Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Come a Little Closer: Examining Spillover Priming Effects from a Network Perspective

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Gi Woong Yun

Second Advisor

Sung-Yeon Park (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Srinivas Melkote (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Mary Murray (Committee Member)


Priming theory has been well researched within the field of media studies. Since the late 1980s, priming theory has been used to explain a host of media effects related phenomena. Although priming is one of the most robust theories in media studies, scant research has been paid to spillover/indirect priming effects. Traditional media priming studies examine how primes affect individual evaluations of presidents, but none to date have attempted to examine how individuals perceive little-known political officials via strong or weak ties to a president. To address this glaring gap in the literature, a 3X2 online experiment, manipulating prime valence and tie strength, was conducted. More specifically, a news transcript was manipulated to portray the educational issue, Race to the Top, in either a positive, negative, or neutral tone, with President Obama being portrayed as responsible for the issue. A newspaper article was manipulated to portray a fictional congressional candidate named Steve Easterly as either strongly or weakly tied to President Obama. After exposure to the primes, participants were asked to answer a series of items measuring attitude evaluations and voting intent towards both President Obama and Steve Easterly in a post-test questionnaire.

A total of 205 (n = 205) politically engaged individuals were recruited across six Midwestern states. Significant differences were found for tie strength along the majority of evaluative measures. In addition, both tie strength and political ideology were found to be significant factors when predicting evaluations and voting intent towards Steve Easterly. When analyzed along party affiliation/membership, significant differences were found between Democrats and Republicans, with Democrats rating Steve Easterly significantly higher along the dependent evaluative criteria. Results are discussed in terms of network theory and motivated reasoning among political partisans. More specifically, the results contribute to network theory as they provide a new definition of hub status. The results support previous political psychology research finding conservatives are more likely to have a higher need for closure than their liberal counterparts. Limitations and future research are addressed as well.