Beyond Surveillance: The Effects of Issue Ad Vividness and Anxiety on Information Use


Affective Intelligence Theory (AIT) posits that individuals, when feeling anxious, abandon dispositions and activate their surveillance system to attend to available political information about the focus of their anxiety. However, it is not clear whether, and to what degree, people exercise discernment about the reliability of the information they seek and find—especially when partisan cues and related information are not available in the information environment. We use this article to extend understanding of anxiety’s effect on assessing information reliability about an issue outside the standard partisan framework. Our assessment is based on a lab experiment where 330 non-student subjects were randomly assigned exposure to television ads referencing an impending nuclear terror threat to the United States. The ads included varying degrees of production vividness and either a positively or negatively framed message about the government’s ability to respond to the threat. Results show that the negative and vivid threat ads—when mediated by a subject’s relative level of anxiety—substantially raise the probability of surveying information related to the nuclear threat. However, the anxiety mediator has no effect on subjects checking the reliability of the surveyed information. These findings broaden our understanding of media ad effects by providing greater nuance on the motive for information use and anxiety’s mediating role.


Political Science

Document Type





affective intelligence, anxiety, information use, reliability, surveillance

Publication Date


Journal Title

American Politics Research