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Communication Media Effects
by
Yariv Tsfati

Introduction

Media effects are typically defined as social or psychological responses occurring in individuals, dyads, small groups, organizations, or communities as a result of exposure to or processing of or otherwise acting on media messages. The changes caused by media can take place on several dimensions. The effects can be intended by the message source or unintended. The consequences can include not only changes, but also preservation of the status quo. If a certain social situation perpetuates because of media this is also considered a media effect. In addition, media effects can be both short-term and long-term. Dating back to the 1920s, media-effects research emerged as an academic field grounded within the young communication discipline only in the 1950s. The dominant paradigm in communication research, after an initial wave of public apprehension of massive media effects, was that media have only limited effects on the audience. In the 1970s and 1980s, with the advent of new theories stressing significant media impact, scholars called for a return to the concept of massive media impact. These new theories moved away from the notion that exposure to media can immediately and directly affect people’s attitudes and behaviors. Rather, each theory stressed more sophisticated and limited processes that may only indirectly affect decisions and actions. In recent years, research has focused less on whether media effects are “minimal” or “massive” and more on identifying moderators (the conditions under which effects are stronger or weaker) and mediators (the phenomena that lie between exposure and the changes caused by exposure). This move suggests an increasing realization that media effects are not “massive,” uniform, or direct. Scholars have examined the effects of a variety of texts, disseminated through a diversity of media, in a variety of contexts, on a range of cognitive, attitudinal, and behavioral dependent variables. This article represents the main theories and concepts, and the different generations of scholarship, research contexts, topics, and types of responses investigated. The organization of this article has a chronological-historical component: it starts with the early notions of powerful media, moves to the limited effects theories prevalent from between the 1940s and 1960s, and proceeds to more contemporary theories of more powerful effects. However, every time a theory is addressed, an effort is made to cover must-read items on this theory from different contexts, generations, and research traditions.

Textbooks

As a subject area, media effects are taught at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Each of the following entries organizes the literature differently. Some of the entries, such as Perse 2001, offer models integrating the different perspectives in media-effects research, whereas others, such as Jeffres 1997, merely organize and review the literature. In other cases, such as with Lowery and DeFleur 1988, the review is historical and reflective in its nature. Perry 1996 is more psychological in its orientation, and the effects are organized according to intended/unintended effects that take place at the individual-cognitive or mass-opinions or national-development levels. Finally, Bryant and Thompson 2001 contains separate sections providing a historical perspective, a conceptual and theoretical overview, and an overview of research in the different thematic contexts in which effects were studied.

  • Bryant, Jennings, and Susan Thomson. 2001. Fundamentals of media effects. New York: McGraw Hill.

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    Extremely accessible and well-organized textbook geared toward undergraduate students.

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  • Jeffres, Leo W. 1997. Mass media effects. 2d ed. Prospects Heights, IL: Waveland.

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    A comprehensive, well-organized, and clearly written textbook, suitable for undergraduate students. This entry includes chapters on the economic and cultural effects of mass communication, which enjoy less attention in other textbooks.

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  • Lowery, Sharon A., and Melvin L. DeFleur. 1988. Milestones in mass communication research. White Plains, NY: Longman.

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    This textbook is a milestone in the teaching of media research. It focuses on thirteen key projects or research traditions, which are organized chronologically, and presents them elegantly and clearly, putting them in their context. In the final chapter, the authors try to deduce common generalizations.

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  • Perry, David K. 1996. Theory and research in mass communication: Contexts and consequences. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    This general communication textbook is ideal for undergraduate students with a psychological orientation. Chapters 6 through 11 provide a detailed and lucid review of the effects literature.

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  • Perse, Elizabeth M. 2001. Media effects and society. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    This is a very accessible book, offering a review of the literature on five central avenues of research on media effects. The book nicely outlines the complexities in effects research and integrates several models of media effects, detailing the differences between main lines of thought and writing about audience response to media.

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Anthologies

Given that “effects” is one of the most studied topics in the field of communication, several anthologies have been dedicated to media effects. The anthologies vary in the way they organize the literature, in their level, and in their scope. The chapters in each of the books were typically written by top experts in specific areas varying from the political domain through sex and violence in media to educational television and health communication. Bryant and Oliver 2008 is recommended as an introductory text for beginners while Nabi and Oliver 2009 is geared toward slightly more advanced students. Katz, et al. 2003 is intended for students and scholars with an interest in the historical development of media effects research, and Stacks and Salwen 2009 is unique in integrating research about media-effects with other types of communication research. Finally, Preiss, et al. 2007 is geared toward students with some training in statistics and research methods.

  • Bryant, Jennings, and Mary Beth Oliver. 2008. Media effects: Advances in theory and research. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge.

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    Geared toward advanced undergrads and graduate students, this book contains twenty-seven chapters covering most contemporary aspects of media-effects research. Most chapters offer a great introduction to their topics, but an integrative approach is lacking.

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  • Katz, Elihu, John Durham Peters, Tamar Liebes, and Avril Orloff. 2003. Canonic texts in media research: Are there any? Should there be? How about these? Cambridge, UK: Polity.

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    This book, suitable for advanced students and scholars only, includes thirteen chapters, written by prominent experts, contextualizing, analyzing and reflecting on the contribution of some of the key classical texts in media-effects research. Collectively the chapters illuminate the epistemological assumptions lying at the core of the different paradigms in audience research.

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  • Nabi, Robin L., and Mary Beth Oliver. 2009. The SAGE handbook of media processes and effects. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This anthology of thirty-seven articles is suitable for students and scholars alike. In addition to the chapters covering a variety of theories and contexts of media-effects research, the volume includes a highly recommended section on conceptual and methodological issues and a unique section on medium issues.

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  • Preiss, W. Raymond, Barbara Mae Gayle, Nancy Burrell, Mike Allen, and Jennings Bryant. 2007. Mass media effects research: Advances through meta-analysis. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    Meta-analysis is a statistical technique for reviewing the research literature and summarizing it by calculating an average statistical effect size. This volume offers twenty-nine chapters, most of which offer a meta-analysis on a specific topic in media-effects research. An extremely useful technique to get a quick sense of what is happening in a vast research literature.

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  • Stacks, Don W., and Michael Brian Salwen. 2009. An integrated approach to communication theory and research. New York and London: Routledge.

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    This volume is unique in integrating research and theory on mass in integrating research and theory on mass-media exposure and effects with additional fields of research within the communication discipline, most notably with interpersonal communication and persuasion.

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Review Essays

If you wish to familiarize yourself with the effects literature before you dive in deeply into a specific theory or line of research, reading one or more of the following review essays may be an effective strategy. McDonald 2004 is organized chronologically and would be suitable for scholars interested in learning about the historical trajectory of effects research. Katz 1980, a classic review, is effective in summarizing each of the theories with a sentence (typically a question). Finally, Kepplinger 2008 is more updated and combines a historical review with a conceptual outlining of the axioms guiding effects research.

  • Katz, Elihu. 1980. On conceptualizing media effects. Studies in Communication 1:119–141.

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    This entry reviews and organizes the effects literature in an accessible and provocative manner. The main research traditions on media effects are presented. The assumptions of each tradition regarding the audience, the text, and the methods of inquiry are spelled out.

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  • Kepplinger, Hans Mathias. 2008. Media effects. In The international encyclopedia of communication. Vol. 7. Edited by Wolfgang Donsbach, 2871–2887. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    All effects-related entries in this encyclopedia will provide extremely useful essays summarizing various topics related to media effects. This entry provides a definition of effects, a historical review of effects research, a thematically organized and updated theoretical review of the main effects suggested thus far in communication research, and a review of the main axioms justly or wrongly guiding effects research.

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  • McDonald, Daniel G. 2004. 20th-century media effects research. In The SAGE handbook of media studies. Edited by John D. H. Downing, Denis McQuail, Philip Schlesinger, and Ellen Wartella. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Clearly written and chronologically organized review of the effects literature that provides somewhat less detail on recent developments.

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Early Conceptions of Powerful Media

Bryce 1888, Cooley 1909, Laswell 1948, and Lippmann 1922 are classic readings in communication and public opinion. All claim that the influences of mass communication over society are immense. These entries are also enjoyable and highly accessible. Although they were written many decades ago, these entries are still relevant today. Later accounts of early communication research spoke about an early hypodermic-needle model of media effects, according to which media were assumed to have direct immediate and uniform effects over a passive audience. As Bineham 1988 and Chaffee and Hochheimer 1985 suggest, it is unclear whether such constructions of all-powerful media in fact existed in early research or were constructed later on as a contrast to the limited-effects model.

