- Political Scandal, Gender, and Tabloid News: An Experimental Examination of the Evolutionary Origins of Consumer Preferences
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- by Baum, Matthew; Groeling, Tim; Haselton, Martie
- Building on recent work in evolutionary psychology, we predict substantial gender-related
differences in demand for scandalous political news. We argue that individuals’ self-images can
alter their motivation to seek information about potential sexual competitors and mates, even
when those figures are “virtual”—appearing in mass media. Individuals perceiving themselves as
attractive will seek negative news about attractive same-gender individuals, whereas individuals
perceiving themselves as unattractive will seek negative information about the opposite gender.
We test our hypotheses in three ways. First, we investigate partially disaggregated national
opinion data regarding news attention. Second, we conduct an experiment in which we asked
participants to choose the two most interesting stories from a menu of headlines. We varied the
gender and party affiliation of the individual featured in the story. Each participant saw a
headline promoting a DUI arrest of an attractive male or female “rising star” from one of the two
parties. Finally, we repeat the experiment with a national sample, this time also varying the
valence of the tabloid story. We find strong correlations between respondents’ self-image and
their likelihood of seeking and distributing positive or negative information about “virtual”
competitors and mates.
- Publication Type: WCFIA Working Paper
- Published Date: January 2007
- Field of Interest: Comparative Politics
- Baum, Matthew, Martie Haselton, and Tim Groeling. “Political Scandal, Gender, and Tabloid News: An Experimental Examination of the Evolutionary Origins of Consumer Preferences for Scandalous News.” Working Paper 2008-0014, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, January 2007.