Communication Third-Person Effect
by
Yariv Tsfati
  • LAST REVIEWED: 16 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 February 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0082

Introduction

Audience perceptions regarding media influence have been extensively studied since the 1980s. Originating with a landmark article by W. Phillip Davison, the term “the third-person effect” (TPE, later on also referred to in the literature as the “third-person perception,” or TPP) relates to people’s tendency to perceive that mass-media messages have only minimal influence on them but greater influence on other people—the “third persons.” Much research has been dedicated to documenting such perceptions in various contexts and to exploring the psychological mechanisms behind them. Later research also focused on documenting the consequences of the third-person perception. This branch of research was dubbed the “behavioral component of the third-person effect” or “the influence of presumed media influence.” Findings confirmed that perceiving that media influences other people matters for the audience as well as for social life. The research tradition that has emerged based on this insight is considered one of the most fruitful and influential contemporary traditions studying media processes. The third-person effect has been examined in a large array of countries (including the United States, Singapore, Germany, Australia, Israel, Nepal, Korea, and Taiwan, among others) using various respondents (student samples, general-population samples, voters, journalists, parents, politicians, and others) and in a variety of contexts including advertising (political advertising, consumer advertising, fashion models, direct-to-consumer drug advertising, and health communication campaigns), drama (televised dramas and telenovelas), political news media (news coverage of campaigns, peripheral places and groups, media panics), defamation trials, and a diversity of antisocial media (violent media content, misogynic rap music, pornography, and other sexual media). Similarly, a variety of dependent variables were examined as the consequences of the third-person effect in the “behavioral component” studies, including voting, support of censorship, intentions to buy certain products, violent political protest, residential mobility, political inefficacy, smoking initiation, sexual behaviors, minority alienation, physicians’ drug recommendations, physician interactions with patients, and parental monitoring practices. The works cited in this bibliography, which focuses on overarching themes in the larger body of literature, span only a fraction of these contexts of study. A recent survey by Bryant and Miron ranked the third-person effect fifth on a list of “most popular theories” in contemporary communication research. The fact that review essays have been published in volumes and journals dedicated to both public opinion and to research on media effects and processes demonstrates that research on the third-person effect is situated within these two research traditions and tackles some of the most essential theoretical questions that lie at the core of these traditions: How do people respond to and process media messages? Are people’s answers to public-opinion survey questions biased? And in what ways do survey-response biases matter, if at all, for public life? With the immense popularity of research on the third-person effect, a growing critique of this tradition is that it lacks sufficient theoretical progress and essentially replicates a set of relatively easily obtainable findings.

Early Insights and Findings

In the 1980s research about the third-person effect started receiving attention in communication and public opinion journals. The following works are examples of this early research. All of them are very readable and present simple, easy-to-understand research. Each work has become widely cited, for different reasons: Davison 1983 for being the first to document the third-person effect, Perloff 1989 for demonstrating that the third-person effect is in fact a biased perception, Mutz 1989 for connecting the third-person effect with the spiral-of-silence tradition, Lasorsa 1989 for examining the third-person effect in the context of entertainment and for starting to probe the mechanisms underlying it, and Cohen, et al. 1988 for showing that this biased perception is stronger when it relates to more remote “others.”

  • Cohen, Jeremy, Diana Mutz, Vincent Price, and Albert Gunther. 1988. Perceived impact of defamation: An experiment on third-person effects. Public Opinion Quarterly 52:161–173.

    DOI: 10.1086/269092Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article was the first to extend third-person-effect research into a new context (the perceived impact of defamation) and to examine the conditions under which the gap between perceived influence on self and others increases or decreases. Larger gaps were found for remote others—a finding later dubbed “the social distance corollary of the third-person effect.”

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    • Davison, W. Phillips. 1983. The third-person effect in communication. Public Opinion Quarterly 47:1–15.

      DOI: 10.1086/268763Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      In this seminal article, Davison suggests that people exposed to persuasive communication typically think that such communication has much greater influence on other people than on themselves, and he coined the term “the third-person effect” to describe this phenomenon. While the article was full of convincing anecdotes and examples, it contained little empirical evidence, mainly documenting the perceptual component of third-person perception.

