Eike Mark Rinke, Patricia Moy
Need for closure, political interest, and the consumption of political information

ECREA’s 5th European Communication Conference, Lisbon, November 12th to November 15th, 2014

The contemporary digital high-choice news environment has invigorated scholarly interest in how people navigate an increasingly complex information landscape (see Stroud, 2011). This body of research has shown the prevalence of selective-exposure and selective-avoidance processes as individuals decide what information to consume. Individuals' patterns of media use can be explained in part by their need for cognitive closure (NFC), the tendency to seize on information that provides closure and to freeze on closure once it has been attained (e.g., Van Hiel & Mervielde, 2002; Webster & Kruglanski, 1997). Despite the growing body of research on this concept, the process by which NFC affects patterns of political-information sourcing is not yet fully clear. Drawing on general-population survey data from the 2012 Long-Term Online Tracking Component of the German Longitudinal Election Studies (N = 1,041), this study explores the effects of NFC on the general appeal of politics and individuals’ use of different types of media for their political information. Our hypotheses are grounded in recent research suggesting that NFC: increases selective avoidance of information more than it promotes selective exposure (Hart et al., 2012); impedes curious information seeking (Litman, 2010); and leads to a preference for structured, cognitively effortless activities (Vermeir & Geuens, 2006). Specifically, we hypothesized that high NFC reduces general political interest and reliance on cognitively demanding types of media for political information (internet, magazines, and newspapers) while it has less bearing on the use of cognitively undemanding media types (television). Structural equation modeling shows that individuals high in NFC avoid using high-effort media channels for political information acquisition while they are not any less like to turn to television as a low-effort medium. We further find that NFC depresses people’s general interest in politics and this effect on political interest partly mediates the effects of NFC on media use. The results show that NFC has a substantial effect on citizens’ consumption of political information, adding to previous findings on the role of basic (“Big Five”) personality traits and the need for cognition in the individual political cognition and preference formation process. References Hart, W., Adams, J. M., Burton, K. A., Shreves, W., & Hamilton, J. C. (2012). Shaping reality vs. hiding from reality: Reconsidering the effects of trait need for closure on information search. Journal of Research in Personality, 46(5), 489–496. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2012.05.004 Litman, J. A. (2010). Relationships between measures of I- and D-type curiosity, ambiguity tolerance, and need for closure: An initial test of the wanting-liking model of information-seeking. Personality and Individual Differences, 48(4), 397–402. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2009.11.005 Stroud, N. J. (2011). Niche news: The politics of news choice. New York: Oxford University Press. Van Hiel, A., & Mervielde, I. (2002). Effects of ambiguity and need for closure on the acquisition of information. Social Cognition, 20(5), 380–408. doi:10.1521/soco.20.5.380.21124 Vermeir, I., & Geuens, M. (2006). Need for closure and youths’ leisure time preferences. Psychological Reports, 98(2), 463–476. doi:10.2466/pr0.98.2.463-476 Webster, D. M., & Kruglanski, A. W. (1997). Cognitive and social consequences of the need for cognitive closure. European Review of Social Psychology, 8(1), 133–173. doi:10.1080/14792779643000100