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Framing Effects: A Fractured Paradigm Shanto Iyengar Prepared for 3rd International Summer School; University of Milan - Department of Social & Political.

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Presentation on theme: "Framing Effects: A Fractured Paradigm Shanto Iyengar Prepared for 3rd International Summer School; University of Milan - Department of Social & Political."— Presentation transcript:

1 Framing Effects: A Fractured Paradigm Shanto Iyengar Prepared for 3rd International Summer School; University of Milan - Department of Social & Political Studies

2 What is Framing? … a dynamic, circumstantially-bound process of opinion formation in which the prevailing modes of presentation in elite rhetoric and news media coverage shape mass opinion…. Framing effects refer to behavioral or attitudinal outcomes that are not due to differences in what is being communicated, but rather to variations in how a given piece of information is being presented (or framed) in public discourse.

3 Historical Perspective Originally defined as a presentation effect in Tversky and Kahneman studies of gains/losses People tended to be risk-seeking when asked to choose between a sure loss and a probabilistic loss, but risk-averse when the same choice was applied to gains

4 Imagine that the US is preparing for the outbreak of an unusual Asian disease, which is expected to kill 600 people.Two alternative programs to combat the disease have been proposed. Assume that the exact scientific estimates of the consequences of each program are as follows: If Program A is adopted, 200 people will be saved (72%) If Program B is adopted, there is a 1/3 rd prob that 600 people will be saved, and a 2/3rds prob that no people will be saved (28%) If Program A people will die (22%) If Program B... there is a 1/3 rd prob. that nobody will die and a 2/3 rd prob that 600 will die (78%) Equivalent Frames: Kahneman-Tversky Paradigm

5 Semi-Equivalent Media Frames Communications researchers adapted the framing paradigm to news coverage – different genres of news coverage proposed as frames

6 Episodic versus Thematic Framing of Issues Episodic framing the dominant form of broadcast news coverage – issues depicted as particular instances: homeless person, single mother, laid off worker as symptomatic of poverty, particular criminal acts instead of overall trends in the level of crime (Iyengar, 1991) Thematic framing embeds issues in some general or societal context – historical trends in unemployment or poverty; news accompanied by expert analysis

7 Effects of issue framing on attributions of responsibility Episodic framing dispositional attributions (blaming the victim) Thematic framing societal or structural attributions

8 Framing as a Pattern or Script Scripts as narrative structures; the crime script in local news – violent crime > non-violent crime (Iyengar & Gilliam, 1999) Accompanied by visual cues suggesting race or ethnicity of suspect

9 Race of Suspect Manipulation


11 Impact of Crime Script People become more concerned about crime People become more punitive in their crime policy preferences

12 Issue Frames Alternative perspectives on policy problems; immigration as a law enforcement or economic growth issue (Nelson, 1997) Issue frames are emphasis rather than equivalence frames; this is the crux of the problem with current research


14 Competitive Frames In real world, parties and politicians engage in strategic framing (heresthetics) of issues making it inevitable that voters are exposed simultaneously to multiple frames Chong & Druckman (2008, 2009) on effects of exposure to multiple frames: under conditions of synchronous exposure (exposure at one point in time), the effects cancel out and participants fall back on general predispositions as opinion cues (also see Sniderman & Thereault, 2004)

15 Summary Communication researchers increasingly employ operational definitions of the framing concept that embody considerable differences in content across frames (emphasis framing) The original concept of framing as a presentation effect (equivalence framing) has largely been abandoned

16 The Problem with Emphasis Frames Emphasis-based frames not only vary the perspective or underlying dimension for considering an event (e.g. freedom of speech in the case of some particular dissenting group), but they also differ in several other respects, In one of the more precise emphasis framing studies, for instance (Druckman and Nelson, 2003), approximately fifty words were unique to each of the competing free speech and special interest frames.

17 Non-Equivalence=Confounds The lack of equivalent content means that any effects of exposure to the frame cannot be attributed to presentation per se More likely, effects reflect significant differences in content Therefore, emphasis frames represent messages; framing effects are no different from persuasion effects

18 The Advantages of Visual Over Semantic Frames It is time for framing research to move away from emphasis frames and towards equivalence frames Non-verbal, visual cues provide ecologically valid equivalence frames

19 Racial and gender phenotypes as exemplars; visual representation of candidates ethnicity and gender as a form of framing It is possible to create alternative versions of a picture that differ along a specific dimension, but which remain identical on all other observable dimensions so that any variation in the audience response can be attributable only to the manipulated dimension.

20 The Case of Afrocentrism 2008 Obama study – manipulated Afrocentrism (phenotype) relatively early and late in the campaign

21 Obama: Eurocentric Morph

22 Obama: Afrocentric Morph

23 Findings In February, the more Afrocentric version of Obama elicited significantly less support from White voters In October, however, the visual manipulation had no impact at all Pattern suggests that facial cues are more important in races where candidates are little known

24 Immigration Study Appearance versus credentials in perceptions of immigrants applying for citizenship (cultural versus economic threat) Economic credentials defined according to occupational skill (professional versus manual laborer) Cultural credentials defined according to nationality (Muslim/non-Muslim) and skin color/morphing manipulations applied to different ethnic groups represented in the immigrant pool

25 Politics of Immigration



28 Complexion Manipulation: Immigration Study Rashid Siddiqui, applicant for work permit

29 Roberto Sanchez, applicant for work permit

30 Rajan Sivamurthy, applicant for work permit

31 Female Immigrants/Cultural Threat Manipulation


33 Gender Phenotypes



36 Over the course of the last two decades, researchers in political communication have proposed a diverse and often incompatible set of conceptual definitions of framing. The resulting operational confusion surrounding the construct has made drawing broader inferences across different studies all but impossible. Summary

37 We urge researchers to structure future empirical work around the original characteristics of the concept, i.e., variations in the mode of presentation of a given stimulus, rather than manipulations of the informational or persuasive nature of messages.

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