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      • Lasorsa, Dominic L. 1989. Real and perceived effects of “Amerika.” Journalism Quarterly 66:373–378.

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        The study was among the first to document the bias in perceived effects and to consider self-perceived knowledge (as well as real knowledge and expertise) as part of the explanation.

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        • Mutz, Diana C. 1989. The influence of perceptions of media influence: Third person effects and the public expression of opinions. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 1:3–23.

          DOI: 10.1093/ijpor/1.1.3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          This well-written piece offers a theoretical connection between third-person-effect research and spiral-of-silence theory in the context of public opinion regarding divestment of financial interests in South Africa.

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          • Perloff, Richard M. 1989 Ego-involvement and the third person effect of televised news coverage. Communication Research 16.2: 236–262.

            DOI: 10.1177/009365089016002004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

            Connects the third-person effect to research about the hostile-media perception and provides early evidence that the third-person effect is in fact a bias: involved respondents perceived news coverage to be biased against them, and also believed that neutral audiences would be persuaded by this hostile coverage to support the opposing position.

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            Reviews, Essays, and Books

            In contrast to other media-effects theories such as framing and priming or agenda setting, for each of which there are several books, textbooks, and anthologies, only one textbook has been dedicated so far to the third-person effect. This fact perhaps attests to the lack of “grand theory” theoretical development offered by this research tradition. However, despite this fact, all major volumes dedicated to media effects and processes and to public-opinion research in recent years include chapters on the third-person effect. Andsager and White 2007, Perloff 2009, and Tal-Or, et al. 2009 define the third-person effect and review and synthesize the major research findings. They differ in the degree to which they offer a theoretical model integrating the findings or indicate future directions for theoretical advancement. Bryant, et al. 2007 assesses the magnitude of the third-person effect across studies.

            • Andsager, Julie L., and H. Allen White. 2007. Self versus others: Media, messages, and the third-person effect. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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              This clearly written book not only summarizes third-person-effect research but also draws on dual-processing models of persuasion and models of co-orientation to situate the third-person effect in a broader theoretical context. Suitable for students and scholars at all levels. Elegantly offers interesting theoretical connections.

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              • Bryant, Paul, Michael B. Salwen, and Michel Dupagne. 2007. The third person effect: A meta-analysis of the perceptual hypothesis. In Mass media effects research: Advances through meta-analysis. Edited by Preiss W. Raymond, Barbara Mae Gayle, Nancy Burrell, Mike Allen, and Jennings Bryant, 81–102. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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                This useful meta-analysis quantitatively synthesizes findings from 121 third-person-effect studies and examines under what conditions larger or smaller statistical effects were obtained. Furthermore, it provides an effective statistical summary of the literature.

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                • Perloff, Richard M. 2009. Mass media, social perception, and the third-person effect. In Media effects: Advances in theory and research. 3d ed. Edited by Jennings Bryant and Mary Beth Oliver, 252–268. New York: Routledge.

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                  Geared toward advanced undergraduate and graduate students, this review is extremely well organized and accessible. In addition to systematically organizing findings on the message attributes and individual differences under which the third-person effect is amplified or diminished, the author presents a model of the third-person effect that connects underlying processes, facilitating factors, mediating processes, and consequences of the third-person effect.

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                  • Tal-Or, Nurit, Yariv Tsfati, and Albert C. Gunther. 2009. The influence of presumed media influence: Origins and implications of the third-person perception. In The SAGE Handbook of Media Processes and Effects. Edited by Robin L. Nabi and Mary Beth Oliver, 99–112. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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                    This review is geared toward students and scholars with a psychological orientation. It is unique in trying to tie together the sources and consequences of the third-person effect and in the attempt to offer a categorization of the different types of consequences of the third-person effect. Since thinking that others are influenced by media can make people comply with these other people and at times defy them, this review presents the question of when different responses to the third-person effect occur and speculates on the answer.

