This study investigates the emotional and behavioral effects of interpersonal online communication, focusing on the controversy surrounding the loosening of restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research. The issue, central to national and statewide elections in 2008, generated heated debate among candidates and voters and evoked strong emotional sentiments among partisans. Using the theory of affective intelligence, this study proposes a predictive model connecting levels of enthusiasm and anxiety with behavioral and information-seeking outcomes. Cognitive appraisal theory is also employed to provide a role for political emotion in accounting for interactive media effects. To investigate the ways that online deliberation may influence discussions surrounding stem cell research, a between-subjects experimental study was conducted that systematically varied the tone of feedback received (reinforcing or challenging) and type of interaction (synchronous or asynchronous) experienced by users. Results indicate that emotional responses play a significant role in predicting behavioral intentions arising from the user-to-user interactive experience.
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Vol. 28 • No. 2