Framing Persuasive Appeals: Episodic and ThematicFraming, Emotional Response, and Policy Opinion
George Washington University
Those seeking to frame political issues to their advantage recognize the power of emotionalappeals. Yet the study of framing has focused mainly on the cognitive effects of framingrather than on its emotional effects. This study presents the results of two experimentsdesigned to explore the effect of episodic and thematic framing on emotional response and policy opinion. Participants were randomly assigned to read a column arguing against mandatory minimum sentencing that employed either a thematic or one of two episodic frames featuring a woman who received a harsh sentence under the policy. Episodic framing was more emotionally engaging. Furthermore, the speciﬁc emotions elicited by theepisodic frame—sympathy and pity for the woman featured in the column—were associated with increased opposition to mandatory minimum sentencing. Yet the thematic frame wasactually more persuasive once this indirect effect of frame on emotional response was takeninto account. The results are consistent with the conclusion that framing effects on policyopinion operate through both affective and cognitive channels. The theoretical and prac-tical implications of the study are discussed.
Episodic Framing, Emotion, Mandatory Minimum Sentencing
Conventional wisdom tells us that emotional appeals matter. Those seekingto inﬂuence opinion and frame political issues to their advantage certainly seemto believe that appeals to emotion aid them in their attempts to gain publicsupport. Moreover, a growing body of research demonstrates that emotion canplay a crucial role in how citizens process political information and arrive atpolitical judgments. Yet we know little about the possible effects of framingattempts on emotional response because the framing literature, with a few excep-tions, has focused on cognitive reactions. This study extends Iyengar’s (1991)work to examine how the use of episodic and thematic framing in a persuasivemessage affects emotional response and how these emotional reactions might
Political Psychology, Vol. 29, No. 2, 2008
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