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                    Journals

                    Most of the literature on the third-person effect is published in journals, especially journals focusing on quantitative and psychologically oriented media and public opinion research such as Communication Research, the Journal of Communication, the International Journal of Public Opinion Research, Mass Communication and Society, Media Psychology, and Public Opinion Quarterly.

                    Explanatory Factors

                    Why do people perceive that others are influenced by media more than they are? There are generally two types of explanations for the third-person perception: cognitive and motivational mechanisms.

                    Cognitive Explanations

                    The following studies all offer cognitive explanations; in other words, they view the gap between people’s perceptions of media influence on self and others as stemming from people’s best attempt to form an accurate answer to the question of media influence. This best attempt is inaccurate and may even be biased, but research on cognitive explanations reminds us that even media scholars attempting to tackle the question of media impact have not fully succeeded in documenting the size and magnitude of media effects accurately. The types of cognitive explanations are varied and include David, et al. 2002 and Scharrer 2002, explanations built on stereotypes and social knowledge. Eveland, et al. 1999 focuses on perceived exposure. Neuwirth, et al. 2002 uses the social-cognitive heuristic-systematic model to explain the third-person effect. Salwen and Dupagne 2001 is an example of a model based on self-perceived knowledge. Reid, et al. 2007 demonstrates how social categorization was used as a cognitive explanation for the third-person perception. Similarly, Jensen and Hurley 2005 offers social desirability and distance, and Shah, et al. 1999 offers perceived susceptibility and severity as the cognitive mechanism underlying the third-person perception.

                    • David, Prabu, Glenda Morrison, Melissa A. Johnson, and Felicia Ross. 2002. Body image, race, and fashion models: Social distance and social identification in third-person effects. Communication Research 29:270–294.

                      DOI: 10.1177/0093650202029003003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                      Respondents were asked to estimate the effects of exposure to pictures of fashion models on others’ ideal body images. Extremely interesting findings emerged when white respondents were asked regarding the influence of the pictures of white models on other whites and blacks. Results show that such factors as stereotypes and knowledge of body-image norms are taken into account when people estimate media impact.

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                      • Eveland, William P., Jr., Amy I. Nathanson, Benjamin H. Detenber, and Douglas M. McLeod. 1999. Rethinking the social distance corollary: Perceived likelihood of exposure and the third-person effect. Communication Research 26:275–302.

                        DOI: 10.1177/009365099026003001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                        Could it be that people perceive that others are influenced because they know others are exposed to a host of media messages? This clearly written article presents and tests a “perceived exposure” explanation for the social-distance corollary of the third-person effect.

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                        • Jensen, Jakob D., and Ryan J. Hurley. 2005. Third-person effects and the environment: Social distance, social desirability, and presumed behavior. Journal of Communication 55:242–256.

                          DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2005.tb02670.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                          Extends third-person-effect research into the context of environmental issues. Examines social desirability and social distance and separates presumed influence from presumed behavior in a way that sheds light on the cognitive process, accounting for the third-person effect.

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                          • Neuwirth, Kurt, Edward Frederick, and Charles Mayo. 2002. Person-effects and heuristic-systematic processing. Communication Research 29.3: 320–359.

                            DOI: 10.1177/0093650202029003005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                            This article applies the heuristic-systematic models (originating in social psychology) in the context of the third-person effect. Complex argumentation; recommended for advanced-level students.

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                            • Reid, Scott A., Sahara Byrne, Jennifer S. Brundidge, Mirit D. Shoham, and Mikaela L. Marlow. 2007. A critical test of self-enhancement, exposure, and self-categorization explanations for first- and third-person perceptions. Human Communication Research 33:143–162.

                              DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.2007.00294.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                              This article offers a useful and thorough review of two prior explanations of the third-person effect and introduces a new explanation using the psychological self-categorization theory. The analysis tests the rival explanations against each other in the context of pornography.

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                              • Salwen, Michael B., and Michel Dupagne. 2001. Third-person perception of television violence: The role of self-perceived knowledge. Media Psychology 3:211–236.

