The Third-Person Effect:
Only a Media Perception?
Nordicom Review. - 1403-1108. ; 26:1, s. 81-94
(read this paper)
This article focuses on people’s beliefs about how other people’s political attitudes are shaped and examines how the hypothesis of a third-person effect is related to non-mediated sources of information such as personal experience and interpersonal communication. Also presented are results on the perceived impact of different media such as television, newspapers and political advertising. A representative sample of the Swedish population answered a national survey during the period November – December 2001, and the results show general support for a third-person effect. Mediated information sources and interpersonal communication are believed to influence others more than oneself. Personal experience, on the other hand, is believed to be more important for oneself than for other people, and first-person effects were found among people with a high level of education or a strong political interest. Thus, one conclusion is that people tend to believe their own picture of politics is more dependent on personal experience and that others’ political attitudes are more dependent on mass media or people in their social environment.
Although this paper is not at all well known, it offers some evidence that the Third-Person Effect is broader than had originally been proposed. The third-person effect was discovered in studies of people's attitudes towards the influence of mass media. In most cases people rate themselves as being less influenced by media than other third parties. This paper argues that the same bias of underestimating self-conformance to social messages applies more generally, which is exactly what we would expect from the evolutionary perspective of Conformity Bias. We refer to this sort of self-misunderstanding as Intentional Opacity.