  • Bineham, Jeffery L. 1988. A historic account of the hypodermic model in mass communication. Communication Monographs 55:232–246.

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    This historical review presents and examines a dispute regarding the existence of a hypodermic-needle model of media effects in early research. As the author argues, the different readings of the history of communication research result from different ideological, theoretical, and methodological perspectives.

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  • Bryce, James. 1888. The American commonwealth. London: Macmillan.

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    Bryce views the newspaper, together with interpersonal communication, education and elite influence, as a major source of influence on public opinion.

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  • Chaffee, Steven H., and John L. Hochheimer. 1985. The beginning of political communication research in the United States: Origins of the “limited effects” model. In The media revolution in America and Western Europe. Edited by Everett M. Rogers and Francis Balle, 267–296. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

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    A seminal historical and conceptual account of the early years of communication research in the United States, this essay provides a different narrative of the “hypodermic model” and the later transition to the limited-effects model.

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  • Cooley, H. Charles. 1909. Social organization: A study of the larger mind. New York: Scribner.

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    Part 2 of this seminal sociological text deals the impact of communication on individuals and society. Cooley describes new communication technologies, overcoming space barriers in a quick time and reaching and enjoying access to a variety of social classes, as agents of social homogeneity and integration, but on the other hand as a major cause of superficiality and social strain.

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  • Laswell, Harold. 1948. The structure and function of communication in society. In The communication of ideas. Edited by Lyman Bryson. 37–51. New York: Harper.

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    Laswell’s “who says what, to whom, in what channel, with what effect” is perhaps the most cited definition of communication. Laswell’s model is unidirectional and linear, and it does not contain feedback or noise, and thus the model was associated with notions of powerful media. The article surveys the functions and roles media play in society.

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  • Lippmann, Walter. 1922. Public opinion. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

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    Jam-packed with anecdotes and hypothetical examples, Chapter 1 of this classic entry presents the media as exerting an enormous influence on the pictures in people’s heads. We act upon our perceptions of political and social realities, and not in response to the events themselves. These perceptions are immensely shaped by media. A seminal reading in public opinion and communication.

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Minimal-Effects Paradigm

The minimal-effects paradigm emerged as a response to the early conceptions about the power of the media in public discourse and academic thinking. As opposed to these earlier conceptions, the early empirical research projects found only modest evidence for opinion change as a result of exposure to mass media. The main arguments of the limited-effects tradition were, first, that rather than being passive victims of media messages, audiences actively select media outlets that are congruent with their original attitudes; second, that rather than converting people’s attitudes, media merely reinforce preexisting predispositions; and third, that interpersonal communication, mainly mediated through opinion leaders, has a central role in the dissemination of mass-media messages. The seminal Klapper 1960 provides an overview of the limited-effects paradigm. McGuire 1986 reviews dozens of effects research papers and reaches the conclusion that evidence for effects are modest, and Gitlin 1978 offers one of the most widely cited critiques of the limited effects paradigm. Recently, Bennet and Iyengar 2008 has suggested that media scholars should return to the concept of minimal effects, in light of dramatic changes in media landscape, offering audiences numerous outlets containing partisan news information.

  • Bennet, W. Lance, and Shanto Iyengar. 2008. A new era of minimal effects? The changing foundations of political communication. Journal of Communication 58:707–731.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2008.00410.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this article from the first decade of the 21st century, the authors posit that some of the arguments for the limited-effects paradigm are extremely relevant in the media landscape. With partisan outlets such as Fox News, the audience has more opportunities for selectivity than at any point in the past. The result is audience polarization—a new term that is similar to the “reinforcement” suggested by limited-effects research.

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  • Gitlin, Todd. 1978. Media sociology: The dominant paradigm. Theory & Society 6.2: 205–253.

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    In this sharp attack on the limited-effects model, Gitlin questions the assumptions of the limited-effects model, and argues that some early findings do not support the model. The funding and methodology of some of the early studies account for the findings, according to Gitlin.

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  • Klapper, Joseph T. 1960. The effects of mass communication. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

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    A classic, clear, and widely cited review of media effects, as seen through the eyes of the minimal-effects paradigm. The book was unique for considering political and nonpolitical effects of the media together and for detailing the conditions required for media effects to take place.

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  • McGuire, William. 1986. The myth of massive media impact: Savaging and salvaging. Public Communication and Behavior 1:173–225.

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    A comprehensive summary of a giant amount of literature is presented. The author deduces from the review that massive media impact is no more than a myth.

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Activation and Reinforcement

Activation (in which people with no overt voting preferences, but with sociological predispositions toward a certain candidate, end up voting for that candidate) and reinforcement (in which propaganda’s effect is said to preserve and even strengthen prior opinions) were both proposed in the seminal People’s Choice study (Lazarsfeld, et al. 1948). Finkel 1993 and Hillygus and Jackman 2003 exemplify the immense influence of Lazarsfeld’s notions of activation on later research. The concept of reinforcement has evolved over the years, and contemporary research prefers the concept of “polarization.” Like reinforcement, polarization implies that media exposure results in stronger opinions on the individual level, but the notion of polarization includes not only stronger attitudes toward a certain candidate, but also at the same time more negative attitudes toward that candidate’s opponent. Jamieson and Cappella 2008 demonstrates how exposure to conservative outlets such as the Rush Limbaugh Show, certain Fox News shows, and the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal create more polarized attitudes among audiences. Like Jamieson and Cappella 2008, Slater 2007 connects reinforcement to the concept of selective exposure and explains how selective exposure to congruent messages reinforces prior attitudes and opinions, which in turn evoke the motivation for further selective exposure, and so forth.

  • Finkel, Steven E. 1993. Reexamining the minimal effects model in recent presidential campaigns. Journal of Politics 55.1: 1–21.

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    The author analyzes panel data from the 1980 American presidential elections and finds more evidence for activation than for reinforcement. The campaign does not make prior opinions stronger (that is, it does not reinforce previous electoral choices), but rather it activates preexisting political attitudes and translates them into an electoral decision.

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  • Hillygus, D. Sunshine, and Simon Jackman. 2003. Voter decision-making in election 2000: Campaign effects, partisan activation and the Clinton legacy. American Journal of Political Science 47.4: 583–596.

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    Sophisticated analysis of data from the 2000 American presidential elections exemplifies the current use of Lazarsfeld’s notion of activation. For example, the debates activated Gore-leaning Republicans to “come home” and vote for Bush. The conventions activated Bush-leaning-Democrats’ predispositions and likewise encouraged them to “come home” and vote for Gore.

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  • Jamieson, Kathleen Hall, and Joseph N. Cappella. 2008. Echo chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the conservative media establishment. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Chapters 5 to 13 of this volume investigate the effects of exposure to conservative outlets on audience attitudes. They demonstrate that more than reinforcing preexisting beliefs and attitudes this type of selective exposure polarizes audiences and effectively inoculates them against accepting opposing argument. More importantly, Jamieson and Cappella demonstrate the mechanisms through which these effects take place.

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  • Lazarsfeld, Paul Felix, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet. 1948. The people’s choice: How the voter makes up his mind in a presidential campaign. 2d ed. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    This seminal study was the first large-scale empirical and quantitative panel examination designed to figure out how people arrive at their voting decisions. Chapters 8 and 9 in particular describe the process of “activation” and “reinforcement” in detail. Despite its sophistication, this classic study is highly enjoyable and accessible.

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  • Slater, Michael D. 2007. Reinforcing spirals: The mutual influence of media selectivity and media effects and their impact on individual behavior and social identity. Communication Theory 17.3: 281–303.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2885.2007.00296.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The article is innovative in connecting the concept of reinforcement to the psychological social identity and selective-attention theories, communication theories (such as agenda setting, spiral of silence, and framing), and the selective-exposure literature.

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Two-Step Flow and Diffusion Studies

The two-step-flow hypothesis argues that the influence of media on society is not direct, as originally perceived, but rather mediated through opinion leaders, who are savvy users of mass media channels in their realm of influence, and who “pass on what they read and hear to those of their everyday associates for whom they are influential”(Katz 1957, p. 61). The hypothesis emerged from Lazarsfeld, et al. 1948 (cited under Activation and Reinforcement) but was reexamined in a seminal study in Decatur, IL, later published in Katz and Lazarseld 1955. Katz 1957 reviewed early evidence on the two-step flow as well as subsequent studies that supported it. Weimann 1994 critically reviews the vast literature that has emerged from this research tradition, updates and modifies the model, and offers a new measure to detect opinion leadership. Livingstone 2006 contextualizes the two-step flow hypothesis within historical and intellectual trends in communication research. Bennett and Manheim 2006 challenges the validity of the two-step-flow model in an increasingly fragmented and polarized media environment. In parallel to the two-step-flow models, a tradition of research on how people learn about innovations and subsequently adopt them has developed, reaching similar conclusions about the combination of interpersonal and mass media to the spread of information and decision making in society. Rogers 2003 is highly recommended as an introductory text on this tradition. Vishwanath and Goldhaber 2003 and Ford, et al. 2006 exemplify how this research tradition is applied in contemporary research about the adoption of communication technologies.

