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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).   
 

The key is what is expected within the cultlure.  Because within western democracies, the news media attack individual political actors rather than the system, institutions, or political philosophies, people are not accustomed to thinking ill of the government or social institutions.  When news reports provide information such as the Selling of the Pentagon  
Documentary, which aired on CBS, in the U. S. in the early 1970s, exposing the planned manipulation of the American people by the Pentagon, researchers at first saw no change, but within a few weeks, the effects were observed. The key here is do not expect immediate and direct effects; allow the time and the reinforcement opportunities of multiple exposures to similarly constructed messages, about the same event or theme.  In this way, people have time to reaffirm what they have learned, have the opportunity to speak with others, about their concerns, allowing the social processes to work, which ultimately produces far greater suasive effects than the mass media alone.  Unfortunately, we still do not have enough published research to know how people of various cultures, of various nationalities, who may represent distinctly different sub-cultures treat negative information.  I'm only reporting what is known about western democracies.  These are the types of questions that should be examined, when social change agents work within a  society, examining how the people treat negative and positive information. However, regardless of socioeconomic standing, political news or advertisements are simply different than commercial news or advertisements; therefore, in social change planning, practitioners should move away from attitude structures, focusing on information structures, allowing people to form their own attitudes, after exposure to crucial information and political cues (reinforcing cultural symbols). 

Thanks, KJC

 

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