The relationship between anxiety and responses to politically charged images

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Southern New Hampshire University
Social media use has increased significantly in recent years, underscoring the need to consider reactions to politically charged images in this context. Further, research has shown that people with high anxiety tend to focus more on threats, are more critical of information, and worry more about political issues (Caporino et al., 2020; Marcus & Mackuen, 1993; Mogg et al., 1994), delineating the need to explore anxiety in interpretation of political imagery. The current study examines anxiety as an extension of a previous study that investigates the psychological and physiological reactions to political images. In a sample of thirty-one undergraduate students, we collected demographic and anxiety variables through self-report prior to completion of a political propaganda task. Task stimuli consisted of liberal and conservative images with and without text. K-means cluster classification analyses were conducted to determine groups of high (N=11) and low (N=20) trait anxiety individuals. Mixed design ANOVAs revealed a significant three-way interaction (text*political alignment*anxiety) on image rating, F(1,29)=4.443, p=0.044, where high anxiety individuals rate conservative images without text more positively than liberal images without text. Similarly, these individuals rate liberal images with text more positively than conservative images with text. Further, data revealed a trend for a threeway interaction (text*political alignment*anxiety) on reaction time, F(1,29)=3.659, p=0.066, where individuals with low anxiety have a longer reaction time to conservative images with text. These results suggest that anxiety plays an integral role in the reactions to political imagery along with the political alignment and inclusion of text within the images. (Author abstract)