The Subconscious Effect of Subtle Media Bias on Perceptions of Terrorism

American Politics Research doi: 10.1177/1532673X20972105.

12 Pages Posted:

See all articles by Lukas Feick

Lukas Feick

University of Konstanz

Karsten Donnay

Department of Political Science, University of Zurich

Katherine McCabe

Rutgers University, New Brunswick

Date Written: December 1, 2020

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.

Keywords: media bias, framing, labeling, public opinion, conjoint analysis

Suggested Citation

Feick, Lukas and Donnay, Karsten and McCabe, Katherine, The Subconscious Effect of Subtle Media Bias on Perceptions of Terrorism (December 1, 2020). American Politics Research doi: 10.1177/1532673X20972105. , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=

Lukas Feick

University of Konstanz ( email )

Fach D-144
Universitätsstraße 10
Konstanz, D-78457
Germany

Karsten Donnay (Contact Author)

Department of Political Science, University of Zurich ( email )

Affolternstrasse 56
Zürich, CH-8050
Switzerland

HOME PAGE: http://www.karstendonnay.net

Katherine McCabe

Rutgers University, New Brunswick ( email )

New Brunswick, NJ
United States

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