Satirical news programmes like Mock The Week and Have I Got News For You sways political beliefs
While such TV shows are often dismissed as entertainment, researchers found that watching satirical news strengthened pre-existing attitudes as much as watching serious news.
Meanwhile, people with little interest in politics were more likely to select satirical over serious news.
The US researchers concluded that watching satirical news affected people's belief that they can influence political processes.
Professor Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, a communications expert at The Ohio State University, said: "Satirical news matters. It is not just entertaining – it has a real-life impact on viewers."
This research aimed to measure the impact of satirical news programmes, which use comedy to examine political news of the day.
The study involved 146 college students who selected news clips to watch concerning climate change, gun control and immigration.
Programmes like Mock The Week sways viewers' beliefs
These results suggest that satirical news can engage people who otherwise would avoid political news
Professor Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick
The participants were first presented with eight news videos on just one of the three politically polarising topics. Four of the clips were serious news clips that were said to be from real news programmes while four were from satirical news shows.
The news clips gave a conservative or liberal slant, while the clips from satirical programmes had subtitles with a liberal or conservative bias.
Before and after watching the experiment, participants completed measures about their attitudes on the three topics and their feelings about their own ability to bring about political change.
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Results showed that participants selected the serious news clips more often than the satirical ones. However, those who said they had lower interest in politics were more likely than others to choose the satirical clips.
Prof Knobloch-Westerwick said: "These results suggest that satirical news can engage people who otherwise would avoid political news. This suggests that satirical news could be a gateway into more serious news use for people who aren't currently engaged in politics."
In general, participants selected clips that matched their political leanings: republicans chose conservative clips, while democrats chose liberal clips.
These are TV shows that are often dismissed as entertainment programmes
But there was a difference when it came specifically to the satirical news clips. republicans tended to choose the conservative satirical clips, but democratic-leaning participants didn't have a preference for liberal videos from the satirical sites.
The results showed that regardless of whether they viewed the serious or the satirical news clips, participants' political views were strengthened if they viewed videos that agreed with their original beliefs.
The study claims that shows like Have I Got News For You sways people's opinions on politics
Prof Knobloch-Westerwick said: "Satirical news has the same impact as serious news – it reinforces your political attitudes. It may be funny, but it has serious effects.
"Satirical news shouldn't be disregarded just because its goal is to make people laugh. It still has an impact, just like serious news does."
The findings are published online in the Journal of Communication.