  • Bennett, W. Lance, and Jarol B. Manheim. 2006. The one-step flow of communication. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 608:213–232.

    DOI: 10.1177/0002716206292266Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argue that targeted and niche media increasingly fulfill the role once played by opinion leaders in decision making processes.

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  • Ford, Eric W., Nir Menachemi, and Thad Phillips. 2006. Predicting the adoption of electronic health records by physicians: When will healthcare be paperless? Journal of the American Medical Information Association 13:106–112.

    DOI: 10.1197/jamia.M1913Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Health care is behind other sectors with respect to the adoption of information technologies. This study uses the framework of diffusion research to explore the factors facilitating the adoption of electronic health records by physicians.

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  • Katz, Elihu. 1957. The two-step flow of communication: An up-to-date report on an hypothesis. Public Opinion Quarterly 21:61–78.

    DOI: 10.1086/266687Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reviews the design and results of four studies following up on the original two-step-flow hypothesis. Offers a clear and concise review of the main components of the two-step-flow process: The impact of personal influence, the flow of personal influence and the influence, on mass media on opinion leaders.

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  • Katz, Elihu, and Paul F. Lazarsfeld. 1955. Personal influence: The part played by people in the flow of mass communications. New York: Free Press.

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    An in-depth report on the landmark Decatur, IL, study that has transformed our understanding of the relationship between mass communication and interpersonal communication. This book was revolutionary in many aspects, particularly in focusing on specific decisions and on the advisor-advisee dyad.

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  • Livingstone, Sonia. 2006. On the influence of “personal influence” on the study of audiences. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 608:233–250.

    DOI: 10.1177/0002716206292325Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the impact of Katz and Lazarsfeld 1955 and the two-step-flow hypothesis on communication research, in particular on the conceptualization of the media audience. Argues that the two-step flow could foster dialogue between the critical and administrative schools of communication research.

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  • Rogers, Everett M. 2003. Diffusion of innovations. 5th ed. New York: Free Press.

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    One of the most widely used and cited textbooks, which effectively and clearly summarizes the diffusion tradition.

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  • Vishwanath, Arun, and Gerald M. Goldhaber. 2003. Examination of the factors contributing to adoption decisions among late diffused technology products. New Media & Society 5.4: 547–572.

    DOI: 10.1177/146144480354005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Investigates several predictions of diffusion theory in the context of late adaptors of cellular telephones. Importantly for the context of media-effects research, media use was indirectly associated with adoption through perceptions of the compatibility and complexity of cell phones.

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  • Weimann, Gabriel. 1994. The influentials: People who influence people. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press.

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    The book critically reexamines and updates the concept of opinion leadership based on a multinational research project and a review of the vast literature on personal influence. The author proposes a new measure to identify opinion leaders and their “influenceability,” tests and applies it to modify the two-step-flow model, and links it to other theories.

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Selective Exposure, Perception, and Retention

A central component of the limited-effects paradigm is that rather than being persuaded by media, most audiences attend to media that are congenial to their viewpoints to begin with (selective exposure), perceive information as supportive of their viewpoint (selective perception), and recall the more congenial parts of the mediated text, omitting the ideologically incongruent aspects and arguments from memory (selective recall). Bothwell and Brigham 1983 provides an excellent example of selective recall: respondents watching the Carter-Reagan debate tended to accurately remember their preferred candidate’s statements. The classic Vidmar and Rokeach 1974 provides an excellent example of selective perception: conservative viewers tended to perceive Archie Bunker more favorably than liberal viewers. Most research on audience selectivity has been dedicated to selective exposure. The original selective-exposure argument was formulated by Lazarsfeld, et al. 1948 (cited under Activation and Reinforcement). Wheeless 1974 explores the variables increasing or decreasing people’s tendency to expose themselves to ideologically congruent materials, and chapter authors in Zillmann and Bryant 1985 extend the selective-exposure arguments to entertainment genres and document it using experiments. Bryant and Davies 2006 include references to later developments stemming from selective exposure, such as “the affect-dependency theory of stimulus arrangements.” Selective exposure also received substantial criticisms: Sears and Freedman 1967 critically differentiates between selective exposure and “de-factor selective exposure” devoid of the political motivation to seek ideologically consistent information that characterizes the phenomenon as formulated by Lazarsfeld. Despite these criticisms, the last decade has seen a substantial revival of the selective-exposure tradition. As argued by Stroud 2008 and Garrett 2009, this is probably because of the rise of a diversity of news and media outlets offering political information targeted at political niches. Combined with the improvements in methods and data quality, this new media landscape has enabled scholars to examine the dynamics of selective exposure over the course of time (Stroud 2008) and to put forth more fine-tuned arguments about selective exposure (Garrett 2009).

  • Bothwell, Robert K., and John C. Brigham. 1983. Selective evaluation and recall during the 1980 Reagan‑Carter debate. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 13:427–442.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.1983.tb01750.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Experimental data and data collected outside the laboratory provide evidence for selective recall and perception of candidates in a presidential debate.

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  • Bryant, Jennings, and John Davies. 2006. Selective exposure processes. In The psychology of entertainment. Edited by Jennings Bryant and Peter Vorderer. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    Comprehensive, theoretically oriented review of the concept of selective exposure and related theories of mood management and the affect-dependency theory of stimulus arrangements. Thoroughly connects selective exposure to various psychological concepts such as cognitive dissonance and conditional learning.

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  • Garrett, R. Kelly. 2009. Politically motivated reinforcement seeking: Reframing the selecting exposure debate. Journal of Communication 59.4: 676–699.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2009.01452.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A fresh examination of the selective-exposure hypothesis distinguishing between reinforcement seeking (active selection of ideologically congruent materials) and challenge avoidance (refraining from exposure to incongruent materials).

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  • Sears, David O., and Jonathan L. Freedman. 1967. Selective exposure to information: A critical review. Public Opinion Quarterly 31.2: 194–213.

    DOI: 10.1086/267513Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An influential review and critique of early selective-exposure literature, arguing that some of the findings in this literature do not necessarily point out that exposure to ideologically consistent media is motivated by selection of politically congruent information.

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  • Stroud, Natalie Jomini. 2008. Media use and political predispositions: Revisiting the concept of selective exposure. Political Behavior 30:341–366.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11109-007-9050-9Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This investigation is unique in examining whether selective exposure increases over time through the course of the campaign and in investigating whether selective exposure is contingent on medium type. In addition, cross-lagged analysis is utilized to examine whether selective exposure increases audience polarization.

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  • Vidmar, Neil, and Milton Rokeach. 1974. Archie Bunker’s bigotry: A study in selective perception and exposure. Journal of Communication 24.1: 35–47.

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    A classic study documenting selecting perception and exposure in the context of the popular entertainment TV show All in the Family.

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  • Wheeless, Lawrence, R. 1974. The effects of attitude, credibility, and homophily on selective exposure to information. Speech Monographs 41:329–338.

    DOI: 10.1080/03637757409375857Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Documents the effects of attitudes toward the source, perceptions of source credibility and homophily toward the source on selection to expose oneself to information from the source or to reject such information.

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  • Zillmann, Dolf, and Jennings Bryant, eds. 1985. Selective exposure to communication. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    The chapters in this collection examine selective exposure from a psychological perspective, and thus many of them offer experimental investigations and theoretical insights from cognitive psychology. The chapters focus not only on ideologically motivated information seeking, but also on selective exposure in the realm of entertainment consumption.

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Return to Concept of Powerful Media

As the general references cited here demonstrate, since the early 1970s, communication scholars have reexamined the notion of massive media impact. This time, effects were perceived as more sophisticated, indirect, and insinuative, rather than the early “what to think” approaches. The theoretical perspectives that belong to this move include cultivation, agenda setting, priming and framing, spiral of silence, normative influence, theories of physiological responses, and theories on effects on knowledge and knowledge gaps. Originating in both sides of the Atlantic, and focusing on a variety of contexts, these general entries all share the notion that media effects are not as limited as argued by the limited-effects paradigm. As noted by Iyengar and Simon 2000, methodological sophistication may explain why effects that were unnoticed in the 1950s and 1960s were discovered later on. This methodological sophistication is exemplified in Zaller 1996, Huber and Arceneaux 2007, and Peter 2004. However, broader conceptual definitions of effects and an increased realization that at times even minimal effects have overwhelming social consequences were also mentioned by Iyengar and Simon 2000 as an explanation for the revival of claims of massive media effects. Putnam 1995 exemplifies such a broader definition of effects and new dependent variables that were a part of the return to notions of powerful media. Noelle-Neumann 1973 offers an example of the argumentation and conceptualization of the return to the concept of massive media.

