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The subconscious effect of subtle media bias on perceptions of terrorism


Feick, Lukas; Donnay, Karsten; McCabe, Katherine T (2021). The subconscious effect of subtle media bias on perceptions of terrorism. American Politics Research, 49(3):313-318.

Abstract

Media outlets strategically frame news about violent events using sensationalist labels such as “terrorist” or “Islamist” but also more subtle wording choices that affect the overall article tone. We argue theoretically and show empirically using a conjoint experiment that, contrary to existing studies, the effect of these two framing devices on readers’ perceptions of terrorist events should be carefully separated. Even though article tone transports no factual information, in our experiment negative and sensational wording choices carried a greater impact on threat perceptions than the explicit “terrorist” and “Islamist” labels. In a realistic news article setting, which varied other salient context cues such as proximity or event size, subtle shifts in article tone still subconsciously influenced threat perceptions. This highlights the potential dangers of media coverage fueling otherwise unjustified fears by injecting unnecessary editorial tone.

Abstract

Media outlets strategically frame news about violent events using sensationalist labels such as “terrorist” or “Islamist” but also more subtle wording choices that affect the overall article tone. We argue theoretically and show empirically using a conjoint experiment that, contrary to existing studies, the effect of these two framing devices on readers’ perceptions of terrorist events should be carefully separated. Even though article tone transports no factual information, in our experiment negative and sensational wording choices carried a greater impact on threat perceptions than the explicit “terrorist” and “Islamist” labels. In a realistic news article setting, which varied other salient context cues such as proximity or event size, subtle shifts in article tone still subconsciously influenced threat perceptions. This highlights the potential dangers of media coverage fueling otherwise unjustified fears by injecting unnecessary editorial tone.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Political Science
08 Research Priority Programs > Digital Society Initiative
Dewey Decimal Classification:320 Political science
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Sociology and Political Science
Uncontrolled Keywords:sociology and political science media bias, framing, labeling, public opinion, conjoint analysis
Language:English
Date:1 May 2021
Deposited On:08 Jan 2021 13:44
Last Modified:25 Mar 2024 02:45
Publisher:Sage Publications
ISSN:1532-673X
OA Status:Green
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1177/1532673x20972105
  • Content: Accepted Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)