Don't expect too much! learning from late-night comedy and knowledge item difficulty

Young Min Baek, Magdalena E. Wojcieszak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


The debate on late night comedy has been inconclusive, with some scholars arguing that this genre increases political knowledge, and others seeing late night comedy as harmful to effective citizenry. We add to the debate and to the research on media effects more generally, by proposing a model that measures political knowledge. The model utilizes item response theory (IRT) to account for individual characteristics, knowledge item difficulty, and response format that influences the likelihood of providing a correct response. Drawing on the 2004 National Annenberg Election Study, we employ this model to test knowledge gain from late night comedy. Using a meta-analysis across 35 political knowledge items, we show that late night comedy increases knowledge, but primarily on easy political items that have fewer correct response options, and mainly among the inattentive citizens. We discuss theoretical implications and provide practical suggestions for scholarship on media effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)783-809
Number of pages27
JournalCommunication Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2009 Dec

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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