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Tolerance Uncovered: How Frequency of News Exposure and Contact Affects Tolerance of Groups


Tolerance of opposing viewpoints is a critical aspect of a functioning democracy. Past research on tolerance has made substantial progress in recent years, but we are left without a comprehensive understanding of the extent to which more frequent exposure to positively or negatively framed coverage affects tolerance of out-groups, and to what extent these effects may be enhanced or moderated by different types of contact with a member of said out-group. Using a mixed methods approach that relies on both quantitative (laboratory experiments) and qualitative (interviews and content analysis) methods my dissertation research contributes to our understanding of the of effects of media and contact on tolerance of groups. Using Muslim-Americans as a case study, I begin with detailed content analysis of 40 news articles related to the 2010 controversy over a proposed Mosque in Temecula, CA. I find the overwhelming majority of these articles framed the proposed Mosque construction in a negative way. Fear of extremist activity, Islam as a domestic threat, and Islamization of America were common themes. I follow my content analysis with interviews of Temecula residents who were either for or against mosque construction. Among the opposition, I find similar themes to my content analysis related to fear of Islam and Muslims. The majority of supporters argued that media played an important role in creating opposition to the proposed Mosque. My qualitative work provides context for three original experiments that I use to argue and demonstrate that positive media exposure leads to significant increases in tolerance, and that these effects increase with multiple positive media exposure. I also show that exposure to multiple negative news stories leads to reductions in tolerance greater than a single story alone. I further demonstrate that contact is an effective means of increasing tolerant judgements. I first use self-reported measures of contact to illustrate the effects of contact alone and its interaction with different types (positive or negative) and amounts (frequency) of media. I find that high levels of contact moderate the effects of negative media, including exposure to multiple negative frames. I also find that contact enhances the effects of positive media exposure. To better develop the causal relationship between contact and tolerance, I then devise and conduct a novel original experiment where contact is randomly assigned in the context of exposure to two negative or a single positive news article. I find that contact alone leads to significant increases in tolerance and that these effects are enhanced by positive media and washed out by negative media. Together, my dissertation demonstrates that the formation of tolerant judgments is a multi-factorial process, the interactions of these factors are important, and each factor (i.e. media, contact, and frequency) should be considered to operate on a continuum.

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