                                DOI: 10.1207/S1532785XMEP0303_01Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                This elegant and well-researched article proposes that people perceive that others are more influenced by media than them because they think they have more knowledge or expertise compared to others.

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                                • Scharrer, Erica. 2002. Third-person perception and television violence: The role of out-group stereotyping in perceptions of susceptibility to effect. Communication Research 29:681–704.

                                  DOI: 10.1177/009365002237832Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                  Respondents were asked to assess the extent to which members of different groups (defined by gender, race, class, education, and place of residence) are susceptible to influence by violence in the media. Findings demonstrate that social knowledge, such as stereotypes toward different groups, is taken into consideration when estimating media influence.

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                                  • Shah, Dhavan V., Ronald J. Faber, and Seounmi Youn. 1999. Susceptibility and severity: Perceptual dimensions underlying the third-person effect. Communication Research 26:240–267.

                                    DOI: 10.1177/009365099026002006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                    This accessible article examines whether the cognitive process underlying the third-person effect has to do with people’s perceptions regarding the susceptibility of others to influence by the message. This article also presents the first attempt to connect the cognitive process to the behavioral component of the third-person effect.

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                                    Motivational Explanations

                                    The following studies all offer motivational or self-affirming explanations of the third-person effect. According to these explanations, perceiving ourselves as immune to negative or undesirable communication (and perceiving others not to be) helps us to preserve and enhance our self-esteem. Parts of the evidence supporting the motivational explanation of the third-person effect have to do with the conditions under which the third-person effect increases and decreases. As Gunther and Mundy 1993 argues, the third-person effect is usually documented in response to media messages that are perceived to be harmful and undesirable. When messages are perceived as positive, such as safe-sex advertisements, the effect is attenuated or even reversed, a phenomenon called the first-person perception (documented by Duck and Mullin 1995). Another finding used to support the self-preservation explanation is that the perceived effect is stronger as the distance from the estimating subject increases, an argument further explored by White 1997. Biased optimism—people’s tendency to believing that, compared to others, they have a smaller chance of experiencing negative events and a larger chance of experiencing positive events—is offered by Gunther and Mundy 1993 and Salwen and Dupagne 2003 as a motivational mechanism underlying the third-person effect. Duck, et al. 1995 explores motivational factors such as self-esteem, social identity, and differentiation from others as antecedents of the third-person perception. Finally, Meirick 2005 exemplifies an innovative move in the search for more indirect evidence supporting the motivational account of the third-person effect. Psychological research demonstrates that self-affirmation mechanisms are interchangeable—that is, the use of one mechanism reduces the other. If that is the case, and if the third-person effect is indeed accounted for by self-enhancement needs, Meirick argues that threatening the self or enhancing it prior to offering the respondents the opportunity to answer third-person-effect questions should affect their responses.

                                    • Duck, Julie M., Michael A. Hogg, and Deborah J. Terry. 1995. Me, us, and them: Political identification and the third-person effect in the 1993 Australian elections. European Journal of Social Psychology 25:195–215.

                                      DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.2420250206Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                      One of the earlier examinations of third-person perception outside the United States, this study is situated in the context of an Australian federal election. Motivational factors such as self-esteem, social identity, and differentiation from others are skillfully operationalized and tested. This is a good example of the earlier psychological attempts to explain the third-person effect as resulting from self-serving mechanisms.

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                                      • Duck, Julie M., and Barbara-Ann Mullin. 1995. The perceived impact of mass media: Reconsidering the third person effect. European Journal of Social Psychology 25:77–93.

                                        DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.2420250107Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                        In contrast with earlier research that focused on the perceived effects of negative content, the authors have chosen to examine what happens when people are asked about the impact of positive content. Two nicely crafted experiments were utilized to examine this question.

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                                        • Gunther, Albert C., and Paul Mundy. 1993. Biased optimism and the third-person effect. Journalism Quarterly 70:58–67.

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                                          One of the earlier and more widely cited examinations of the motivational explanation offers high-quality psychological argumentation and research.

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                                          • Meirick, Patrick C. 2005. Self-enhancement motivation as a third variable in the relationship between first- and third-person effects. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 17:473–483.

