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Third-person effect

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The third-person effect hypothesis is defined as the probability that "individuals who are members of an audience who are exposed to persuasive communication would expect the communication to have a bigger influence on others than on themselves," according to Davison.

Table of contents:
  1. Defining the third-person effect
  2. Components of the third-person effect
    1. A. Social distance
    2. B. Perceived knowledge
  3. Explanations for the third-person effect
  4. Future directions of third-person effect research
  5. Consequences of the third-person effect
    1. Disregard of health messages
    2. Body dissatisfaction
    3. Belief in censorship
  6. Involvement in the political process
  7. Factors that increase or decrease the third-person effect
    1. Self-construal
  8. Conclusion:

Defining the third-person effect

The third-person effect is often measured by asking individuals two sorts of questions, one focused on one's views of media impact on oneself and the other on one's perceptions of media influence on others. The third-person effect is defined as those who report that the media impacts others more than they influence them.

Based on personal biases, the third-person effect theory predicts that people would perceive mass media messages to have a larger impact on others than on themselves. An individual's overestimation of the influence of a mass communicated message on the generalized other or underestimating the effect of a mass communicated message on themselves is known as the third-person effect.

Self-motivated social desirability, a social-distance result, and perceived exposure to a message all contribute to these kinds of impressions. The phenomenon is also known as "Third-person perception" or "Web Third-person effect." When the impact is proven in social media, media websites, blogs, and websites in general, Since 2015, The "Web Third-person Effect" has been coined."

Components of the third-person effect

In addition to examining the third-person effect concerning various types of media content and studying the behavioral component of the third-person effect, researchers have looked at a variety of other variables to understand better the third-person effect and how it works for different people. In the context of the third-person effect, three aspects are investigated: social distance, perceived knowledge, and media exposure.

A. Social distance

According to Davison, the notion of reference groups might help explain the third-person effect. Are persuasive communications more effective on individuals "like me" or "different from me"? Is the degree of resemblance a meaningful element, or is it not? Suppose perceived congruence of others' attitudes and values with one's own is a role in choosing normative reference groups. In that case, one will anticipate little exaggeration in the perceived impact of a message on members of such groups.

B. Perceived knowledge

The study of cognitive distance aims to affect research participants' judgments of their expertise regarding that of others. In several third-person effect studies, the variable of self-perceived knowledge has been investigated independently of the idea of cognitive distance. Perceived knowledge, also known as subjective competence, is not the same as real knowledge of a topic, described as objective competence. Subjective competence is described as one's belief in one's own capacity to comprehend events and confidence in one's ability to make views on certain subjects. The third-person effect has not been linked to measures of objective competence. The findings on self-perceived knowledge and the third-person effect, on the other hand, were equivocal.

Explanations for the third-person effect

A lot of hypotheses have been debated and investigated to determine why the third-person effect occurs. The most common theory used to explain or investigate the third-person effect is attribution theory. When the third-person effect is considered in the context of attribution theory, researchers conclude that people assume others do not consider situational factors when receiving a message and will be influenced by it, even though they are aware of situational factors and are immune to being influenced.

Another idea linked to the third-person phenomenon is ego involvement. According to Perloff, those deeply invested in a specific subject will not be swayed by a message, regardless of its persuasiveness, due to a strong prior viewpoint. Perloff claims that such individuals will see the media as biased against them, a claim he backs up with pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian viewers' assessments of news coverage of the Lebanon conflict.

Future directions of third-person effect research

The existence or absence of third-person perceptions in a range of settings and messages, including libel suits, prosocial advertising, television violence, pornography, rap lyrics, and political messaging, was investigated in early third-person effect research. This level of study provides reasonable assurance that the third-person effect hypothesis is supported in a range of situations, with various themes and forms of media.

Scholars began examining this "behavioral component" hinted at even in Davison's initial explanation of the third-person effect, and research in the third-person effect progressed beyond these basic analyses. Most behavior-related research has discovered links between the third-person effect and behavior, such as support for censorship or pornography, limits on song lyrics or the sale of potentially offensive music, and political communication.

Consequences of the third-person effect

Disregard of health messages

Individuals think they are not as vulnerable to health warnings as other people due to the third-person effect. As a result, people frequently reject these warnings. In other words, the behavioral component of the third-person effect-a reluctance to modify their conduct in response to the message-often translates to the perceptual component of the third-person affect-the perception that they are not suggestible.

College students were asked to assess the impact of news on the avian flu in one study done by Wei, Lo, and Lu. The perceptual component of the third-person effect was represented by students' assumption that they would not be as affected by this news as other individuals. This third-person effect was especially strong if they were only exposed to this information on a rare occasion. Individuals who believed they might be persuaded by these messages, on the other hand, were more inclined to take action, such as seeking additional information about medications like Tamiflu. The perceived third-person effect, on the other hand, tended to hinder such behavior.

Body dissatisfaction

The third-person effect can amplify body dissatisfaction. As Choi, Leshner, and Choi demonstrated, women, do not believe the media influences their sentiments about various body forms. They do, however, believe that the media impacts the opinions of male friends toward various body forms, a phenomenon known as the third-person effect. That is, they believe that men will begin to view thin bodies as more appealing and ubiquitous. As a result, according to Choi, Leshner, and Choi, the third-person effect may enhance women's body dissatisfaction. As a result of the third-person effect, women are more afraid that their physical shape will not conform to men's ideals.

Belief in censorship

This third-person effect is frequently associated with other people's protective, almost paternalistic perspectives. Participants are more inclined to advocate for censorship when they experience a strong third-person impact. They tend to believe that other people are fragile and trusting and hence need to be safeguarded.

Involvement in the political process

The third-person effect, in particular, might elicit paternalistic beliefs. Because of the third-person effect, individuals believe that other citizens are overly susceptible to political commercials and hence may be affected by them. They believe that these folks will be misled. As a result, individuals feel compelled to participate in politics to correct these prejudices.

Factors that increase or decrease the third-person effect

The third-person effect did not appear to differ between nations or media, as this study revealed. However, the extent of this third-person effect has been demonstrated to be influenced by several circumstances. The third-person effect, for example, increases when the communication is about a political subject. Likewise, if the message appears confusing, the effect is amplified.


Furthermore, some people have a collectivist self-construal, in which they see themselves as part of a larger collective rather than as distinct and autonomous individuals. Surprisingly, when people adopt this collaborative mindset, the third-person effect is reduced. On the other hand, the third-person effect is sustained or intensified when people think of themselves as unattached or autonomous from their social group.


Most people know that persuasive communications, such as ads, can influence or modify the audience's attitudes and opinions. That is, they understand that the majority of people are easily influenced. On the other hand, individuals frequently believe that their attitudes and views are impenetrable to persuasive communications. They believe they are not as perusable as others.

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