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Exploring the Dynamics of Personal Threat: The Effects of Anxiety on Policy Preferences


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*Part of TESS 2004 Telephone Survey

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Principal Investigator(s):

Erin Cassese
West Virginia University
Email: Erin.Cassese@mail.wvu.edu
Home page: http://polisci.wvu.edu/faculty/cassese

Stanley Feldman
SUNY Stony Brook
Email: stanley.feldman@StonyBrook.edu
Home page: http://www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/polisci/professors/feldman.html

Sample size: 800
Field period: 02/2005

Abstract:

In this study, we examine individual responses to threat and the political implications of these responses. Specifically, we are interested in emotional reactions to personal threat and the manner in which they influence preferences for government action directed at the source of threat. Employing breast cancer as the potential threat of interest, we incorporated an experiment into a national telephone survey that manipulated the magnitude of threat posed by breast cancer. Reactions to personal threat are examined by comparing the emotional reactions and policy attitudes of men and women – two groups with markedly different levels of personal risk for developing the disease. Although we do not find significant gender differences in emotional and attitudinal reactions to breast cancer, careful examination of the determinants of these reactions suggests dramatically different processes underlie the reactions of men and women to this issue.

Hypotheses:

Political responses to a threat should be a function of four key factors: The salience of the threat, its personal relevance, the degree of anxiety it produces, and levels of trait anxiety. Responses to threat should be a product of the interaction of these factors. We should see the most pronounced reactions among those for whom the threat is personally relevant and who have high levels of trait anxiety. Anxiety in response to the threat (state anxiety) is the critical component in this framework. When the appropriate conditions generate state anxiety we should observe increased support for policies to deal with the threat and this political response should grow stronger as trait anxiety increases.

Experimental Manipulations:

Experimental Manipulation (6 conditions; 3x2):

Threatening/Competent:
I would like to ask you some questions about breast cancer, a disease that has received a lot of attention in recent years. As you might know, breast cancer kills 40,000 women every year in the U.S. Approximately 1 out of 8 women will develop breast cancer sometime in their lives. Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are usually required for the treatment of breast cancer. Most diagnosis of breast cancer is done by a radiologist. After obtaining their medical degree these physicians complete additional special radiological training to make them eligible for certification by the American Board of Radiology.

Threatening/Incompetent:
I would like to ask you some questions about breast cancer, a disease that has received a lot of attention in recent years. As you might know, breast cancer kills 40,000 women every year in the U.S. Approximately 1 out of 8 women will develop breast cancer sometime in their lives. Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are usually required for the treatment of breast cancer. New and little-noticed research is revealing that radiologists miss far more tumors than previously assumed. Many of them simply lack the ability to discern the elusive signs of breast cancer in the mammogram, widely regarded as the hardest task in all of radiology.

Reassuring/Competent:
I would like to ask you some questions about breast cancer, a disease that has received a lot of attention in recent years. As you might know, over 85% of women survive breast cancer. If detected early, the recovery rate is almost 100%. After being diagnosed with breast cancer the average woman undergoes treatment and goes on to lead a fairly normal life. Most diagnosis of breast cancer is done by a radiologist. After obtaining their medical degree these physicians complete additional special radiological training to make them eligible for certification by the American Board of Radiology.

Reassuring/Incompetent:
I would like to ask you some questions about breast cancer, a disease that has received a lot of attention in recent years. As you might know, over 85% of women survive breast cancer. If detected early, the recovery rate is almost 100%. After being diagnosed with breast cancer the average woman undergoes treatment and goes on to lead a fairly normal life. New and little-noticed research is revealing that radiologists miss far more tumors than previously assumed. Many of them simply lack the ability to discern the elusive signs of breast cancer in the mammogram, widely regarded as the hardest task in all of radiology.

Neutral/Competent:
I would like to ask you some questions about breast cancer, a disease that has received a lot of attention in recent years. As you might know, as women age, The American Cancer Society recommends that they be screened for breast cancer. Women can conduct self-exams, and professionals can use procedures like mammograms and clinical breast examinations to detect the disease in its early stages. Most diagnosis of breast cancer is done by a radiologist. After obtaining their medical degree these physicians complete additional special radiological training to make them eligible for certification by the American Board of Radiology.

Neutral/Incompetent:
I would like to ask you some questions about breast cancer, a disease that has received a lot of attention in recent years. As you might know, as women age, The American Cancer Society recommends that they be screened for breast cancer. Women can conduct self-exams, and professionals can use procedures like mammograms and clinical breast examinations to detect the disease in its early stages. New and little-noticed research is revealing that radiologists miss far more tumors than previously assumed. Many of them simply lack the ability to discern the elusive signs of breast cancer in the mammogram, widely regarded as the hardest task in all of radiology.

Key Dependent Variables:

State Anxiety
Perceived Breast Cancer Threat
Support for Government Programs to Address Breast Cancer

Additional Information:

In order to study emotional responses to breast cancer threat and its relation to policy preferences, we manipulated the magnitude of the threat experimentally in a national telephone survey. Respondents were read short statements containing different information regarding incidence of the disease in the population and morality rates. Three conditions were included, the tone of which were varied to include neutral, reassuring, and threatening content. These conditions were crossed with information about the efficacy of current detection and treatment technologies, yielding a 3(neutral, reassuring, threatening) X 2(high efficacy, low efficacy) between-subjects experimental design.

Summary of Findings:

As expected, men and women differed markedly in their perceptions of the personal risk posed by breast cancer. However, they reported comparable levels of perceived risk to women in their families and to women in general. Beyond this, men and women reported identical levels of anxiety towards breast cancer and support for policies designed to address this health issue. However, the similarities in reports of anxiety and policy support mask considerable differences in the underlying dynamics of these emotional and attitudinal responses. The threat manipulation and levels of trait anxiety had pronounced effects on reported anxiety among women. The effect of anxiety on policy support was also moderated to a substantial degree by threat and trait anxiety. Though levels of anxiety among men were no different from those of women, there was no effect of trait anxiety or threat. Instead, the major predictor of anxiety for men was perceived risk to women in general. Similarly, while anxiety had an effect on support for the government policies for men, there was no moderating effect of threat and trait anxiety.

Conclusion:

It is surprising to find no evident gender differences in overall levels of anxiety about breast cancer and the strong effects of this anxiety on policy support for men, even controlling for various risk perceptions, party identification, and ideology. Yet, anxiety toward breast cancer among men was not determined by threat or trait anxiety, as it was for women. Instead, men reported greater anxiety as their perceptions of the risk of breast cancer to women increased. It is possible the different dynamics of anxiety for men and women can be attributed to the multidimensionality of anxiety. Several studies indicate that state anxiety may consist of both a cognitive (e.g. fear or worry) and somatic (e.g. elevated pulse) dimension. It is possible that the distinct effects of anxiety on the attitudes of men and women may be attributable to the activation of different dimensions of anxiety. These findings suggest scholars need to consider the complexity of emotional reactions.

References:

Huddy, Leonie, Stanley Feldman, and Erin Cassese. 2007. On the Distinct Political Effects of Anxiety and Anger. In The Affect Effect: Dynamics of Emotion in Political Thinking and Behavior edited by W. Russell Neuman, George E. Marcus, Ann Crigler, and Michael MacKuen. University of Chicago Press. Pp 202-230.


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