The Third-Person Effect

Open access


This article focuses on people’s beliefs about how other people’s political attitudes are shaped and examines how the hypothesis of a third-person effect is related to non-mediated sources of information such as personal experience and interpersonal communication. Also presented are results on the perceived impact of different media such as television, newspapers and political advertising. A representative sample of the Swedish population answered a national survey during the period November - December 2001, and the results show general support for a third-person effect. Mediated information sources and interpersonal communication are believed to influence others more than oneself. Personal experience, on the other hand, is believed to be more important for oneself than for other people, and first-person effects were found among people with a high level of education or a strong political interest. Thus, one conclusion is that people tend to believe their own picture of politics is more dependent on personal experience and that others’ political attitudes are more dependent on mass media or people in their social environment.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Brosius H-B. & Engel D. (1996) The Causes of Third-person Effects: Unrealistic Optimism Impersonal Impact or Generalized Negative Attitudes Towards Media Influence? International Journal of Public Opinion Research 7 142-162.

  • Brown J.D. (1986) Evaluations of Self and Others: Self-enhancement Biases in Social Judgements’. Social Cognition 4 353-376.

  • Carter R. & Greenberg B. (1965) Newspapers and Television: Which do You Believe? Journalism Quarterly 42. 29-34.

  • Cohen J. & Davis R.G. (1991) Third-person Effects and the Differential Impact in Negative Political Advertising. Journalism Quarterly 68 680-688.

  • Cohen J. Mutz D. Price V. & Gunther A.C. (1988) Perceived Impact of Defamation. Public Opinion Quarterly 52 161-173.

  • Davison W.P. (1983) The Third-person Effect in Communication. Public Opinion Quarterly 47 1-15.

  • Duck J.M. & Mullin B.A. (1995) The Perceived Impact of the Mass Media: Reconsidering the Third-Person Effect. European Journal of Social Psychology 25 77-93.

  • Duck J.M. Hogg M.A. & Terry D.J. (1995) Me Us and Them. Political Communication and the Thirdperson Effect in the Australian Federation Election. European Journal of Social Psychology 25 195-215.

  • Duck J.M. Terry D.J. & Hogg M.A. (1995) The Perceived Influence of AIDS Advertising: Third-person Effects in the Context of Positive Media Content. Basic and Applied Social Psychology 17 305-325.

  • Esaiasson P. (1990) Svenska valkampanjer 1866-1988. Stockholm: Publica.

  • Eveland W.P. Jr. & McLeod D.M. (1999) The Effect of Social Desirability on Perceived Media Impact: Implications for Third-person Perceptions. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 11 315-333.

  • Eveland W.P. Jr. Nathanson A.I. Detenber B.H. & McLeod D. M. (1999) Rethinking the Social Distance Corollary. Perceived Likelihood of Exposure and the Third-person Perception. Communication Research 26 275-302.

  • Flanagin A.J. & Metzger M.J. (2000) Perceptions of Internet Information Credibility. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 77 515-540.

  • Gaziano C. & McGrath K. (1986) Measuring the Concept of Credibility. Journalism Quarterly 63451-462.

  • Gunther A.C. (1991) What we Think Others Think. Cause and Consequence in the Third-person effect. Communication Research 18 355-372.

  • Gunther A.C. (1995) Overrating the X-rating: The Third-person Perception and the Support for Censorship of Pornography. Journal of Communication 45 27-38.

  • Gunther A.C. & Mundy P. (1993) Biased Optimism and the Third-person Effect. Journalism Quarterly. 70 58-67.

  • Gunther A.C. & Thorson E. (1992) Perceived Persuasive Effects of Product Commercials and Public Service Announcements. Third-person Effects in New Domains. Communication Research 19 547-596.

  • Henriksen L. & Flora J.A. (1999) Third-person Perception and Children. Perceived Impact of Pro- and Anti-smoking Ads. Communication Research 26 643-665.

  • Hitchon J.C. Chang C. & Harris R. (1997) Should Woman Emote? Perceptual Bias and Opinion Change in Response to Political Ads for Candidates of Different Genders. Political Communication 14 49-69.

  • Hoffner C. Buchanan M. Anderson J.D. Hubbs L.A. Kamigaki S.K. Kowalczyk L. Pastorek A. Plotkin R.S. & Silberg K. J. (1999) Support for Censorship of Television Violence. The Role of the Third-person Effect and News Exposure. Communication Research 26 726-742.

  • Holmberg S. & Weibull L. (2004) Samlande institutionsförtroende. In S. Holmberg & L. Weibull (Eds.) Ju mer vi är tillsammans. Göteborgs universitet: SOM-institutet.

  • Hoorens V. & Ruiter S. (1996) The Optimal Impact Phenomenon: Beyond the Third-person Effect’. European Journal of Social Psychology 26 599-610.

  • Innes J.M. & Zeits H. (1988) The Public’s View on the Impact of the Mass Media: A Test of the “Thirdperson” Effect. European Journal of Social Psychology 18 457-463.

  • Katz E. & Lazarsfeld P.F. (1955) Personal Influence. Glencoe: Free Press.

