both a cognitive (e.g. fear or worry) and somatic (e.g. elevated pulse) dimension. It is possible that the distinct effects of anxiety on the attitudes of men and women may be attributable to the activation of different dimensions of anxiety. These findings suggest scholars need to consider the complexity of emotional reactions.
In order to study emotional responses to breast cancer threat and its relation to policy preferences, we manipulated the magnitude of the threat experimentally in a national telephone survey. Respondents were read short statements containing different information regarding incidence of the disease in the population and morality rates. Three conditions were included, the tone of which were varied to include neutral, reassuring, and threatening content. These conditions were crossed with information about the efficacy of current detection and treatment technologies, yielding a 3(neutral, reassuring, threatening) X 2(high efficacy, low efficacy) between-subjects experimental design.
Huddy, Leonie, Stanley Feldman, and Erin Cassese. 2007. On the Distinct Political Effects of Anxiety and Anger. In The Affect Effect: Dynamics of Emotion in Political Thinking and Behavior edited by W. Russell Neuman, George E. Marcus, Ann Crigler, and Michael MacKuen. University of Chicago Press. Pp 202-230.