Opinion and affect: An experimental investigation of the "fear of isolation" in the spiral of silence theory of public opinion formation and change

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communications


George Comstock


Fear of isloation, Mass media, Public opinion

Subject Categories

Mass Communication


The spiral of silence theory of public opinion formation and change posits that "fear of isolation" is an important causal agent for explaining differences in individual public expressions of opinions given a clear climate of opinion either favoring or opposed to the individual's own private opinion. The experimental research presented here attempted to find such a relationship between negative felt affect and opinion change due to climate of opinion manipulations. The literature review discusses the twelve important constructs of this theory, looks at relevant social psychological theories, and finds similarities for many critical concepts. Methodology and results of an experiment manipulating the climate of opinion are presented for three hypotheses. The manipulation consisted of verbal statements, visual cues, bogus written feedback, and mailings to participants preselected on the basis of their moderately pacifistic or militaristic attitudes. The first hypothesis regarding the importance of the "fear" in the fear of isolation and its association with opinion change was confirmed with a significant multivariate statistic only for those experimental participants with moderately militaristic attitudes. Experimental participants who did not receive support for their opinions from the manipulated climate of opinion were more moderate in their opinion expression for an imminently expected group discussion and exhibited greater increases in their self-reported felt negative affect than were experimental participants who did receive support for their opinions. Canonical correlation indicated that the high multivariate statistical significance was due equally to both dependent variables. The second and third hypotheses addressed whether the personality traits of Sensitivity to Rejection and Affiliative Tendency, respectively, would enhance these effects. As there were no trait-treatment interactions with these personality traits, a multivariate covariance analyses was performed and revealed a significant multivariate statistic for Sensitivity to Rejection but not for Affiliative Tendency. Canonical correlation revealed that the multivariate significance was due primarily to the affective dependent variable and due very little to the opinion dependent variable. Other analyses revealed the personality traits accounted for pre-experimental treatment affect. The inclusion of the covariates served to strengthen the previously found hypothesis one relationships. Again, these results for hypotheses two and three obtained only for those experimental participants with moderately militaristic attitudes. Conclusions address why results did not obtain for experimental participants with moderately pacifistic attitudes, give directions for future research, and discuss how the spiral of silence theory fits into other theories and conceptualizations of mass communication effects.


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