Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Engaging the Female Audience: An Evolutionary Psychology Perspective on Gendered Responses to News Valence Frames

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Engaging the Female Audience: An Evolutionary Psychology Perspective on Gendered Responses to News Valence Frames

Article excerpt

Since the early 1960s television news has been the primary source of public affairs information for Americans (Roper, 1979). Yet, it has been increasingly criticized for its emphasis on negative events such as accidents, disasters, corruption, and conflict (Slone, 2000). Televised newscasts feature "more images of violence, suffering and death in half an hour than most people would normally view in a lifetime" (Newhagen, 1998, pp. 267).

Emphasis on bad news is not exclusive to the U.S. market (The Pew Research Center for People and the Press, 2004). In fact, negativity is internationally recognized as a key element of newsworthiness (Knobloch-Westerwick, Carpentier, Blumhojf, & Nickel, 2005). Negativity in news is also not a contemporary phenomenon or one particular to television--it is as old as the concept of mediated news itself. In fact, war news is one of the earliest historical forms of reporting (Bell, 1991).

Evolutionary psychology offers one possible explanation for the historically persistent media emphasis on bad news and the corresponding audience appetite for it. In fact, this perspective on negative news has been articulated by Shoemaker (1996) as human hard wiring for negative news. Surveying the environment for threats was detrimental to the survival of our ancestors (Plutchik, 1980). News media have assumed this surveillance function over the past few centuries by focusing on deviant and negatively compelling topics. Audiences respond to this mediated survival-relevant information based on their biological predisposition to pay attention to potential threats in their environment (Shoemaker, 1996). While human beings have a need for surveillance of their environment to respond to potential threats (negative stimuli) they are also predisposed to investigate opportunities (positive stimuli). However, awareness and action readiness for a threat is considered more important for survival than curiosity about opportunities (Knoblock-Westerwick et al., 2005).

While evolutionary psychology explains why one might be predisposed for attention to negative news, it also recognizes gender differences in responses to these mediated survival threats: Women tend to avoid them. In fact, a growing body of research in the fields of psychology and neuroscience supports the notion that women have a stronger avoidance response to negative stimuli than men (Canli, Desmond, Zhao, & Gabrieli, 2002; Knight, Guthrie, Page, & Fabes, 2002; Whissell, 1996; Wrase et al., 2003; Zald, 2003). There is some evidence that women's avoidance response to negative stimuli is manifested in their consumption of news. In fact, women remember and comprehend less of negative television news than men do (Grabe & Kamhawi, 2006; Hendriks Vettehen, Hietbrink, & Renckstorf, 1996). An experimental study confirmed that women report greater anxiety than men in response to negative news (Slone, 2000). Moreover, survey research shows that women are emotionally more sensitive to negative news than men. While 44% of Americans say they are often depressed by the news, women make up 53% of this figure while about one third of men (34%) acknowledge feeling depressed (The Pew Research Center for People and the Press, 2004). Women are more likely than men to report that coverage of wars and violence is the reason why they do not follow international news (Gibbons, 2003) and that they would like to see more positive news on television (Gallician, 1986).

If journalism's function in a democracy is to provide information to all citizens, the inherent negative tone of news stands as a potential barrier to enlightening about half of its potential audience. The goal of the experimental study reported here is to gain more insight into news reception, by comparing men and women's evaluative responses to negative news stories presented with subtle variations of the valence frames. By keeping factual content constant and subtly varying the valence frame, this study can test if negativity contributes to women's disinterest in the news. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.