                                            DOI: 10.1093/ijpor/edh077Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                            This article offers two experiments cleverly manipulating the construct of self-enhancement and an intelligent application of simple social psychological principles in the context of the third-person effect.

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                                            • Salwen, Michael B., and Michel Dupagne. 2003. News of Y2K and experiencing Y2K: Exploring the relationship between the third-person effect and optimistic bias. Media Psychology 5:57–82.

                                              DOI: 10.1207/S1532785XMEP0501_3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                              This clearly written article challenges some of the early writings regarding the motivational accounts of the third-person perception in the intriguing context of the Y2K panic. The authors test for the association between people’s assessments regarding the likelihood they would experience Y2K problems and their perceptions regarding media influence, with surprising findings. Despite the psychological approach, this article will be accessible even for readers with little social-science background.

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                                              • White, H. Allen. 1997. Considering interacting factors in the third-person effect: Argument strength and social distance. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 74:557–564.

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                                                This article elegantly separates text-based factors from variations in the presentation of the affected others. The innovation in this exploration is the finding that the third-person effect was reversed not only when the message was desirable (as earlier research demonstrated) but also when it contained strong as opposed to weak arguments.

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                                                Behavioral Component

                                                The behavioral component of the third-person effect argues that people’s perceptions of media impact on others lead them to take actions. This is in fact an unintended consequence of exposure to media texts. One of the earliest consequences explored, originally mentioned in Davison’s seminal article (Davison 1983, cited under Early Insights and Findings), had to do with support of message restriction. According to this line of research, thinking that media have detrimental effects on others causes people to support censorship. Another family of reactions to perceptions of media influence was termed “coordination.” This term is used to describe cases in which perceptions of media influence lead the perceivers to adjust their behavior so that it will interact with others’ behavior as expected by the presumed influence of the media, in order to achieve their goals. A third family of reactions was termed “normative reactions,” in which the perceived media influence creates norms, to which the perceivers comply at times and defy on other occasions.

                                                General References

                                                The following works provide general and introductory references regarding the behavioral component of the third-person effect. Gunther and Storey 2003 is the earliest work to use the term “influence of presumed media influence” and to provide evidence of the effects of perceived media influence on real-world indicators. This study’s use of actual “real world” indicators as the dependent variable is unique in this literature. Xu and Gonzenbach 2008 provides a meta-analysis summarizing the results of a variety of studies in this domain.

                                                • Gunther, Albert C., and J. Douglas Storey. 2003. The influence of presumed influence. Journal of Communication 53:199–215.

                                                  DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2003.tb02586.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                  This seminal study examines a radio program targeted at physicians and aimed at improving their interactions with patients. But the focus of the study is on the unintended audience: patients listening to the program. Do their perceptions of the influence of the radio program on their physicians matter for their interaction with them?

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                                                  • Xu, Jie, and William J. Gonzenbach. 2008. Does a perceptual discrepancy lead to action? A meta-analysis of the behavioral component of the third-person effect. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 20:375–385.

                                                    DOI: 10.1093/ijpor/edn031Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                    This meta-analysis examines twenty-five studies of the “behavioral component of the third-person effect” and finds evidence for a relatively small but significant effect across studies. Most of the studies examined investigate effects on message-restriction outcomes. Almost all studies were correlational.

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                                                    Prevention and Message Restriction

                                                    All the following works document in one way or another that the more people perceive strong negative influence of harmful media content on others, the more they support censorship. Support for message restrictions as a result of perceived negative effects has been documented in various contexts, including pornography in Gunther 1995, other sexual or immoral content in Gunther and Hwa 1996, violence in Rojas, et al. 1996 and Salwen and Dupagne 1999, and misogynic rap music in McLeod, et al. 1997. Sun, et al. 2008 demonstrates that support for restrictions was stronger for more socially undesirable effects, and in particular when behavioral effects on others were considered by the estimators. Hoffner and Buchanan 2002 not only documents support of censorship but also demonstrates that perceptions regarding the harmful influence of media violence may lead to real restricting behaviors. Interestingly, some studies, such as Hoffner and Buchanan 2002, explore different effects for perceptions of influence on self and others, whereas other studies examine the effects of third-person effects’ difference-score measures.

