Effects of negative media on emotional and cognitive processing


The current study examines the possible effects of negative print media on the perceiver’s emotional and cognitive processing. Participants (N=45) were exposed to either a negative or positive mood manipulation. They were randomly giving one of three articles to read. Two of the articles were on anxiety related topics – terrorism and murder; the third article regarding the royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton, was considered neutral (please note that most of the participant in the study were not native English, hence had no cultural or emotional relation to the topic). Each article was read by fifteen subjects. Participants were then given a State anxiety test (SAT) to fill in, followed by an Emotional Stroop test, developed solely for the purpose of the study. Results revealed no significant main Stroop effect, nor was there an interaction between Reaction time and Story Type. However, there was a significant difference in the State anxiety Scores (SAS) between the group that read the Murder Story and the one that read the Royal Story (p=.014). As opposed to the hypothesis, SAS in the Terrorist Story group was not higher than SAS in the Murder Story group and the existing difference was not significant (p=.059). There was also no significant difference between the Royal Story group and the Terrorism Story group (p=.817). Possible explanations and further research datum were discussed.

Keywords: anxiety, media, priming, stroop effect, emotional, cognitive, processing.

The current study addressed two main novel questions – (1.) Does negative print media affect media consumers’ anxiety level and (2.) Does negative print media affect cognitive processing. It was presumed that negative media would affect cognitive processing by entering the preexisting anxiety constructs and therefore anxiety levels would be raised. In addition to that, attentional bias to anxiety-related stimuli would be activated which would keep anxiety levels higher. Those predictions were tested by assigning participants to one of three mood conditions – two anxiety-related and one neutral. For that purpose, each group read an article; respectively there were two anxiety-related articles and one neutral. To measure whether or not the article had an effect on the anxiety level a State anxiety test was conducted. Subsequently, participants did an Emotional Stroop task, to check if there was any anxiety-construct interference. Results, however, did not fully support the predictions about the effects of negative print media articles.
Analysis of the State anxiety scores and the Story type showed a main effect of the Murder story, which was inconsistent with the initial predictions. Compared to the neutral story (Royal Story), the Murder story group scored significantly higher on the State Anxiety test. Interestingly, there was no significant difference between the Terrorism story and the Royal story, which were the initial predictions. This outcome was discussed in terms of previous personal experience with terrorist acts. On the basis of the current results, it was suggested that murder-related stories awaken higher anxiety response than terrorism-related stories, which opens anther area of investigation and research.
Further analysis of the results showed no significant interaction between Story type and Stroop effect, nor was there a main effect on Story type. On the one hand, a possible explanation could be that there was no interference of constructs; ergo participants were not emotionally affected by the articles. On the other hand, numerous possible avenues for research were indicated to address this topic in the future, such as risk probabilities in the context of article’s perception ; second language barrier in perception of news content.

(If interested, please do not hesitate to request the full version of the dissertation)

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