When, Why, and How Controversy Causes Conversation
Management Information Systems
Public Relations and Advertising
How does controversy affect conversation? Five studies using both field and laboratory data address this question. Contrary to popular belief, controversial things are not necessarily more likely to be discussed. Controversy increases likelihood of discussion at low levels, but beyond a moderate level of controversy, additional controversy actually decreases likelihood of discussion. The controversy-conversation relationship is driven by two countervailing processes. Controversy increases interest (which increases likelihood of discussion) but simultaneously increases discomfort (which decreases likelihood of discussion). Contextual factors such as anonymity and whether people are talking to friends or strangers moderate the controversy-conversation relationship by impacting these component processes. Our framework sheds light on how, when, and why controversy affects whether or not things are discussed.