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framing

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.

Campaigning on Hot v Cold Issues – What’s the Difference?

Duncan Green's picture

I recently began an interesting conversation with our new campaigns and policy czar, Ben Phillips, who then asked me to pick the FP2P collective brain-hive for further ideas. Here goes.

The issue is ‘cold’ v ‘hot’ campaigning. Over the next couple of years, we will be doing a lot of campaigning on climate change and inequality. Inequality is flavour of the month, with an avalanche of policy papers, shifting institutional positions at the IMF etc highlighting its negative impacts on growth, wellbeing, poverty reduction, and just about everything else. That makes for a ‘hot campaign’, pushing on (slightly more) open doors on tax, social protection etc.

In contrast, climate change is (paradoxically) a pretty cold campaign. Emissions continue to rise, as do global temperatures and the unpredictability of the weather, but you wouldn’t think so in terms of political agendas or press coverage (see graph). The UN process, focus of huge attention over the last 15 years, is becalmed. Politicians make occasional reference to ‘green growth’, but that is becoming as vacuous as its predecessor ‘sustainable development.’

The distinction is not so clear cut, of course. Hot campaigns can suddenly go cold and vice versa (politicians and officials are able to go from saying ‘no, don’t be ridiculous’ to ‘we’ve always supported this’ with bewildering ease, when the moment is right). You could argue that the Arms Trade Treaty campaign was one of those. But a campaign needs to get seriously hot if it involves a major redistribution of power and influence (like taxation/inequality or climate change, but not, I would argue, the Arms Trade Treaty).

So the essay question is: do you campaign differently on hot v cold campaigns, and if so, how? Here are some initial thoughts:

Framing Climate Change

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

It’s environment week, kind of. Tuesday was World Environment Day and tomorrow is World Oceans Day. Both days were institutionalized through United Nations resolutions to draw attention to the environment and the threats it is exposed to. For communicators in development, climate change is one of the most relevant issues. Communication scholars also have thought a lot about how to effectively communicate climate change. I am not quite sure, however, whether the two sides are working together. Let me therefore discuss how framing can influence our understanding and acceptance of climate change.

Matthew Nisbet from American University has written an interesting article on “Communicating Climate Change: Why Frames Matter for Public Engagement”. He argues that the enormous divide between the factual reality of climate change and citizens’ perception is partly due to the way interest groups have been framing the issue. He identifies a number of frames that are being used in the public discussion (p. 18):

What Influences Individual Donations to Disaster Victims?

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

We see donation appeals everywhere these days - to help the people in Japan, to help the people in Darfur, to help the people in Haiti. What influences our decision to give? An interesting study comes from British psychologists, who analyzed how individuals respond to donation appeals in the wake of man-made disasters - like war - versus natural disasters. The authors around Hanna Zagefka from Royal Holloway University in London found that natural disasters elicit more donations than those caused by people. Their explanation: people tend to assign some blame to the victims of man-made disaster, while they blame no one for being overrun by a Tsunami.

Establishing Norms in Large Organizations (Or: How to Win the Turf War)

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Wharton Professor Galit Sarfaty just published a paper on changing norms in international institutions, using as an example the advance of the human rights agenda in the World Bank. The study describes the process of how new norms are adopted - or not - in large organizations and how different factions negotiate their positions. It's well worth a read and spells out the difficulties of reforming organizations and establishing new norms.

Media Effects III: Framing - "Melting Ice Caps or No More Ice Age?"

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

After introducing agenda setting and priming, I want to complete the "holy trinity of media effects" with a short introduction of framing, which I consider to be the most important effect of this threesome. Whereas agenda setting tells us what to think about (by putting issues on the public agenda), framing tells us how and why to think about an issue. To frame means to communicate in a way that leads audiences to see something in a certain light or from a particular perspective. Aspects that are not included in the frame do not come to the audience's attention. Framing determines where the audience puts its attention. Effective framing taps into preexisting beliefs, attitudes, and opinions; it highlights certain aspects of an issue over other aspects.

Media Effects I: Agenda Setting

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

The holy trinity of media effects research is "agenda setting - priming - framing." We've used all of these terms at some point in this blog. Since they are central to all kinds of communication work - and policy work, to quite some extent - we'll introduce all three a little more thoroughly, starting with agenda setting.

Agenda setting means the ability of the mass media to bring issues to the attention of the public and, related, of politicians. The basic claim is that as the media devote more attention to an issue, the public perceives the issue as important. When the media take up a specific topic - such as climate change, or manager bonuses - they make us think about it. The theory was introduced in 1972 by Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw in their seminal study of the role of the media in the 1968 Presidential campaign in the US ("The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media").

Negative Framing

Johanna Martinsson's picture

A reader's response to the blog post "Shock and Awe? The Effects of Negative Framing":

In  political matters, the focus should move away from attitudes; since Robinson (1976) study investigating negative news effects, we have known that low involvement citizens (involvement with the issue) are influenced first by information or cognitive change, which produces behavioral change, which eventually produces attitudinal change. While high involvement citizens move from cognitive change to attitudinal to behavioral. The power of negative information has more to do with cultural expectations, however.  Within western democracies, research has shown that negative information is far more attention-getting than positive information.  In addition, people not only attend to the information, but they talk about the information with others, creating a spiral effect, in that when people talk about negative information with others, they may serve as influentials, bringing news to those who have not attended to the news through the mass media, or they may assist in concretizing the significance of news reports, through their discussions with others.  For this reason, negative information tends to be more suasive, and as a result, people retain the information; furthermore, because of its cued negativity, they are able to access that information far more readily than positive information.  In short, negative information saves time, money and  
effort; it is far more economical, efficient and effective than positive information, within western democracies (see Lau's considerable research).   
 

Shock and Awe? The Effects of Negative Framing

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Framing is about presenting an issue in a specific light and from a specific perspective. Framed messages are usually intended to make the audience focus on certain aspects of an issue but not on others. In terms of governance and accountability, framing is a useful technique to design communication in a way that mobilizes the public. For instance with regard to corruption: to mobilize public opinion on corruption one could focus on successes in fighting corruption, on negative effects of corruption, on corrupt individuals or individual champions against corruption etc. Negative framing, negative messaging in general, is a frequently used approach when trying to motivate people to become active. It's not clear, however, that it really works the way it's supposed to.

Naming and Framing Policy Issues

Antonio Lambino's picture

The importance of framing policy issues has made repeat performances on this blog.  As Kathleen Hall Jamieson simply puts it, frames influence the ways in which we think about things, emphasizing some aspects of a phenomenon and deemphasizing others.  Recently in The New York Times, John Broder wrote about the framing of environmental issues in an article entitled “Seeking to Save the Planet, With a Thesuarus.”  Broder's piece reports on a document that was accidentally sent to media organizations by EcoAmerica, an organization that has been conducting public opinion research on framing and reframing of environmental issues to build public support for policy change.  Here are some findings, as reported by Broder:

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