Third-Person Effect

Yariv Tsfati

in Communication

ISBN: 9780199756841
Published online February 2011 | | DOI:
Third-Person Effect

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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.

Article.  5702 words. 

Subjects: Communication Studies

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