Illusions of Knowledge: Media Exposure and Citizens’ Perceived Political Competence

Mathias Weber, Christina Koehler



Citizens’ willingness to participate in politics is contingent on not only factual political knowledge but their subjective perceptions of competence. We argue that media exposure influences such subjective perceptions as being knowledgeable and capable of judging political issues. More specifically, we assume that incomprehensible news items impair people’s perceived political competence, while comprehensible news items strengthen citizens’ perceived knowledge and power of judgment without necessarily contributing to political learning. An online experiment reveals that cognitive style moderates the assumed relationship. Participants with a high need for cognition (NFC) feel more competent when confronted with a comprehensible news item; for participants with a low NFC, reading a less comprehensible news item resulted in a more pronounced sense of competence.


political knowledge, perceived political competence, perceived knowledge, media exposure, comprehensibility, need for cognition

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