Washington, October 19 : A Texas Tech University researcher has found scientific evidence that negative political ads affect voters physiologically as well as psychologically.
Samuel Bradley, an advertising professor at Texas Tech's College of Mass Communication, has found that negative political advertising makes the body want to turn away physically, but the mind remembers negative messages indiscriminately and sometimes incorrectly.
"The question was simple. Are negative political ads unpleasant enough to engage a person's emotional circuitry? The data show that negative ads do indeed engage emotional circuits involved in helping humans avoid unpleasantness," Bradley said.
During the study, the researchers focused on the preattentative reflex known as the eyeblink startle reflex.
They observed that those exposed to negative political advertising experienced larger reflex reactions, indicating a desire to move away than when exposed to positive or neutral ad messages.
"This is the very beginning of the fight-or-flight response. The body is saying, 'This is bad.' So the preattentive reflex is bigger and the body starts preparing to move away," Bradley said.
However, he added, people remember negative ads because the brain finds them arousing, and the brain would often make up the negative message it only thought it saw.
Bradley admitted that more research was needed before it could be demonstrated that the media and negative political ads were to blame for decreasing political participation.
"This is a single step on a journey of a thousand miles toward understanding what negative political advertising does to voters. We've made some progress by showing there's greater physiological arousal and that these ads are indiscriminately remembered. That's what you want if you're the attacker in the ad," he said.
The study has been published in the Journal of Advertising.