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The "Not-So-Minimal" Effects of Television News Programs

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Jessica Retrum

on 3 October 2013

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Transcript of The "Not-So-Minimal" Effects of Television News Programs

The Effects of Television News Programs on Viewers
Our article is titled "Experimental Demonstrations of the 'Not-So-Minimal' Consequences of Television News Programs" and was written by Shanto Iyengar and Mark D. Peters of Yale University and Donald R. Kinder of The University of Michigan.
Agenda-setting studies like this one originate from earlier findings that the public is not easily persuaded by political propaganda, but that the media can change what we view as important.

To determine the correlation between media agenda setting and what the public views as important.
To examine the connection between agenda setting and how the public evaluates the government and/or the president. Also known as "priming".
Finally, to explore individual cognitive processes, such as acquisition and retention that may be attributed to agenda setting.
Agenda Setting
The idea that the media affects what we think is important by focusing on or highlighting certain topics over others, thus "setting our agenda".

"The mass media may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but the media are stunningly successful in telling their audience what to think about." (Cohen, 1962)
Similar to agenda setting, priming in this sense refers to the idea that media can alter the ways that people evaluate the government, and specifically the president.
Ex. Seeing lots of discussion about the government being shut down for little reason may "prime" people to believe that President Obama is inadequate as a leader.
Lippmann's Assertion (Basis)/ Theory
Problems that media decide are important become so in the minds of the public.
The theory was that agenda setting in the media would affect what the public thinks is important, how the public evaluates the president and also what the public recalls.
2 independent experiments (November 1980 and February 1981)
Utilized New Haven, CT participants and the effects media has on them to generalize hypothesis to a greater level.
Compensation: $20
Sample roughly represents New Haven population
Experiment 1 Sample
Average age 26 (ranged from 19-63)
Mostly from clerical occupations
30% temporarily unemployed
25% African American
54% women
Happened following November election
Experiment 2 Sample
Average age: 35 (Same range)
Primarily clerical occupations
30% unemployed
10% African American
61% women
Two experiments are independent of one another.
One possesses one control group and one experimental and one possesses three of each.
Experiment 1
Focused on weakness of U.S. defense capability
Split into 2 groups - one control and one experiment.
Filled out pre-test and post-test questionnaires on the importance of political topics.
Experiment 1
Days 2-5 participants watched previous evening's newscasts.
Experimenters skillfully tampered with each newscast unbeknownst to participants
Control group saw no defense-related stories, while experiment group saw several that showed inadequacy.
Experiment 2
Focused on U.S. defense capabilities, pollution and inflation.
Split randomly into 6 groups - three control and three experiment.
Filled out pre-test and post-test questionnaires on the importance of array of political topics.
Experiment 2
Group 1 viewed newscasts emphasizing inadequacies in U.S. defense
Group 2 viewed newscasts emphasizing pollution
Group 3 viewed newscasts with steady coverage of inflation
Experiment 1
Pre-test showed participants ranked significance of U.S. defense capabilities 6th out of 8 political positions.
Post-test showed participants ranked it 2nd out of 8 after experiment.
Control groups showed no change.
Results support original hypothesis of agenda setting.
Experiment 2
Defense ranking moved from 6th to 4th out of 8.
Pollution rose from 5th to 2nd.
No agenda setting effects found for inflation.
Experimenters believe that this was due to the fact that avg importance score was 18.5/20 for inflation in pre-test.
Procedure 2
Focuses on the effects of priming
Same general procedure as before
Added measure of Carter's approval ratings by:
5 point ranking of overall performance
Additive Index on Carter's Competence
Additive Index on Carter's Integrity
In experiment 1, U.S. defense coverage strengthened overall performance and integrity measure, but weakened competence.
In experiment 2, U.S. defense only weakened integrity, pollution only weakened competence, and inflation only weakened integrity.
Procedure 3a
In both experiments participants were asked to describe what the news story was about and how it was presented.
Numbers of stories and volume of information were coded.
Recall were correlated with participants' post-test opinions.
Results for 3a
Correlation is measured between -1 and 1; the more polar the stronger the correlation.
Experiment 1 showed the number of stories was -.13 and volume of information was -.03.
Experiment 2 showed an average of -.2.
This led them to ask whether agenda setting could be mediated by covert evaluations.
Procedure 3b
Participants were asked to write their thoughts of news stories
These were classified as favorable, unfavorable or neutral.
Response strengths were scored for the number of counter-arguments.
Results 3b
Counter-arguing is inversely related to increases in problem importance.
Correlation U.S. defense were -.49; inflation, -.56; pollution, -.4
Limitations and Implications
Varying strengths in survey-based communication research
Unrealistic setting of experiment (Hawthorne Effect)
Very small sample size (under 50 participants in each experiment)
Minimal diversity as far as occupation is concerned

Age could be a limitation - range is high but average ages were 26 and 35.
Be mindful when watching or reading the news or any form of media

Media may not change original points of view, but it can affect what we think is significant

Discussion Questions
Can you think of any other possible limitations or expectations with this experiment?
When you're searching for news or current events, which stations or outlets do you typically search for?
Do you think these outlets affect what you think is significant or important? How so?
Are there any topics in current media that are being either over-or under-emphasized?
This study was performed in 1980 and early 1981. What new mediums most directly affect what we view as important today? i.e. Do you think participants in this study today would have even more access to agenda-setting in the news?
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