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Viewers Are Repulsed by Negative Campaign Ads

Scientific evidence shows that negative campaign ads that cost millions of dollars have a physiological and psychological effect on voters, says James Angelini, professor of communication at the University of Delaware.

The findings are based on research conducted by Angelini, in collaboration with Samuel Bradley, assistant professor of advertising at Texas Tech University, and Sungkyoung Lee of Indiana University, which used ads that aired during the 2000 presidential election.

The research found that negative political advertising makes the body want to turn away physically, but the mind remembers negative messages, though sometimes incorrectly, Angelini says.

According to data released this week by the Wisconsin Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “during the week of Sept. 28-Oct. 4, nearly 100 percent of the [John] McCain campaign’s advertisements were negative. During the same period, 34 percent of the [Barack] Obama campaign’s ads were negative.”

During the study, the researchers placed electrodes under the eyes of willing participants and showed them a series of 30-second ads from both the George W. Bush and Al Gore campaigns. The electrodes picked up on the “startle response,” the automatic eye movement typically seen in response to snakes, spiders and other threats. Compared to positive or neutral messages, negative advertising prompted greater reflex reactions and a desire to move away.

Andrea Boyle | Newswise Science News
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