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Words hurt: Political rhetoric, emotions/affect, and psychological well-being among Mexican-origin youth.

  • Author(s): Chavez, Leo R
  • Campos, Belinda
  • Corona, Karina
  • Sanchez, Daina
  • Ruiz, Catherine Belyeu
  • et al.

We examined the effect of political rhetoric on the targets of that rhetoric. Drawing from scholarship on anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant rhetoric found readily in various media and scholarship on emotions, we tested four hypotheses. Hypotheses 1 and 2 predicted that positive and negative political rhetoric would increase and decrease positive and negative emotions, respectively. Hypotheses 3 and 4 then predicted that emotional responses to positive or negative political rhetoric would influence perceived stress, subjective health, and subjective well-being. Data collection occurred between August 2016 and June 2017 at a university in California. A sample of 280 Mexican-origin youth, defined broadly as having at least one ancestor born in Mexico or the participant themselves born in Mexico, participated in an experiment where they were randomly assigned to one of three study conditions: viewing (1) positive or (2) negative political rhetoric about immigrants and Latinos in general, or (3) neutral rhetoric as a control condition before providing qualitative responses to open-ended questions and completing measures of positive and negative affect, perceived stress, subjective health, and subjective well-being. Qualitative responses indicated that negative and positive political rhetoric elicited a range of negative emotions and positive emotions, respectively. Quantitative analysis with independent samples t-tests, ANOVA, and linear regression models found that negative political rhetoric elicited higher negative affect than positive and neutral rhetoric, and positive rhetoric elicited higher positive affect than negative and neutral rhetoric. Negative emotional responses, in turn, were associated with participants' higher perceived stress, lower subjective health and lower subjective well-being. Conversely, positive emotional responses were associated with lower perceived stress, higher subjective health, and higher subjective well-being. Positive political rhetoric, by eliciting positive emotions, can have a salubrious effect. Altogether, these findings suggest that political rhetoric matters for the targets of that rhetoric.

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