Communication graduate student Bradley Madsen researches the amount of news an individual consumes and how it impacts their interest and self-confidence in politics. As a teenager, Madsen struggled to comprehend news and form political opinions. He learned many of his friends, family, and colleagues had similar experiences digesting the overwhelming amount of news available. During a graduate class at CMU, he learned of a concept that described Madsen and his acquaintances’ experiences: “information overload,” or when the brain struggles to process incoming information due to reaching its cognitive capacity. Intrigued, Madsen researched a potential connection between information overload and people’s attitudes towards politics.
In an online questionnaire, Madsen evaluated 98 participants’ experiences with information overload, news exposure, political efficacy, or confidence in one’s knowledge of politics, and political apathy, or a lack of interest in politics. Through the survey, Madsen found that information overload is negatively associated with political efficacy whereas news exposure is positively associated with political efficacy. His research suggests that when an individual actively pursues news, they become more confident in their political capabilities, but if they experience information overload, they become less confident.
Because previous research studies have connected political efficacy to political participation, information overload and news exposure may also impact participation in politics. Madsen, who completed his master’s during the 2021 spring semester, plans to continue this line of research during his Ph.D. in Political Science at Texas A&M. Madsen shared, “I really hope that this research fosters a sense of self-awareness. If people realize that they are overwhelmed by the news and realize that this may negatively impact many political attitudes, they have a better chance to counteract these effects and remedy these issues.”
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Story by ORGS intern Brittany Rudat