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date: 20 September 2017

Media Use in a Political Context: An Intergroup Communication Perspective

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.

Political membership of individuals and their identification with political parties and/or ideologies influence how they interact with members of their own group/party (in-group) and other groups/parties (out-groups). Such sense of “group-ness” (i.e., us vs. them) motivates people to find ways to posit their group in a positive light (i.e., in-group favoritism) and engage in attitudes and behaviors that help maintain a desired political group status. These attitudes and behaviors can include a positively biased attitude towards one’s own political group over the other groups, a tendency to seek information that confirms the viewpoints and reflects positive aspects of one’s own political group, or a perception that the media exhibit bias towards their political group. Hence, we can consider political activities and communication (including media use) as inherently intergroup behaviors, where members of political groups constantly appraise political discourse and political landscape through an intergroup lens. These intergroup phenomena are particularly salient during presidential election seasons, where political group boundaries are erected and political discourses around core ideological beliefs are debated.

Accordingly, it is important to understand better links between intergroup factors (e.g., intergroup attitudes and behaviors) and political media use. This requires: (a) examining how intergroup factors have been considered in political communication research; (b) assessing political media use and effects in a political context, specifically media effects that could potentially be driven by political group identity and political intergroup attitudes; (c) discussing studies that have highlighted intergroup variables in the process of media selection and effects, and how we may conceptualize political media research in an intergroup framework; and (d) considering additional intergroup factors that might be relevant and informative to our understanding of political activities and attitudes, and of media selection and effects in the political settings.