TESTING THE ROLE OF SCHEMATA IN THE APPLICABILITY MODEL OF FRAMING EFFECTS: A SURVEY EXPERIMENT ON THE ISSUE OF BIOTECHNOLOGY
Researchers have argued that conceptualization of cognitive mechanisms that underlie framing is vague and have proposed an applicability model to account for cognitive processes contributing to framing effects (Price & Tewksbury, 1997). The applicability model assumes the central roles of schema and views framing effects as applicability effects. In particular, it assumes that media framing will only have an effect if it resonates with pre-existing schemata held by audience members. The study described in this thesis tests the applicability model and its assumption of relevant schemata through a two-by-two experimental design. Through a national, computer assisted telephone survey of 781 respondents, the study utilizes a split-ballot technique to measure the effects of two frames (regulation versus non-regulation) on issues related to biotechnology and genetically modified food products. A secondary manipulation, varying the order of schemata measures (frame first versus schema measures first), tests the role of schemata in framing effects. Causal attributions, attributions of responsibility, and policy opinions are measured as outcomes of the main manipulation, or framing effects. Additional variables including demographics, attention to science and technology news across three media, awareness and support of biotechnology, and ideology were collected to control for and assess other influences on the outcome variables. Analyses included independent t-tests to look for differences between the four experimental groups. Respondents? schematic strengths were assessed through six measures. Twelve measures assessed causal attributions, responsibility attributions, and policy opinions toward regulation of biotechnology. Results reveal that schemata are directly related to people?s attributions and opinions on issues related to biotechnology and media attention is directly related to schema development. In particular, attention to science and technology news on television, in newspapers, and on the Internet contributed to stronger Information schemata, which emphasize the importance of science and research in determining the risks and safety of genetically modified food products. Television was the only medium that was related to Regulation schemata, which emphasize regulation as a necessity to protect consumers from the effects of biotechnology and preserve the environment. Framing effects occurred across particular schematic strength groups. Two different schematic groups were more likely to attribute risks associated with biotechnology to global causes such as the nature of science and information if they were exposed to the Non-Regulation frame, which emphasized that science and research should determine if new regulations should be made. Furthermore, respondents with stronger schemata (medium Regulation and high Information schematic strength) were more likely to agree with treatment as the cause of risk when exposed to the Regulation frame, which argued that the FDA must require research and create regulations to protect citizens from unsafe products. However, differences in Global attributions were not found across the seven other schematic groups. Respondents with high Regulation schemas were more likely to attribute responsibility to the government even when they were exposed to the Non-Regulation frame. Framing effects were not found for policy opinions and responsibility attribution to other groups such as non-governmental groups, trade groups and private corporations, and individuals. These results suggest that schema determine to a large extent, whether or not framing effects would occur and thus, provide some support for the Applicability model of framing effects. Furthermore, interaction effects were found between the main manipulation (type of frame) and the secondary manipulation (order of schemata measures) for particular schematic groups. Framing of genetically modified foods influenced policy opinions for particular schemata groups that were exposed to the schema measures after the frame manipulation, indicating that the content of schema measures may have contributed further to framing effects. Question order and possible priming effects are discussed. In sum, the results provide limited support for the Applicability model and demonstrate the need for further research into the cognitive mechanisms that underlie framing effects. Future study can further illuminate the complexity of audience schemas and their role in framing effects. Understanding of these cognitive mechanisms can be used in both development and political communication campaigns, where message receptibility will depend on audience awareness and schematic frameworks.
framing effects; applicability model
dissertation or thesis