  • Huber, Gregory, and Kevin Arceneaux. 2007. Identifying the persuasive effects of presidential advertising. American Journal of Political Science 51.4: 957–977.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5907.2007.00291.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sophisticated analysis focusing of residents on nonbattleground states who received high levels of campaign commercials because they resided in a broadcast media market that crossed into a battleground state. The analysis effectively deals with factors other than advertising that may have an impact on political preferences and finds evidence demonstrating attitude change among undecided audiences, especially those with moderate levels of political awareness.

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  • Iyengar, Shanto, and Adam Simon. 2000. New perspectives and evidence on political communication and campaign effects. Annual Review of Psychology 51:149–169.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.51.1.149Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors review recent trends and findings in campaign research and argue that campaigns are more potent than widely believed. The reasons are broader definitions of effects, new theoretical models focusing on resonance and strategic effects, and the increased use of experimentation and content analysis combined with improvements in the analysis of sample surveys.

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  • Peter, Jochen. 2004. Our long “return to the concept of powerful mass media”: A cross-national comparative investigation of the effects of consonant media coverage. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 16.2: 144–168.

    DOI: 10.1093/ijpor/16.2.144Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Using sophisticated analysis of cross-national data, collected in the context of European integration, the article demonstrates that consonant messages (in favor or against integration) were powerful in predicting support for the European Union, especially when the messages were visible. Elegantly addresses some of the key criticisms of powerful-media theories such as selective exposure.

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  • Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth. 1973. Return to the concept of a powerful mass media. Studies of Broadcasting 9:67–112.

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    A seminal assertion of the arguments in favor of deserting the minimal-effects paradigm.

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  • Putnam, Robert. 1995. Tuning in, tuning out: On the strange disappearance of social capital in America. PS: Political Science and Politics 28.4: 664–683.

    DOI: 10.2307/420517Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this highly influential piece, Putnam argues that television is responsible for the erosion of social capital in the United States. Reads like a detective story, and nicely examines and rules out additional potential factors. Exemplifies a highly influential line of research arguing that media is responsible for the decrease in social participation and trust.

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  • Zaller, John. 1996. The myth of massive media impact revived: New support for a discredited idea. In Political persuasion and attitude change. Edited by Diana Carole Mutz, Paul M. Sneiderman, and Richard A. Brody, 17–79. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

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    Innovative and sophisticated in its approach to media effects, this chapter explains that limited effects were documented by previous research because communication campaign involves a competition between competing messages and because previous studies had focused on measuring exposure rather than retention. Despite these, Zaller argues that if one looks at the right context using the right indicators of message retention, sizable effects are detectable.

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Cultivation

Cultivation theory was introduced in the 1970s by George Gerbner. Briefly, it states that television has the ability to influence viewers’ perceptions of social reality. Television is seen as a powerful and centralized agent of socialization that tells “most of the stories to most of the people most of the time” (see Gerbner, et al. 1980). As Morgan and Signorielli 1990 explains, television is perceived to have a univocal, recurrent, stable, and unambiguous system of messages. A quantitative large-scale television content analysis, designed to trace this system of messages, shows that the world of television is very different than the real world. The cultivation hypothesis states that television viewers who spend many hours a day (most of their leisure time) with television’s distorted, highly stylized, stereotyped, and repetitive messages will tend to adopt its dominant depictions of “the world outside.” Cultivation research found that perceptions of heavy viewers are closer to televised reality than those of light viewers. This was the case with regard to both assessments of real-world statistics and facts (“first order cultivation”) as well as the transformation and extrapolation of these assessments into broader values, beliefs, and ideologies (“second order cultivation”). The main criticisms of cultivation theory (reviewed by Weimann 2000) were that many of the findings regarding the outcome measures can be explained by other variables not included in the analysis, that there is a possibility that reverse causation (some underlying personality disposition) causes the heavy viewing, that audience selectivity could account for cultivation findings, and that the effects might be genre-specific. Rubin, et al. 1988 raise concerns regarding measurement issues. The theory has also been attacked for treating the diverse spectrum of televised texts as a single monopolistic mainstream, and for neglecting the possibility that audiences might have divergent interpretations of televised texts. The most problematic early concerns, articulated by Hirsh 1980, had to do with the fact that after controlling for a few demographics, some of the effects became very small in size. In response to these early criticisms, cultivation researchers have made some elaborations and corrections to their theory (Gerbner, et al. 1980), most notably by introducing the concepts of “mainstreaming” and “resonance.” Lastly, at the turn of the 21st century, various moderators were explored that shed light on the cognitive processes accounting for cultivation’s findings. Mares 1996 argued that viewers’ confusion between fiction and news accounts for the association between exposure to TV fiction and reality perceptions, while Shrum 2001 demonstrates that heuristic processing may account for the findings. This suggests that perhaps television has the ability to influence what’s on the top of people’s minds, but not to reshape their consciousness as originally thought.

  • Gerbner, George, Larry Gross, Michael F. Eleey, Marilyn Jackson-Beeck, Suzanne Jeffries-Fox, and Nancy Signorielli. 1977. TV violence profile no. 8: The highlights. Journal of Communication 27.2: 171–180.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1977.tb01845.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An excellent example of the cultural indicators’ project findings and analytic strategies. The authors calculated the correlation between television viewing and providing television’s (as opposed to “real life”) answers to questions about social reality.

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  • Gerbner, George, Larry Gross, Michael Morgan, and Nancy Signorelli. 1980. The mainstreaming of America: Violence profile no. 11. Journal of Communication 30.3: 10–29.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1980.tb01987.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article introduces the concept of mainstreaming that Gerbner and his colleagues developed in response to early criticisms of cultivation theory.

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  • Gerbner, George. 1998. Cultivation analysis: An overview. Mass Communication & Society 1:175–194.

    DOI: 10.1207/s15327825mcs0103&4_4Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An extremely effective overview of the intellectual assumptions, claims, findings, and variations of cultivation research. In addition to reviewing the theory, Gerbner provides his answers to central criticisms of cultivation research.

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  • Hirsch, Paul. 1980. The “scary world” of non-viewers and other anomalies: A reanalysis of Gerbner et al.’s findings on cultivation analysis. Communication Research 7:403–456.

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    An early critique of cultivation theory and findings, arguing that some of the early findings are in fact spurious associations.

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  • Mares, Marie-Louise. 1996. The role of source confusion in television’s cultivation of social reality judgments. Human Communication Research 23:278–297.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.1996.tb00395.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that audience confusion between news and fiction may account for cultivation findings. A set of hypotheses testing this claim was investigated using a manipulation that tried to confuse news and fiction. Results indicated that for participants thinking the fiction they watched was news, the typical cultivation associations emerged, but the opposite was true for participants thinking the news they watched was fiction.

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  • Rubin, Alan M., Elizabeth M. Perse, and Donald S. Taylor. 1988. A methodological examination of cultivation. Communication Research 15.2: 107–134.

    DOI: 10.1177/009365088015002001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors explore the possibility that cultivation findings in fact stem from response bias, namely from the possibility that respondents exaggerating their reports regarding media exposure also exaggerate their assessments of social realities.

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  • Shrum, L. J. 2001. Processing strategy moderates the cultivation effect. Human Communication Research 27.1: 94–120.

    DOI: 10.1093/hcr/27.1.94Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A simple experiment examining the role of processing strategy in cultivation. Some of the participants were requested to process heuristically (that is, to provide an answer off the top of their head) and others to process systematically (that is, to think carefully and provide an accurate answer). Cultivation effects were noted in the heuristic condition but not in the systematic condition.

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  • Signorielli, Nancy, and Michael Morgan], eds. 1990. Cultivation analysis: New directions in media effects research. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

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    The chapters in this collection demonstrate the great variety of studies following the cultivation research paradigm and provide an excellent review of the cultivation literature.

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  • Weimann, Gabriel. 2000. Communicating unreality: Modern media and the reconstruction of reality. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This textbook, suitable for advanced undergraduate students, reviews and summarizes cultivation research in a variety of contexts.

