Opinion Formation in Mediated Conflicts and Crises: a Theory of Cognitive--Affective Media Effects

This paper analyzes opinion formation in the cases of three mediated conflicts using a complex model that evaluates the respondents' value systems, the coverage of the mass media used, the recipients' familiarity with specific events occurring in the conflicts, and their positions on the issues. The model predicts that the recipients' long-term value systems influence their positions on the issue in two ways. Firstly, value systems have a direct impact on the short-term positions on an issue. Secondly, value systems have an indirect impact on the positions of issues by influencing the recipients' selection of news media and thus the type and amount of news information they are exposed to. The type and amount of news influences how knowledgeable they are of the events related to the conflicts. The familiarity with these events influences their positions on the issues. Value systems, media usage, familiarity and positions on the issues were measured in a survey. A parallel content analysis examined the coverage of the conflicts in the German mass media (press, radio, television) during the six-month time frame prior to the survey. Both data sets were merged in order to give an estimate of the information each recipient was exposed to. The results of multiple regression analyses support the theoretical model. Furthermore, this paper discusses the relevance of the model for the analysis of opinion formation as well as the limitations of the model.

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