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Mass Media's Effect on the Polarization of Social Groups

Mass Media's Effect on the Polarization of Social Groups

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: jessicardreistadt on Sep 17, 2010
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Jessica R. DreistadtCritical Review Analysis: Mass Media’s Effect on the Polarization of Social GroupsSSP 411 – Advanced Research MethodsOctober 12, 2004Problem and Hypothesis
a. What is the problem?Vincent Price investigates the effect of the media on people’s association with socialgroups in conflict. This study seeks to understand the extent of influence the media has on public opinion when group conflict is or is not present in the reporting mechanism.Jeffrey C. Hubbard, Melvin DeFleur, and Lois B. DeFleur investigate if public opinion of specific social problems is closer in number to mass media portrayals of those social problems or actual statistics. Specifically, they seek to determine if the media unduly influences publicopinion about the incidence of social problems in their community.Martin Gilens conducts his research in 1996, at the height of welfare reform. Heexamines the content of print and broadcast newsmedia and compares the race, age, andoccupational status of people in stories about poor people with census data. He then usedsecondary data to determine if the media influences perception about low-income people andwhether or not this leads to opposition to welfare.Rosalee Clawson and Rakuya build on Gilens research four years later. They examine photographs in newsmagazine stories about poor people and compare the race, age, work status,gender, family size, and residence to government data. They also count the number of times people in these photographs are engaging in stereotypical behavior. Like Gilens, the problemDreistadt 1
under examination is “whether the media perpetuate inaccurate and stereotypical images of the poor.” (53)Thomas E. Ford studies the detrimental effect of stereotypical portrayals of AfricanAmericans in television sitcoms on white opinion about individual African American people.Specifically, he examines whether priming subjects effects their judgment as to the guilt of acrime suspect. b. What are the variables?Price devises two fictitious student newspaper articles about changing Stanford’s corerequirements - a nonexistent issue of limited concern to students. One article states a differencein opinion between ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ majors (205). The other article notes that there are mixedopinions about the change, but does not attribute those opinions to any particular social group.Participants were asked to rate a set of student’s comments about the issue; each student wasidentified by their major and class year. Half of the conflict group and half of the no conflictgroup questionnaires stated that this issue was actually being considered for implementation andthe other half stated that it was not currently being considered (this article was five years old).The questionnaire also contained a fictitious list of students’ comments about the issue, witheach student’s major and class year identified. To further complicate matters, some (a number or  percentage is not specified by the author) were given questionnaires that did not identify themajor and class of the students who offered comments. The independent variables were the presence/absence of group conflict, the level of consequence of the issue to the respondent, andthe identification of major and class in statements about the issue. The dependent variables werethe subjects’ opinion about the social groups’ position and their personal opinion about the issue.Hubbard et. al. do not conduct an experiment. They compare content analysis of localDreistadt 2
television and newspapers, along with agency records, to survey results. Gillens also usescontent analysis, along with secondary data; thus, there are not independent and dependentvariables. Similarly, Clawson and Trice conduct content analysis rather than an experiment.In Ford’s study, participants are categorized into four groups. Half watch a TV skit that portray stereotypical African American behavior and the other half watch a skit that portray anAfrican American person engaging in neutral behavior. All of the participants are then given avignette to read; half receive one with a white suspect and the rest receive one with an AfricanAmerican suspect. The independent variables are the comedy skits show to participants and therace of the suspect in their vignette. The dependent variable is the subjects’ assessment of theguilt of the suspect in the vignette.c. Does this research have a theoretical base?Price develops a theory about the process by which the media influences public opinionin three parts. In the first step, the message recipients react to cues in the media by determiningtheir relationship to the people in the news story. Their level of salience to the group isdetermined by the presence or absence of group conflict in the message, the pre-existence of group identification in the message recipient, and the recipient’s stake in the issue. In the second part of this process, recipients process the information presented about other people’s opinionsusing stereotypes about the groups in conflict. In the third step, recipients conform to their expectation of the norms of the group to which they have determined they belong. (203-4)Hubbard and colleagues base their research on a theory that organizes the process of social problem development into three stages: emergent, legitimization, and institutionalized.During the first stage, groups work to raise public awareness of an issue. In the legitimizationstage, a social problem is accepted and recognized by the general public. In the institutionalizedDreistadt 3

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