Higher exposure to news media may fuel Islamophobia, according to a new study which found that people show increased anger and reduced warmth towards Muslims if they are more avid news consumers.

Researchers have long suspected that the news media fuels Islamophobia, but these ideas had never been tested on a nation-wide scale.

The study is based on responses from 16,584 people in New Zealand.

Researchers found that people who are more avid news consumers — whether liberal or conservative — showed both increased anger and reduced warmth towards Muslims.

“People tend to interpret the news in ways that fit with their pre-existing biases, seeking affirmation of their beliefs while discounting conflicting information,” said John Shaver, from University of Otago in New Zealand.

“New Zealand is a good test for speculation about media-induced Muslim prejudice because of its overall highly tolerant people,” said Shaver.

“If anything, tolerant Kiwis might tend to reject intolerant stereotypes, reducing the effect of the media,” he said.

“However we find that the association of prejudice towards Muslims with more media exposure holds across the political spectrum, and is specific to Muslims,” said Shaver.

“This indicates that it is widespread representations of Muslims in the news that is contributing to lower Muslim acceptance, rather than any partisan media bias,” he said.

“The media, regardless of politics, tend to publish violent stories because violence sells,” he added.

“Sadly, there may be real-world consequences for Muslims in this country, people who encounter prejudice across their daily routines, at the workplace, and in their children’s schools,” said Professor Joseph Bulbulia of Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.

“Though un-making prejudice is difficult, we hope these results challenge the media to present fairer representations of Muslims,” Bulbulia said.

The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.