  • Kiousis S. (2001) Public Trust or Mistrust? Perceptions of Media Credibility in the Information Age. Mass Communication & Society 4 381-404.

  • Lenart S. (1994) Shaping Political Attitudes. The Impact of Interpersonal Communication and Mass Media. Thousands Oaks CA: SAGE.

  • McLeod D.M. Detenber B.H. & Eveland W.P. Jr. (2001) Behind the Third-person Effect: Differentiating Perceptual Processes for Self and Other. Journal of Communication 51 678-695.

  • McLeod D.M. Eveland W.P. Jr. & Nathanson A.I. (1997) Support for Censorship of Violent and Misogynic Rap Lyrics. An Analysis of the Third-person Effect. Communication Research 24 153-174.

  • Miller G.R. (1987) Persuasion. In C.R. Berger & S.H. Chaffe (Eds.) Handbook of Communication Science. Newbury Park CA: Sage.

  • Mutz D. (1989) The Influence of Perception of Media Influence. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 1 3-24.

  • Mutz D.C. (1998) Impersonal Influence. How Perceptions of Mass Collectives Affect Political Attitudes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Neuwirth K. & Frederick E. (2002) Extending Framework of Third- First and Second-Person Effects. Mass Communication & Society 5 113-140.

  • Neuwirth K. Frederick E. & Mayo C. (2002) Person-effects and Heuristic-systematic Processing. Communication Research Vol. 29:320-359.

  • Nilsson Å. (2002) Den nationella SOM-undersökningen 2001. In Holmberg S. & Weibull L. (Eds.) Det våras för politiken. Trettiotvå artiklar om politik medier och samhälle. SOM-institutet: Göteborgs University.

  • Nord L. & Strömbäck J. (2003) Valfeber och nyhetsfrossa - politisk kommunikation i valrörelsen 2002. Stockholm: Stiftelsen Institutet för Mediestudier.

  • Paul B. Salwen M.B. & Dupagne M. (2000) The Third-person Effect: A Meta-analysis of the Perceptual Hypothesis. Mass Communication & Society 3 57-85.

  • Peiser W. & Peter J. (2001) Explaining Individual Differences in Third-person Perception. A Limits/ possibilities Perspective. Communication Research 28 156-180.

  • Perloff R. M. (1993) Third-person Effect Research 1983-1992: A Review and Synthesis. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 7 167-184.

  • Perloff R.M. (1996) Perceptions and Conceptions of Political Media Impact: The Third-person Effect and Beyond. In Crigler A.N. (Eds.) The Psychology of Political Communication. Ann Arbor: Michigan University Press.

  • Perloff R.M. (2002) The Third-person Effect. In B. Jennings & D. Zillman (Eds.) Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research. NJ: Mahwah.

  • Price V. Huang L.N. & Tewksbury D. (1997) Third-person Effects of News Coverage: Orientations toward Media. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 74 525-540.

  • Rojas H. Shah D.V. & Faber R.J. (1996) For the Good of Others: Censorship and the Third-person effect. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 7 163-186.

  • Rucinski D. & Salmon C.T. (1990) The “Other” as the Vulnerable Voter. A Study of the Third-person Effect in the 1988 U.S. Presidential Campaign. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 2 345-368.

  • Salwen M.B. (1998) Perception of Media Influence and Support for Censorship. The Third-person Effect in the 1996 Presidential Election. Communication Research 25 259-285.

  • Scharrer Erica (2002) Third-person Perception and Television Violence. The Role of Out-group Stereotyping in Perception of Susceptibility to Effects. Communication Research 29 681-704.

  • Shah D.V. Faber R.J. & Youn S. (1999) Susceptibility and Severity: Perceptual Dimensions Underlying the Third-person Effect. Communication Research 26 240-267.

  • Smith R. (1986) Television Addiction. In J. Bryant & D. Zillman (Eds.) Perspectives on Media Effects. Hillsdale NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

  • Thorson E. & Coyle J. (1994) The Third-person Effect in Three Genres of Commercials: Product and Greening Ads and Public Service Announcements. In K. King (Ed.) Proceedings of American Academy of Advertising. Athens GA: University of Georgia.

  • Tiedge J.T. Silverblatt A. Havice M.J. & Rosenfeld R. (1991) Discrepancy Between Perceived Firstperson and Third-person Mass Media Effects. Journalism Quarterly 68 141-154.

  • Weibull L. (2001) The Swedish Media Landscape. Structure Economy and Consumption. In Carlsson U. & Harrie E. (Eds.) Media Trends 2001 in Denmark Finland Norway and Sweden. Statistics and Analyses. Nordicom: Göteborg University.

  • Whitt H.P. (1983) Status Inconsistency: A Body of Negative Evidence or a Statistical Artifact? Social Forces 62(1) 201-233.

  • Willnat L. (1996) Mass Media and the Political Outspokenness in Hong Kong: Linking the Third-person Effect and the Spiral of Silence. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 7 187-212.

Journal information
Impact Factor

CiteScore 2018: 0.54

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.223
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.270

Cited By
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 391 252 8
PDF Downloads 204 151 5