The People or the Message: Which is Responsible for Cognitive Conflict?
Keywords:cognitive dissonance, cognitive conflict, messaging
While work on agricultural messaging is abundant, the way that audiences form perceptions of messages is not well understood and little research has examined the cognitive effects of image and word associations in an agricultural context. Previous knowledge gap research has shown that socioeconomic status and access to information could be one contributor of perception formation. We propose that these variables could also impact cognitive processing. Therefore, the purpose of this exploratory study was to examine how components of cognitive dissonance and knowledge gap theory apply in the context of a contentious agricultural issue. Data were collected from 1,049 United States’ residents through an online survey with an embedded experimental design. Respondents randomly received one of two image and word association pairings. After viewing the treatment, measures of cognitive conflict, demographics, and desire to learn more were collected. The results showed that the cognitive conflict instrument performed differently in the context of a complex agricultural issue than in prior research. Additionally, the message pairings had a stronger influence on cognitive conflict components than demographic characteristics. Finally, the desire to learn more was impacted by the message treatments. Future research on cognitive conflict and advanced modeling is recommended.