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news frame

The things we do: The emotional side of news frames

Roxanne Bauer's picture

The way in which news stories are framed can influence the attitudes and intentions of audience members- especially if emotion is involved.

We’ve all been there. We’re watching the news and something tragic appears on the screen. We immediately feel sadness and empathy for the victims of the suffering unfolding before us.  Alternatively, something infuriating is being said or insinuated by a newscast and we immediately feel anger well up inside.   

These emotional responses demonstrate the powerful effect the media, and in particular the news media, can have on audiences. They depend, in large part, on how a news story is framed.  

In a seminal paper, Robert Entman (1993) wrote, “[t]o frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation” (p. 52). Thus, by highlighting certain aspects of an event or issue, news frames influence which cognitive concepts the recipient accesses and regards as relevant.  Nelson, Oxley, & Clawson (1997) agreed and wrote that “frames influence opinions by stressing specific values, facts, and other considerations, endowing them with greater apparent relevance to the issue than they might appear to have under an alternative frame."

Framing is a concept derived from the field of ‘media effects’ which studies how the timing, duration, and valence of news stories can affect the attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors of audience members.  More and more research is showing that news stories that are framed to elicit emotional responses are especially influential because they can influence the attitudes of people as well as their intentions.

Recently, researchers at the University of Zurich conducted a study that investigated how framing would affect the emotional reactions of participants as well as their tendencies to support various policy solutions. The participants were divided into three groups, an anger frame group, a sadness frame group, and a control group. All groups read a policy paper, which discussed a proposed public policy to increase road safety and which listed various measures designed to accomplish that goal. They were then asked to evaluate the options.