Media Effect: Framing Effects, Agenda-Setting, and Priming

The news media have an important normative function in modern society. They serve as the means through which people learn about problems that are not directly related to them. They also present ideas and points of view that encourage discussion, debate, and democracy. Therefore, it is not unexpected that the news media significantly impact people's attitudes, beliefs, and actions. These impacts cut over a wide range of topics, affect various socioeconomic and demographic groups, and cut across several nations and cultures.

Agenda-setting, priming, and framing have received much attention from political communication and public opinion scholars over the past fifty years. These ideas are connected but conceptually separate and have acquired intellectual traction. These ideas have significantly impacted how people perceive and react to their political and social environments.

Media Effect: Framing Effects, Agenda-Setting, and Priming

Several media influences might affect how individuals view and comprehend information. People's attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors can be influenced by these influences in a variety of ways. Three concepts exist to describe media effects: Agenda-Setting, Priming, and framing. Agenda setting is the theory that there is a direct relationship between the priority that the general public accords to certain problems and the focus that the mass media place on them (e.g., based on the relative placement or amount of coverage). "Changes in the criteria that individuals use to make political judgments" are called "priming."

When news content recommends to news consumers that they should use particular concerns as standards for assessing the performance of leaders and governments, this is known as priming. It is frequently viewed as a development of agenda-setting. In comparison to these accessibility-based theories, framing is very different. It is predicated on the idea that audiences' perceptions of a topic may be influenced by how it is described in news broadcasts.

What is Agenda Setting?

Agenda setting is the belief that there is a direct relationship between the importance that mass audiences attach to particular problems and the focus that the media place on them (e.g., based on the relative placement or amount of coverage). Agenda-setting has had mostly positive effects on the media landscape since it began. Regardless of what politicians say, what are the two or three primary issues that you believe the government should address? McCombs and Shaw questioned individuals in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in their groundbreaking study of voters. The key political topics covered by Chapel Hill's variety of news sources, which included local newspapers, the New York Times, and evening news broadcasts, were shown to be strongly correlated with the inhabitants' top concerns. In short, broadcast television news's agenda-setting impacts became the sole research subject.

Iyengar and Kinder (1987) developed a series of tests for their groundbreaking study to investigate whether the topics that received significant coverage on the national news also came to be perceived by viewers as the most pressing concerns facing the country. In their studies series, viewers watched broadcasts over a week with an additional story about a particular topic (such as defense, pollution, unemployment, or civil rights) spliced into it. On the other hand, their assemblage tests only used one viewing stimulus. The subjects viewed a mix of news reports that focused either moderately or intensely on one of three national issues (defense, energy, or inflation). Even after exposure to one narrative (about drugs), a 10-percentage point difference arose in the assemblage trials, which produced agenda-setting effects in both tests.

Moderators of agenda-setting

Agenda-setting emerged at a period when people believed the media to be all-powerful, yet its impacts were only sometimes strong. Instead, they depend on a variety of environmental and personal circumstances. If the media's influence comes from their capacity to present people with images of the "world outside," agenda-setting effects are often more pronounced for inconspicuous topics or for those issues that people have little to no firsthand contact with when repeated exposure to tales about inflation did not affect participants' judgments of the topic's importance. Additionally, if agenda-setting originated in an atomistic culture where people looked to the media to define social reality, its impacts are tempered by a person's desire for orientation.

One's desire for orientation, defined as the degree to which people feel driven to learn more about a subject, is influenced by both relevance and uncertainty, with the former causing the latter. Individuals will only feel the need for orientation on the topics they believe to be important, in other words. However, there are differences in people's levels of uncertainty, even among those who believe a given topic is important.

What is Priming?

This refers to how media can affect individuals' feelings and acts by triggering specific ideas or associations in their minds. When news content recommends to news consumers that they should use particular concerns as benchmarks for assessing the performance of leaders and governments, this is known as priming. It is frequently viewed as a development of agenda-setting. This is due to two factors −

  • Memory-based information processing models serve as the foundation for both effects. These theories presuppose that when making judgments, people construct attitudes depending on the most salient factors (i.e., accessible). In other words, conclusions and attitude formation are closely tied to "the ease in which instances or associations might be brought to memory;"

  • Some studies have asserted that priming is a temporal extension of agenda setting based on the shared theoretical underpinning. Mass media can influence people's criteria for making decisions regarding political candidates (priming) or topics by bringing particular problems to the forefront of their minds (agenda setting).

Therefore, priming theory makes the same assumption as agenda-setting research: that the degree of media influence will depend on the characteristics audience members bring to the reception situation, including their personality traits (such as whether they tend to reflect) and their current cognitive networks.

What is Framing?

In comparison to these accessibility-based theories, framing is very different. It is predicated on how a topic is presented in news reporting can affect how audiences interpret it. Framing has historical roots in both sociology and psychology. The experimental study by Kahneman and Tversky, for which Kahneman was awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics, is where framing's psychological roots can be found. They looked into how alternative ways of presenting the same decision-making scenarios affected people's decisions and their assessment of the numerous possibilities put before them.

Goffman (1974) and others set the sociological basis for framing by assuming that people cannot fully understand the universe and always try to interpret their life experiences and make sense of their surroundings. According to Goffman, people use interpretive schemas, also known as "primary frameworks," to categorize and meaningfully interpret information to process it quickly. Therefore, framing is a construct that exists both macro and micro. The term "framing" refers, as a macro construct, to forms of presentation that journalists and other communicators employ to deliver information that resonates with the audience's pre-existing schemas. Of course, this does not imply that most journalists attempt to fabricate stories or mislead their readers. Given the limitations of their different medium in terms of news gaps and airtime, framing is an essential instrument to simplify a topic.

Framing Effects across Media

There are many different types of frame-setting effects. The most fundamental is expanding a concept's relevance to understanding a problem. This belief-based effect may impact people's opinions or attitudes toward the problem and potential public policies. Frame-setting can also alter how people view political figures and how politically engaged news viewers are about framed subjects. Researchers have hypothesized that frame setting may have long-lasting consequences. Frame setting is frequently found in studies that examine the short-term impacts of exposure to news frames. The circumstances in which people will maintain the application of perceptions resulting from frame-setting are still being studied.

Agenda-Setting Priming Framing
Ability of media to influence people's perceptions of what is important by the amount of coverage they give to different issues. Priming refers to the way that media can influence people's thoughts and behaviors by activating certain concepts or associations in their minds. Framing refers to the way that media presents information, which can affect how people interpret and understand it.
Concerned with the importance or salience of issues. Concerned with the activation of specific concepts or associations in people's minds. Concerned with the way that information is presented and the perspective that is used.


It is significant to remember that the impacts of media are complicated and can change depending on the person and the environment in which the media is consumed. There is not a single model that accounts for all media influences. As more news audiences go online, they have more discretion over the news they consume. A new definition of agenda- and frame-setting is required in light of people's increased capacity to choose which news they want to read based on how they feel about the topic or how it is presented. Existing models of impacts presume extensive exposure, but if modern media are letting individuals be more selective about what they get, the field may need to reconsider how much of an impact the news media have on public perceptions, attitudes, and actions.

Updated on: 28-Apr-2023


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