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Saturday, June 8, 2019

Anger, Fear, and Echo Chambers: The Emotional Basis for Online Behavior

Wollebæk, D., Karlsen, R., Steen-Johnsen, K., & Enjolras, B.
(2019). Social Media + Society. 


Emotions, such as anger and fear, have been shown to influence people’s political behavior. However, few studies link emotions specifically to how people debate political issues and seek political information online. In this article, we examine how anger and fear are related to politics-oriented digital behavior, attempting to bridge the gap between the thus far disconnected literature on political psychology and the digital media. Based on survey data, we show that anger and fear are connected to distinct behaviors online. Angry people are more likely to engage in debates with people having both similar and opposing views. They also seek out information confirming their views more frequently. Anxious individuals, by contrast, tend to seek out information contradicting their opinions. These findings reiterate predictions made in the extant literature concerning the role of emotions in politics. Thus, we argue that anger reinforces echo chamber dynamics and trench warfare dynamics in the digital public sphere, while fear counteracts these dynamics.

Discussion and Conclusion

The analyses have shown that anger and fear have distinct effects on echo chamber and trench warfare dynamics in the digital sphere. With regard to the debate dimension, we have shown that anger is positively related to participation in online debates. This finding confirms the results of a recent study by Hasell and Weeks (2016). Importantly, however, the impact of anger is not limited to echo chamber discussions with like-minded and similar people. Angry individuals are also over-represented in debates between people holding opposing views and belonging to a different class or
ethnic background. This entails that regarding online debates, anger contributes more to what has been previously labeled as trench warfare dynamics than to echo chamber dynamics.

The research is here.