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Agenda Setting

Agenda-setting research asserts that the press might not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but that it is strikingly successful in telling its audience what to think about. As Dearing and Rogers 1996 argues, agenda setting has acquired the status of a “paradigm.” The study notes that in recent years some twenty-five annual scholarly publications on the topic have turned up in communication research. Agenda-setting research began with the seminal study of McCombs and Shaw 1972, demonstrating a significant association between media agenda, measured using content analysis, and public agenda, measured based on a sample of local voters’ responses to a survey question on the most important problem facing the nation. As shown in McCombs 2005, Dearing and Rogers 1996, and Protess and McCombs 1991, this association was replicated by later research, using a diversity of research designs (including longitudinal studies), issues, and conditions. While McCombs and Shaw’s original model offered a linear association between media salience and public salience, later works such as Neuman 1990 and Watt Mazza and Snyder 1993 have suggested that the association might be nonlinear. Subsequent studies have suggested the concept of attribute agenda setting, or second-level agenda setting, to describe the potential salience not only of issues but also of attributes assigned to news protagonists. Sheafer 2007 used this framework and documented that audience agendas are shaped not only by the mere inclusion of topics in the media agenda but also by the attributes assigned to these topics. Finally, later scholars have wondered whether agenda setting would take place in the age of the Internet’s increased choice working against the notion of a shared and unified media agenda. While Althaus and Tewksbury 2002 demonstrates different agenda-setting effects for readers of online versus print editions of a newspaper, McCombs 2005 suggests that agenda setting is still applicable despite changes in the media landscape.

  • Althaus, Scott, L., and David Tewksbury. 2002. Agenda setting and the “new” news: Patterns of issue importance among readers of the paper and online versions of the New York Times. Communication Research 29.2: 180–207.

    DOI: 10.1177/0093650202029002004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The advent of online news with the increased options of customized news raised the question of whether consuming online news would change the news media’s ability to shape audience agendas. The present experimental investigation documented differing effects for participants who read the online version of the New York Times than those who read the print version.

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  • Dearing, James W., and Everett M. Rogers. 1996. Agenda-setting. Communication concepts 6. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Excellent review of the first twenty years of agenda-setting research, the limitations that characterized the preliminary studies, and the study designs that were implemented.

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  • McCombs, Maxwell. 2005. A look at agenda setting: Past, present, and future. Journalism Studies 6.4: 543–557.

    DOI: 10.1080/14616700500250438Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An updated review containing research on agenda setting in the age of the Internet, the development of the concept of second-level agenda-setting, and the application of agenda setting theory to new domains varying from organized religion and educational contexts to corporate contexts.

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  • McCombs, Maxwell E., and Donald L. Shaw. 1972. The agenda-setting function of the mass media. Public Opinion Quarterly 36:176–187.

    DOI: 10.1086/267990Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This landmark article, originating from the combination of survey and content analysis data collected in Chapel Hill, NC, during the 1968 presidential campaign, was the spark that ignited the vast agenda-setting tradition.

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  • Neuman, W.Russell. 1990. The threshold of public attention. Public Opinion Quarterly 54:159–176.

    DOI: 10.1086/269194Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author uses the logistic curve to offer a nonlinear model of how the public responds to media coverage. According to this model, public reaction to the media is low when media coverage is low. It rises rapidly once the coverage accumulates to a certain takeoff threshold, and eventually levels off after reaching saturation point.

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  • Protess, David L., and Maxwell McCombs, eds. 1991. Agenda setting: Readings on media, public opinion, and policymaking. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    The twenty-seven articles collected in this volume provide a diverse review of the very best and most notable first twenty years of research papers on agenda setting, encompassing studies of media content, public opinion, and policy agenda and their interconnections.

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  • Sheafer, Tamir. 2007. How to evaluate it: The role of story-evaluative tone in agenda setting and priming. Journal of Communication 57.1: 21–39.

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    Describes agenda setting as a multilevel process and connects it to priming and to attribute agenda setting. Demonstrates that how people think about an issue (or a candidate or a party) has implications for whether they think about it as well.

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  • Watt, James H., Mary Mazza, and Leslie B. Snyder. 1993. Agenda-setting effects of television news coverage and the effects decay curve. Communication Research 20.3: 408–435.

    DOI: 10.1177/009365093020003004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors suggested a model using an exponentially declining curve to explain agenda setting, based on cognitive theories about memory. As time from media coverage passes, people gradually forget about prior issues. Thus, their issue-priority judgments change according to changes in media agendas.

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Framing

The basic argument of framing research is that alternative interpretations of events and information in media texts influence audience interpretations of events, their attributions of responsibility, and, consequently, their moral judgments. Communication research on framing draws from two separate theoretical and disciplinary traditions: the use of the concept of “frames” in sociology, most notably in the work of Ervin Goffman—an influence noticed in the conceptual review Entman 1993 and other studies of frames in media texts—and the ground-breaking use of the term by Tversky and Kahnmen in psychology—an influence noticed in most framing-effects research, exemplified in Cappella and Jamieson 1997 and Iyengar 1994. Chong and Druckman 2007 and Scheufele 1999 review and synthesize the framing-effects literature, offer insights regarding the process underlying media framing, and discuss their normative and democratic implications. According to these reviews, the main cognitive explanation of framing effects, advanced by the literature, has to do with making certain interpretations more cognitively accessible. Entman 1993 conceptualizes media framing as alternations in media texts that involve the selection of parts of the perceived reality in a way that promotes a certain definition of a social problem, an interpretation regarding the cause of the problem, a certain good-bad moral evaluation of the actors involved, and/or support of a particular solution to the problem. Whereas the concept of media framing refers to textual and rhetorical devices, the concept of framing effects refers to the impact of exposure to these textual devices on audience cognitions, attitudes, and behaviors. Essentially, experimental research on framing effects involves the manipulation of alternative interpretations of the very same event. The facts of the event are held constant across experimental conditions to the extent possible, but the interpretation is manipulated. Iyengar was one of the first scholars to empirically test claims about media-framing effects. Later research examined the effects of a diversity of media frames (strategic and issue frames in Cappella and Jamieson 1997, thematic and episodic frames in the Iyengar 1994 investigations, civil liberties versus public-order frames in the Nelson, et al. 1997 investigations) in a variety of issues and on a range of dependent variables (for example, political cynicism in Cappella and Jamieson 1997; attribution of responsibility for social problems in Iyengar 1994; political tolerance in Nelson, et al. 1997; and support of the war in Afghanistan in Edy and Meirik 2007). Critiques of these initial studies argued that in real life, audiences are not exposed to one single frame or another, but rather to a competing set of frames advanced by different political actors. The experimental design of Sniderman and Theriault 2004 addresses this issue and examines the effects of exposure to a single frame that stands in contract to one’s initial opinions in comparison to exposure to both competing frames. A similar argument is made by Edy and Meirik 2007, which, unlike most other studies of framing effects, examines the effects of media framing in a natural setting.

  • Cappella, Joseph N., and Kathleen H. Jamieson. 1997. Spiral of cynicism: The press and the public good. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Cappella and Jamieson distinguish between strategic framing and issue framing of politics. Strategic framing offers an interpretation of politicians’ actions as stemming from their self-promoting motives. Issue framing presents their actions as stemming from a desire to solve society’s problems. A set of experiments demonstrates that strategic framing of political and social events leads to political cynicism.

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  • Chong, Dennis, and James N. Druckman. 2007. Framing theory. Annual Review of Political Science 10:103–126.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.10.072805.103054Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Thorough and updated review of the concept of framing, strategies to detect frames in texts, the cognitive mechanism underlying framing effects, mediators and moderators in framing effects, and the normative consequences of framing effects for democracy.

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  • Edy, Jill A., and Patrick Meirick. 2007. Wanted, dead or alive: Media frames, frame adoption, and support for the war in Afghanistan. Journal of Communication 57:119–141.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006.00332.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A nonexperimental investigation, identifying competing frames in media coverage of the September 11, 2001, attacks (a “war frame” and a “crime frame”), but demonstrating that audiences did not adopt the war frame dominant in media coverage, but rather mixed elements of both frames in their interpretation of the crisis.

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  • Entman, Robert, M. 1993. Framing: Towards a clarification of a structured paradigm. Journal of Communication 43.4: 51–58.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1993.tb01304.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Conceptualizes frames as involving selection and highlighting of parts of the perceived reality in a way that promotes a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation. One of the most widely cited conceptualizations of framing.

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  • Iyengar, Shanto. 1994. Is anyone responsible? How television frames political issues. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    The author argues that most social problems can be either framed thematically—that is, with a focus on the social problem—or episodically—that is, with a focus on particular exemplars. The author investigates whether these presentations have implications to the way audiences make attributions of responsibility for political problems to individuals or to society.

