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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Politics of Trauma: Party Affiliation Moderates the Relationship between Media Exposure to Collective Trauma and Mental Health Consequences

  • Author(s): Rodriguez, Cristian Guillermo
  • Advisor(s): Ditto, Peter H.
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Media exposure to collective traumatic events has a significant impact on mental health, even on those who are not directly exposed to the tragedy. Despite the relevance these events have on political processes and narratives, scarce research has addressed the question of how the effects of media exposure may differ depending on an individual’s political orientation and party affiliation. Previous research in social and political psychology suggests contradictory predictions of who should be most affected by news coverage of a collective tragedy, so I explored this question using existing high-quality datasets collected in the context of a wider research project on collective trauma. I conducted a set of secondary analyses on a large nationally representative sample (n = 4,657), surveyed in the aftermath of two collective traumatic events: the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings and the 2014 Ebola Outbreak. In the Boston Bombing survey, regression analyses revealed that the effect of media exposure to the tragedy on acute stress was moderated by party affiliation: both Republican and Democrats had lower sensitivity to media exposure than subjects not affiliated with either party. In the Ebola survey, these findings were replicated in two mental health outcomes. Hierarchical regression analyses revealed that party affiliation, but not ideology, drove the protective effect for Republicans and Democrats. This suggest that political self-categorization, as a form of social identity, may buffer from uncertainty in collective tragedies.

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