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Perceiving Penn State: The formative role of interpersonal discussion in third-person perceptions in the wake of a sexual abuse scandal.

We examine the role of interpersonal discussion in an attempt to better understand talk’s contribution to perceived media impacts related to the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University. Through the use of a survey conducted both in the state of Pennsylvania and nationally, we analyze how interpersonal discussion, issue involvement, media exposure, and affinity for the Penn State football team influence third-person perceptions (TPPs) related to the Penn State case. By examining a dynamic and polarizing social issue involving a previously well-regarded athletic program facing intense social and criminal scrutiny, we are able to better understand how TPPs are formed in the midst of an ongoing scandal. Results reveal the influence of interpersonal discussion—and especially interpersonal disagreement—as a key moderating variable in forming these perceptions of media influence.