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  • Nelson, Thomas E., Rosalee A. Clawson, and Zoe M. Oxley. 1997. Media framing of a civil liberties conflict and its effect on tolerance. American Political Science Review 91:567–583.

    DOI: 10.2307/2952075Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Exposed experimental subjects to two different stories about a Ku Klux Klan rally. The first presented the topic as a civil-rights issue and the second stressed the issue was a public-order/potential-violence issue. Subjects’ willingness to permit the rally was higher in the free-speech condition.

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  • Scheufele, Dietram A. 1999. Framing as a theory of media effects. Journal of Communication 49:103–122.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1999.tb02784.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Synthesizes the first decades of research on media framing and identifies key conceptual and theoretical problems. Proposes an original view of framing composed of (1) frame building (the process influencing the creation of media frames), (2) frame setting (in which frames become salient), (3) individual-level framing-effects (in which exposure to frames affect audience attitudes, cognitions, or behaviors) and (4) influences of audience frames on journalists’ subsequent frame.

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  • Sniderman, Paul M., and Sean M. Theriault. 2004. The structure of political argument and the logic of issue framing. In Studies in public opinion. Edited by Willem E. Saris and Paul M Sniderman, 133–165. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    In this innovative, clearly written, and well-researched article, the authors convincingly argue that often audiences are exposed not to a single framing of an issue, but rather to a competition between two opposing frames from both sides of an issue. Experimental results reveal that framing effects are stronger when audiences receive uncontested frames (in comparison to a “dual frame” condition).

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Priming and Cognitive Accessibility

Psychologists found that people solve problems with information that is available in their mind. When a construct is accessible in people’s memories, it is presumed to influence their judgments more than when it is not accessible. “Priming” refers to the enhancement of a construct’s impact on judgments by making it more cognitively available. In media studies, “priming effects” refer to the ability of the news media to make certain constructs or considerations more influential in decision making. Priming effects imply that while the media are not so powerful in telling us what to think, they are extremely powerful in telling us with what to think: what considerations to use (which constructs will be available in our minds), and how much weight to give to the different considerations when we think. Iyengar and Kinder 1987 demonstrates that exposure to a newscast containing a particular problem primes that problem and makes it an important consideration in audiences’ presidential approval. Krosnick and Kinder 1990 offers nonexperimental evidence supporting the notion of priming outside a laboratory setting. Moy, et al. 2005 is likewise nonexperimental and extends priming effects to the context of political entertainment. The concept of priming was used not only to model evaluation of political candidates but also in a variety of additional research areas. Most notably, priming was suggested as a mechanism explaining the effects of exposure to media on violent and aggressive behavior. Bushman 1998 demonstrates that watching a violent clip makes violence-related constructs more cognitively accessible. Priming was also used in the area of media effects on stereotypes of racial and ethnic groups. Dixon 2007 argues and demonstrates that watching local news makes racial stereotypes more cognitively accessible. Finally, Miller and Krosnick 2000 explores trust in media and political knowledge as potential moderators of the priming effect, and Price and Tewksbury 1997 connects the concept of priming to the related concepts of agenda setting and framing.

  • Bushman, Brad. 1998. Priming effects of media violence on the accessibility of aggressive constructs in memory. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin 24.5: 537–545.

    DOI: 10.1177/0146167298245009Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Two experiments demonstrate that participants watching a violent videotape create more associations to aggression-related constructs more quickly than those watching a nonviolent stimulus. The author argues that the effect of media violence involves the priming of aggression-related networks in memory related to aggression.

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  • Dixon, Travis A. 2007. Black criminals and white officers: The effects of racially misrepresenting law breakers and law defenders on television news. Media Psychology 10:270–291.

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    Examines whether activation of racial stereotypes on local news makes these stereotypes chronically accessible. Connects the accessibility literature with the cultivation literature.

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  • Iyengar, Shanto, and Donald R. Kinder. 1987. News that matters: Television and American opinion. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    This series of experiments transformed communication research by demonstrating that media have the ability to shape the criteria people use when evaluating their leaders and making political decisions. The studies reported in the book also explored the conditions under which priming effects are strongest.

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  • Krosnick, Jon A., and Donald R. Kinder. 1990. Altering the foundations of support for the president through priming. American Political Science Review 84.2: 497–512.

    DOI: 10.2307/1963531Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The study found that the intrusion of the Iran-Contra scandal into the media agenda shifted the considerations that people used to evaluate the president, with more emphasis placed on foreign affairs for people interviewed after the scandal appeared on the top of media agenda, than those interviews before the scandal broke out. An important piece of nonexperimental evidence supporting priming outside the lab.

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  • Miller, Joanne M., and Jon A. Krosnick. 2000. News media impact on the ingredients of presidential evaluations: Politically knowledgeable citizens are guided by a trusted source. American Journal of Political Science 44.2: 301–315.

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    An experimental investigation of two key moderators of media priming: political knowledge and trust in media.

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  • Moy, Patricia, Michal A. Xenos, and Verena K. Hess. 2005. Priming effects of late-night comedy. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 18.2: 198–210

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    Demonstrates that George W. Bush’s appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman primed viewers to base their overall evaluation of Bush on his character. Expands priming to entertainment genres and demonstrates that its argument holds not only with regard to putting more emphasis on certain topics and not others, but also with regard to putting more emphasis on candidates’ characters and not on the issues.

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  • Price, Vincent, and David Tewksbury. 1997. News values and public opinion: A theoretical account of media priming and framing. In Progress in communication sciences. Vol. 13. Edited by George Barnett and Franklin J. Boster, 173–212. Greenwich, CT: Ablex.

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    Argues that framing effects are actually priming effects, and connects the literature on framing and priming to what we know about journalists’ judgment and news values.

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Knowledge and Knowledge Gaps

Do people learn from media? Decades of research provide a positive answer to this question. This is true in many domains, and studies demonstrate learning effects resulting from exposure to diverse genres varying from educational television to news media and even political comedy. However, not everyone watching learns to the same extent. The Sesame Street studies reviewed by Fish 2004 and the knowledge-gap hypothesis proposed by Tichenor, et al. 1970 both documented more knowledge attainment as a result of media exposure among high socioeconomic audiences, compared to among lower social strata. However, later research revisited the knowledge gap hypothesis, and both Kwak 1999 and Grabe, et al. 2009 reveal more complex patterns than the knowledge-gap literature originally predicted. Prior 2007 argues that people’s motivations are central to our understanding of their learning. Prior’s theory of conditional learning argues that in a media landscape characterized by abundance, greater knowledge gaps would be documented, as people who prefer entertainment would not be forced to watch news and learn from it. Finally, while television has the potential to educate, it also has the potential to hurt our education, as Potter 1987 demonstrates. Potter’s correlational results indicate that among adolescents, excessive exposure to television is associated with reduced academic achievement, especially for those watching more than ten weekly hours and for those watching television late at night.

  • Fish, Salmon M. 2004. Children’s learning from educational television: Sesame Street and beyond. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    A comprehensive review of the vast scientific literature on the diverse effects of educational television.

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  • Grabe, Maria E., Rasha Kamhawi, and Narine Yegiyan. 2009. Informing citizens: How people with different levels of education process television, newspaper, and web news. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 53.1: 90–111.

    DOI: 10.1080/08838150802643860Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An experimental investigation demonstrates that for low-education participants, televised news information was best learned, whereas for high-information participants, newspaper and online news produced the best learning effects.

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  • Kwak, Nojin. 1999. Revisiting the knowledge gap hypothesis. Communication Research 26.4: 385–413.

    DOI: 10.1177/009365099026004002Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the role of motivational factors such as political involvement and news attention in the knowledge-gap hypothesis. Explores whether television watching reduces (while newspaper reading increases) the knowledge gap.

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  • Potter, James W. 1987. Does television viewing hinder academic achievement among adolescents? Human Communication Research 44.1: 27–46.

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    This correlational investigation examines the association between television viewing and academic achievement among adolescents. Findings reveal that the (mostly negative) effects depend on type of content watched and the amount of late-night television watching. Findings also reveal that overall watching does not negatively affect achievement until viewing exceeds about ten hours per week.

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  • Prior, Markus. 2007. Post-broadcast democracy: How media choice increases inequality in political involvement and polarizes elections. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    This award-winning book offers a model of conditional political learning, arguing that people’s motivations influences their news media exposure and hence their learning. The increasing choice offered by cable news allows audiences with preferences for entertainment rather than news to watch other types of media content, and this increases gaps in knowledge.

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  • Tichenor, Phillip J., George A. Donohue, and Clarice N. Olien. 1970. Mass media flow and differential growth in knowledge. Public Opinion Quarterly 34:159–170.