                                                    • Gunther, Albert C. 1995. Overrating the X-rating: The third-person perception and support for censorship of pornography. Journal of Communication 45:27–38.

                                                      DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1995.tb00712.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                      One of the more heavily cited earlier examples of prevention reactions, this interesting piece was the first to extend third-person-effect research to the context of pornography. Clear writing and well-crafted arguments.

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                                                      • Gunther, Albert C., and Ang Peng Hwa. 1996. Public perceptions of television influence and opinions about censorship in Singapore. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 8:248–265.

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                                                        This study extends the generalizability of third-person-effect research to an Asian culture—an important move, given differences in the way self and others are construed in the Asian context. Gunther and Hwa also shed additional light on the mechanisms underlying the third-person perception and its implications.

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                                                        • Hoffner, Cynthia, and Martha Buchanan. 2002. Parents’ responses to television violence: The third person perception, parental mediation and support for censorship. Media Psychology 4:231–252.

                                                          DOI: 10.1207/S1532785XMEP0403_02Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                          This interesting investigation is unique in the realm of third-person-effect research, as it focuses on the vantage point of parents. The paper documents an association between third-person perceptions and parental mediation: the larger the perceived effects on other children versus one’s own child, the more active the parents are in restricting or mediating their children’s interaction with violent televised texts.

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                                                          • McLeod, Douglas M., William P. Eveland Jr, and Amy I. Nathanson. 1997. Support for censorship of violent and misogynic rap lyrics: An analysis of the third-person effect. Communication Research 24:153–174.

                                                            DOI: 10.1177/009365097024002003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                            This piece extends third-person-effect research to the context of rap music, tests the social-distance corollary and the knowledge corollary of the third-person effect, and proposes a new target corollary, arguing that those groups seen as more likely targets of a media text will be perceived as more influenced in comparison to generalized others. Finally, the behavioral component is also tested in the context of rap lyrics.

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                                                            • Rojas, Hernando, Dhavan V. Shah, and Ronald J. Faber. 1996. For the good of others: Censorship and the third-person effect. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 8:163–186.

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                                                              A clearly written and widely cited piece combining a thorough literature review of the literature on attitudes toward censorship and on the third-person perception with interesting research. Based on data collected from a student sample, the authors extend the scope of the “prevention” argument into reported behaviors (albeit in a hypothetical scenario).

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                                                              • Salwen, Michael B., and Michel Dupagne. 1999. The third-person effect: Perceptions of the media’s influence and immoral consequences. Communication Research 26:523–549.

                                                                DOI: 10.1177/009365099026005001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                Is the association between the third-person effect and support for censorship stronger in the context of issues that have clear moral dimensions (e.g., violence) versus more morally ambiguous issues (e.g., political advertising)? Salwen and Dupagne were among the first to explore moderating factors in the behavioral component of the third-person effect.

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                                                                • Sun, Ye, Lijiang Shen, and Zhongdang Pan. 2008. On the behavioral component of the third-person effect. Communication Research 35:257–278.

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                                                                  This article views prevention and restriction reactions as specific types of more general rectifying reactions varying from restriction to amplifying socially desirable messages. Sophisticated analysis was conducted to support the claims.

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                                                                  Coordination

                                                                  The second category of reactions to the third-person effect—coordination—involves not preemptive behavior aimed at thwarting the harmful influence by restricting message exposure but reaction to a message that was already received by the public. The underlying principle in coordination reactions is that information and accompanying inferences about others’ behaviors or intentions are used to calculate how one’s actions will interact with what others will do, and affect the chances of achieving one’s goals. Anticipating how others will behave (as a result of media impact) provides a useful piece of information when people consider how their decisions will interact with the decisions of others. Tewksbury, et al. 2004 examines such coordination reactions in the context of the Y2K panic. Atwood 1994 studies coordination reactions to media predictions of an earthquake. In a totally different context, Cohen and Tsfati 2009 demonstrates that coordination reactions also take place with regard to voting decisions, and at times people may change their electoral choice and vote to their second-choice party if they think other people are influenced by the campaign and its news coverage.