    DOI: 10.1086/267786Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Uses experimental and survey data to examine the knowledge-gap hypothesis, predicting that highly educated segments of the public acquire more knowledge from news media coverage than less educated segments. The resulting pattern on the aggregate level is that media widen gaps in knowledge between different segments of the population.

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Arousal and Excitation Transfer

Arousal is a physiological response to external stimuli that automatically prepares our bodies to take immediate physical action. Physiologically, arousal is caused by the activation of what is known as the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system. Arousal reactions typically involve increases in heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and breathing rate. When we are aroused, our saliva dries up and our metabolic system increases its activity in preparation for expanding energy on physical action. Arousal is thus a straightforward response to consuming media stimuli that are physiologically associated with arousal responses, such as threatening, violent, or sexually arousing media messages. Indeed, all studies in this section document increased arousal in response to exposure to stimulating media materials, such as violent media, sexually explicit media, or even hardball news. Arousal responses were measured by self ratings (in the studies reviewed by Murnen and Stockton 1997), by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) (as in Murray, et al. 2006), or more obtrusively, such as by measuring penile tumescence (in Malamuth and Check 1983). This research found that males are more aroused than females by sexually explicit messages. Murnen and Stockton 1997 presents meta-analytic findings and use sociobiological and social influence theories to explain this pattern. After prolonged exposure to stimulating materials, physiological arousal decreases, because the human body is presumably habituated and no longer automatically activates the systems preparing it for action to the same extent. This process is reviewed and discussed at length by Zillmann 1989. The reason that arousal responses are important is that they translate to other responses. Excitation transfer theory, advanced by Zillmann 1971, suggests that the arousal induced by exposure could transfer to unrelated emotional experiences (such as anger) immediately after exposure, in a way which makes aggressive responses more likely. The decreased arousal resulting from repeated exposure to sexual materials is also consequential as the body would now need more stimulating, explicit, or violent stimuli to reach the same level of arousal. Finally, physiological arousal reactions were also documented in response to watching hardball news coverage, in comparison to more civil forms of news. As Mutz and Reeves 2005 demonstrates, these arousal responses are also consequential, as people’s cognitive abilities while aroused are reduced, and this has democratic consequences, as Mutz and Reeves argue.

  • Malamuth, Neil M., and James V. P. Check. 1983. Penile tumescence and perceptual responses to rape as a function of victim’s perceived reactions. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 10:528–547.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.1980.tb00730.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sexual arousal of male students watching video depictions of rape was measured via penile tumescence and self report. Results demonstrated that arousal varied by the victim’s reactions to the rape.

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  • Murnen, Sarah K., and Mary Stockton. 1997. Gender and self reported sexual arousal in response to sexual stimuli: A meta-analytic review. Sex Roles 37:140–153.

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    Reviews theories and research on gender differences in sexual arousal in response to sexual messages. Uses sociobiological and social-influence theories to explain why males are more aroused by sexual stimuli than females.

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  • Murray, John P., Mario Liotti, Paul T. Ingmundson, Helen S. Mayberg, Yonglin Pu, Frank Zamarripa, Yijun Liu, Marty G. Woldorff, Jia-Hong Gao, and Peter T. Fox. 2006. Children’s brain activations while viewing televised violence revealed by fMRI. Media Psychology 8:25–37.

    DOI: 10.1207/S1532785XMEP0801_3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data reveal that viewing violence “recruits a network of brain regions involved in the regulation of emotion, arousal and attention, episodic memory, encoding and retrieval and motor programming” (p. 26).

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  • Mutz, Diana, and Byron Reeves. 2005. The new videomalaise: Effects of televised incivility on political trust. American Political Science Review 99.1: 1–15.

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    This study demonstrates the effect of incivility in hardball news formats on political mistrust. In study 3, the authors demonstrate that this effect works through increased arousal levels (as measured by skin conductance) in comparison to exposure to civil exchanges. Demonstrates that arousal responses can be measured outside the contexts of sports, sex, or violence, and that these responses shape audience attitudinal reactions to messages.

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  • Zillmann, Dolf. 1971. Excitation transfer in communication-mediated aggressive behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 7:419–434.

    DOI: 10.1016/0022-1031(71)90075-8Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A nicely designed experiment demonstrates how arousal responses transfer to aggressive reactions.

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  • Zillmann, Dolf. 1989. Effects of prolonged consumption of pornography. In Pornography: Research advances and policy considerations. Edited by Dolf Zillmann and Bryant Jennings, 127–158. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    The studies reviewed in this chapter document reduced physiological arousal responses after repeated exposure to pornography, and demonstrate the effects of these habituated responses on sexual beliefs and attitudes.

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Spiral of Silence

The spiral-of-silence theory was proposed by German public-opinion scholar Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann in the 1970s. Since then, it has become one of the most influential theories of public opinion formation. Briefly, it states that the people employ a “quasi-statistical sense” to scan the environment for the distribution of opinions in society. The major source of this perceived “climate of opinion” is the mass media, which sometimes distort the actual distribution of opinions. This leads to a spiraling process of silencing those who perceive themselves as unsupported for fear of social isolation. This group, which may at times even constitute a majority, will be less willing to stand up for their views in public, and so may abandon the arena to the other camp. Thus, a minority convinced of its future dominance and therefore willing to express itself is expected to become the dominant opinion. Noelle-Neumann 1984 presents the author’s most comprehensive statement of the spiral-of-silence theory. While Glynn, et al. 1997 empirically reviews the research findings via meta-analysis, the review Scheufele and Moy 2000 is more conceptual in nature. Katz 1981 connects the spiral of silence to the vast literature about pluralistic ignorance and to additional theories of media effects. Mutz and Soss conducted a field experiment documenting that media have the capability of influencing the perception of the societal opinion climate (Mutz and Soss 1997). Hayes 2007 investigates exactly how people avoid expressing their opinion in the face of a hostile majority. Neuwirth, et al. 2007 similarly investigates the strategies people use to avoid opinion expression while at the same time connecting the spiral of silence with the concept of communication apprehension. Finally, Price and Allen 1990 is an example of the many critiques of Noelle-Neumann’s theory.

  • Glynn, Carroll J., Andrew F. Hayes, and James Shanahan. 1997. Perceived support for one’s opinion and willingness to speak out: A meta-analysis of survey studies on “The spiral of silence.” Public Opinion Quarterly 61:452–463.

    DOI: 10.1086/297808Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A meta-analysis summarizing thirty-five studies demonstrates a very small (r = 0.055 with a confidence interval from 0.02 to 0.08) yet statistically significant relationship between the degree to which a person believes that others hold similar opinions and the willingness to express those opinions.

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  • Hayes, Andrew F. 2007. Exploring the forms of self-censorship: On the spiral of silence and the use of opinion expression avoidance strategies. Journal of Communication 57.4: 785–802.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2007.00368.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An interesting examination of the strategies people use to avoid opinion expression in the face of a hostile opinion climate (e.g., changing the subject, or expressing indifference or ambivalence). An experimental manipulation of the social opinion climate was used to assess the spiral of silence’s prediction that perceiving a hostile opinion climate would influence opinion-expression avoidance.

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  • Katz, Elihu. 1981. Publicity and pluralistic ignorance: Notes on the spiral of silence. In Public opinion and social change: For Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann. Edited by Horst Baier, Hans Mathias Kepplinger, and Kurt Reumann, 28–38. Wiesbaden, West Germany: Westdeutscher Verlag.

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    Effectively summarizes the claims of spiral-of-silence theory and connections between the theory, earlier notions of pluralistic ignorance, the critical Frankfurt School, Gitlin’s critique of the two-step-flow model, and newer developments in media-effects research like cultivation theory.

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  • Mutz, Diana, and Joe Soss. 1997. Reading public opinion: The influences of news coverage on perceptions of public sentiments. Public Opinion Quarterly 61:431–451.

    DOI: 10.1086/297807Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A unique quasi-experiment demonstrating that when a local news paper highlights an issue, audience perceptions of the opinion climate regarding that issue change. Methodologically, this is perhaps one of the strongest pieces of evidence to date of spiral-of-silence proponents’ claim that media have an impact on audience perceptions of the opinion climate.

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  • Neuwirth, Kurt, Edward Frederick, and Charles Mayo. 2007. The spiral of silence and fear of isolation. Journal of Communication 57: 450–478.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2007.00352.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An interesting application of measures of state- and trait-communication-apprehension in the context of spiral-of-silence research. Interestingly examines whether the theory’s concept of fear of isolation is actually empirically different than opinion expression. Like Hayes 2007, this study also examines the strategies used by respondents to avoid expressing their opinions.