                                                                  • Atwood, L. Erwin. 1994. Illusions of media power: The third-person effect. Journalism Quarterly 71:269–281.

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                                                                    This study takes place in the context of the failure of a predicted earthquake to materialize on schedule. The authors are among the first to connect third-person perceptions with perceptions regarding media credibility and to explore the association between third-person perceptions and a host of outcome variables, including preparations for the earthquake. The theoretical perspectives of social-comparison theory and cognitive-adaptation theory are used to develop the hypotheses.

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                                                                    • Cohen, Jonathan, and Yariv Tsfati. 2009. The influence of presumed media influence on strategic voting. Communication Research 36:359–378.

                                                                      DOI: 10.1177/0093650209333026Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      Three correlational studies extend the scope of the behavioral component of the third-person effect and document coordination effects in the context of voting decisions. In the context of the Israeli extreme multiparty system, the authors examine whether thinking that media coverage of the campaign influences other voters may cause people to vote strategically and shift their support to their second-choice party.

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                                                                      • Tewksbury, David, Patricia Moy, and Deborah S. Weis. 2004. Preparations for Y2K: Revisiting the behavioral component of the third-person effect. Journal of Communication 54:138–155.

                                                                        DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2004.tb02618.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                        The authors revisit Davison’s ideas and examine coordination reactions in the context of the Y2K panic. Did perceiving a major influence of news reports of the Y2K panic cause audiences to stockpile supplies of food, water, gasoline, and cash?

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                                                                        Normative Influences

                                                                        As opposed to coordination reactions, which are temporary changes in behavior for utility-maximization processes, normative influences are more stable and involve a more active compliance or defiance of social norms. In both cases, people think media shape other people’s norms and react to these norms, either by accepting them or by challenging them. Compliance reactions are studied in a variety of settings: Gunther, et al. 2006 studies compliance in the context of adolescent smoking initiations. Milkie 1999 studies similar reactions in the context of body images, and Chia 2006 investigates the effects of adolescent perceptions of media influence on their acceptance or defiance of sexual norms. Tsfati and Cohen 2003 offers a specific type of compliance reactions—withdrawal—in which people covered negatively by mainstream media feel alienated in mainstream society because they think the negative coverage affects others. The most notable examples of acting in defiance of the norms allegedly caused by media influence are documented by Tsfati and Cohen 2005 in the context of Israeli extreme right-wing settlers’ perceptions regarding the impact of media coverage on Israeli public opinion toward the settlements and the planned Israeli withdrawal form the Gaza Strip.

                                                                        • Chia, Stella C. 2006. How peers mediate media influence on adolescents’ sexual attitudes and sexual behavior. Journal of Communication 56:585–606.

                                                                          DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006.00302.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                          This study tests whether adolescents’ perceptions of the influence of sex-related television programs on their peers impacts their perceptions of peer norms and consequently their own sexual attitudes and behaviors. The article is unique in testing a competing “projection” model—that is, it tests the possibility that sexual attitudes and behaviors shape perceptions of peer norms and not the other way around.

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                                                                          • Gunther, Albert C., Daniel Bolt, Dina L. G. Borzekowski, Janice L. Liebhart, and James Price Dillard. 2006. Presumed influence on peer norms: How mass media indirectly affect adolescent smoking. Journal of Communication 56:52–68.

                                                                            DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006.00002.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                            This investigation explores whether adolescents’ perceptions regarding the influence of pro- and antismoking media messages influence their perceptions of peer norms, one of the strongest predictors of smoking initiation among adolescents.

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                                                                            • Huh, Jisu, and Rita Langteau. 2007. Presumed influence of direct-to-consumer (DTC) prescription drug advertising on patients: The physicians’ perspective. Journal of Advertising 36.3: 151–172.