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  • Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth. 1984. The spiral of silence: Public opinion, our social skin. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    This book revolutionized public-opinion research by shifting the focus from what people think to what people think others think. Elegantly combines political philosophy, historical analysis survey data, media content analysis and journalists’ survey data to make a sophisticated statement about powerful media effects.

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  • Price, Vincent, and Scott Allen. 1990. Opinion spirals, silent and otherwise. Communication Research 17.3: 369–392.

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    A review and critique of spiral-of-silence theory based on psychological research on small-group processes.

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  • Scheufele, Dietram A., and Patricia Moy. 2000. Twenty-five years of the spiral of silence: A conceptual review and empirical outlook. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 12.1: 3–28.

    DOI: 10.1093/ijpor/12.1.3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive review of the conceptual aspects of the spiral of silence and relevant research findings leading to several important and still relevant insights about how spiral- of- silence research should be conducted in the future.

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Normative Influences

While the spiral of silence presented the most influential theory arguing that media affect not “what we think,” but rather “what we think other people think,” additional theories have suggested that the main effect of media on society takes place through the creation of social norms. The norm-enhancing function of mass media was first proposed in Lazarsfeld and Merton 1971, a seminal article originally published in 1948 that argued that part of the effects of mass media on society takes place through enhancing social conformism. Within social psychology, the most notable theoretical statement about the role of media in the creation of people’s anticipation of social sanctions or incentives was expressed by Bandura’s social cognitive theory. While Bandura 2001 discusses additional social mechanisms through which media influence individuals, vicariously learned social sanctions and incentives are a central mechanism mentioned. Media may not only influence social norms directly. As Yanovitky and Stryker 2001 demonstrates, media sometimes put issues on the agendas of politicians who initiate new policies which shape new social norms. Chia, et al. 2006 and Gunther, et al. 2006 both use the theory of the third-person effect to advance the argument that media influence people through the perception of audiences that other people are influenced by media. Finally, Lapinski and Rimal 2005 explicates the concept of norms central to this line of research.

  • Bandura, Albert. 2001. Social cognitive theory of mass communication. Media Psychology 3:265–299.

    DOI: 10.1207/S1532785XMEP0303_03Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    According to Bandura, media are a central mechanism connecting us to social norms and expectations through vicariously watching the behaviors of others. Interesting and broad review of a central theory offering us a mechanism to decipher media effects in varied contexts.

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  • Chia, Stella. 2006. How peers mediate media influence on adolescents’ sexual attitudes and sexual behavior. Journal of Communication 56:585–606.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006.00302.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This study tests whether adolescents’ perceptions of the influence of sex-related TV programs on their peers has an impact on their perceptions of peer norms and consequently their own sexual attitudes and behaviors.

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  • Gunther, Albert C., Daniel Bolt, Dina L. G. Borzekowski, Janice L. Liebhart, and James Price Dillard. 2006. Presumed influence on peer norms: How mass media indirectly affect adolescent smoking. Journal of Communication 56:52–68.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006.00002.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This investigation applies the notion of the third-person effect to the context of media influences on social norms. The authors explore whether adolescents’ perceptions regarding the influence of pro- and antismoking media messages influence their perceptions of peer norms, one of the strongest predictors of smoking initiation among adolescents.

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  • Lapinski, Maria Knight, and Rajiv N. Rimal. 2005. An explication of social norms. Communication Theory 15.2: 127–147.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2885.2005.tb00329.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this conceptual piece the authors distinguish between perceived and collective norms and between descriptive and injunctive norms. The authors also argue that the extent to which norms affect behavior is contingent on factors such as group identity, outcome expectations, and group involvement.

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  • Lazarsfeld, Paul F., and Robert K. Merton. 1971. Mass communication, social taste and organized social action. In The process and effects of mass communication. Rev. ed. Edited by Wilbur Schramm and Donald F. Roberts, 554–578. New York: Harper & Row.

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    In this seminal theoretical piece, Lazarsfeld and Merton mention the enforcement of social norms as one of the key effects of communication and society, with influences on social conformism and popular tastes. Originally published in 1948.

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  • Yanovitzky, Itzhak, and Jo Stryker. 2001. Mass media, social norms and health promotion efforts: A longitudinal study of media effects on binge driving. Communication Research 28.2: 208–239.

    DOI: 10.1177/009365001028002004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This study found little evidence for a direct effect of news coverage of drunk driving on subsequent drunk-driving behavior. However, the author proposed that media affected policy response, and the policy response consequently increased perceptions of social disapproval of drunk driving. Sophisticated analysis and interesting findings.

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Key Moderators and Mediators

A variety of factors emerge as moderators and mediators of media effects, as decades of research demonstrate. The intellectual move from talking about uniform effects and debating whether their size is “limited” or “massive” to searching for factors mitigating or exacerbating media effects implies an increased realization that effects are neither simple nor uniform. They are often negligible but sometimes substantive, and the important question involves findings the conditions under which different types of effects are more or less significant. This section exemplifies this move by highlighting key moderators and mediators of media effects. DeFleur and Ball-Rokeach 1989 argues that media are more powerful when people depend on them. Political knowledge emerges as a moderator in many effects studies in different domains: in the context of framing effects, Druckman and Nelson 2003 demonstrates that more knowledgeable audiences are more susceptible to media framing. In the context of late-night comedy, Young 2005 demonstrates that knowledgeable viewers are affected by late-night exposure differently in comparison to the unknowledgeable. Partisanship also emerged as a moderator in this domain and in others. Discussing issues that are discussed by media with other people can mitigate or even eliminate media effects. This is demonstrated by Druckman and Nelson 2003 in the context of framing, but similar results were obtained in other domains. Mistrust in media can also reduce media effectiveness, as Tsfati 2003 demonstrates in the context of agenda setting. Political involvement, used by Norris 2000, is also an important moderator of media effects, used in additional studies in the political contexts. In persuasive communication contexts, it is well known that the use of narratives in media texts can increase their persuasiveness. This is called narrative persuasion or entertainment-education in the literature. The reasons for the effectiveness of the use of narratives are studied in Moyer-Gusé and Nabi 2010. The authors examine how audience psychological reactions such as identification with characters or transportation into the text mediate this process. When audiences experience such reactions, their resistant to persuasion drops, and hence they become more prone to influence.

  • DeFleur, Melvin L., and Sandra Ball-Rokeach. 1989. Theories of mass communication. 5th ed. New York: Longman.

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    DeFleur and Ball-Rokeach’s media-dependency theory tells us that the news media are most effective when they cannot be bypassed via alternative sources of information or interpretation. That is, that media are most powerful when people depend on them.

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  • Druckman, James N., and Kjersten R. Nelson. 2003. Framing and deliberation: How citizens’ conversations limit elite influence. American Journal of Political Science 47.4: 729–745.

    DOI: 10.1111/1540-5907.00051Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this impressive experiment, the authors demonstrate that exposure to a conversation in a deliberative forum can eliminate the effects of media frames, if the views expressed in the discussion are heterogeneous. The authors also examine the role of the psychological need to evaluate and political knowledge as moderators in framing effects.

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  • Moyer-Gusé, Emily, and Robin Nabi. 2010. Explaining the effects of narrative in an entertainment television program: Overcoming resistance to persuasion. Human Communication Research 36.1: 26–52.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.2009.01367.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Exemplifies how including a narrative in a communication message can increase the text’s effectiveness via increased audience transportation and involvement with characters and reduced resistance to persuasion.

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  • Norris, Pippa. 2000. A virtuous circle: Political communications in post-industrial democracy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Exemplifies the moderating role of political involvement in the effects of news media on political participation, cynicism, and trust: those uninvolved in politics are not negatively affected by news, as they hardly consume news, while those involved are positively affected by news.

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  • Tsfati, Yariv. 2003. Does audience skepticism of media matter in agenda setting? Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 47.2: 157–176.

    DOI: 10.1207/s15506878jobem4702_1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Proposes that trust in media moderates agenda-setting effects. Combines aggregate-level and individual-level analysis.

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  • Young, Dannagal Goldthwaite. 2004. Late-night comedy in election 2000: Its influence on candidate trait ratings and the moderating effects of political knowledge and partisanship. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 48:1–22.

    DOI: 10.1207/s15506878jobem4801_1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Demonstrates that the effects of exposure to late-night comedy on audience perceptions of George W. Bush and Al Gore were moderated by prior political knowledge and partisanship. For example, the shows cultivated a perception of Gore as uninspiring among the least knowledgeable. Republicans were more likely to perceive Bush as unknowledgeable, while Democrats were more likely to perceive him as more knowledgeable, as a result of exposure to late-night shows.

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LAST MODIFIED: 02/23/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199756841-0081

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