                                                                              DOI: 10.2753/JOA0091-3367360312Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                              This investigation documents a defiance reaction to presumed influence in the context of direct-to-consumer drug advertising. The study’s sample is unique—one thousand physicians, and so is the main dependent variable—the physicians’ responses to patients’ requests for prescriptions for the advertised drug. Interesting theoretical reviews offering important connections to the theory of reasoned action and to attribution theory.

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                                                                              • Milkie, Melissa A. 1999. Social comparisons, reflected appraisals, and mass media: The impact of pervasive beauty images on black and white girls’ self-concepts. Social Psychology Quarterly 62:190–210.

                                                                                DOI: 10.2307/2695857Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                The third-person effect is typically investigated using quantitative research methods. This article is unique in examining similar questions using qualitative methodology. Perceptions regarding beauty images in teen magazines and their influence are linked to female teenagers’ self-concepts.

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                                                                                • Tsfati, Yariv, and Jonathan Cohen. 2003. On the effect of the “third-person effect”: Perceived influence of media coverage and residential mobility intentions. Journal of Communication 53:711–727.

                                                                                  DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2003.tb02919.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                  This study not only extends third-person-effects research into the demographic context of residential-mobility intentions, it is also among the very few investigations that have examined the accuracy of perceptions regarding media effects on others.

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                                                                                  • Tsfati, Yariv, and Jonathan Cohen. 2005. The influence of presumed media influence on democratic legitimacy: The case of Gaza settlers. Communication Research 32:794–821.

                                                                                    DOI: 10.1177/0093650205281057Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                    This investigation comes from a fascinating context and provides an interesting example of defiance reactions. It is worthwhile to note that some of the settlers exhibited defiance reactions, while other exhibited compliance reactions. An important shortcoming of this investigation is that it does not tell us why some people were planning to resist the evacuation while others reported that they intended to leave their homes peacefully.

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                                                                                    Methodological Topics

                                                                                    With the increasing popularity of third-person-effects research, several concerns have been raised about methodological issues that surround it. Is the gap between perceived effects on self and others genuine, or does it stem from a survey artifact? Could it be that the mere comparison of perceived effects on self and others causes people to overestimate the perceived effects on others while underestimating the perceived effects on self? Does question order have any impact on people’s assessments of media effects? This is examined by Dupagne, et al. 1999 and Price and Tewksbury 1996. Likewise, concerns were raised regarding the behavioral component of the third-person effect, examining the possibility of reverse causation or spuriousness in this domain. Dillard, et al. 2007 attempts to address this concern using an experimental investigation.

                                                                                    • Dillard, James Price, Lijiang Shen, and Renata Grillova Vail. 2007. Does perceived message effectiveness cause persuasion or vice versa? 17 consistent answers. Human Communication Research 33:467–488.

                                                                                      DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.2007.00308.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                      Almost all studies of the behavioral component of the third-person effect utilize correlational investigations. This leaves open the possibility of spuriousness or reverse causation. For example, it could be that both support of censorship and perceptions of media influence stem from people’s paternalism. This article is unique in confronting this methodological problem by testing the presumed-influence hypothesis experimentally.

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                                                                                      • Dupagne, Michel, Michael B. Salwen, and Bryant Paul. 1999. Impact of question order on the third-person effect. Public Opinion Research 11.4: 334–345.

                                                                                        DOI: 10.1093/ijpor/11.4.334Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                        The authors tried to replicate the findings in Price and Tewksbury 1996 using a US national telephone sample. They extended previous research by testing whether the behavioral component of the third-person effect, and not just its perceptual component, is affected by question order. In other words, they tried to find out whether asking about message restriction before or after the perceived-influence questions affects the results.

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                                                                                        • Price, Vincent, and David Tewksbury. 1996. Measuring the third-person effect of news: The impact of question order, contrast and knowledge. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 8:120–141.

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                                                                                          Two nicely designed experiments test the robustness of the perceptual component of the third-person effect. The studies are unique in testing what happens when people are only asked about perceived influence on themselves or on others. Do perceptions of small influence on self and large influence on others emerge even when the two questions are asked separately?

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