The Effects of Framing Print Media Messages About
Genetic Modification of Food on Readers’ Perceptions
Laura Dininni, MS Candidate, Agricultural and Extension Education, Penn State University
Genetic modification of food is a highly controversial issue. Though
individuals know very little about the technology, that does not prevent them
from holding differing opinions about biotechnology
(Hallman, Adelaja, Schilling
& Lang, 2002).
For most Americans today, genetic modification of food through agricultural
biotechnology is an unfamiliar and abstract concept, lacking any real context.
Because of this, when media provide the context in which to interpret the
meaning of agricultural biotechnology, or frame the technology, that meaning is
more readily accepted than if the public already had a context in which to place
Significantly, most people in the United States rely on mass media as their
primary sources of information on issues of public concern, including agricultural
biotechnology (Hallman & Metcalf, 1995; Hoban, 1998). In fact, over 90% of
American consumers receive information about food and biotechnology
primarily through the popular press and television (Hoban & Kendall, 1993).
Through an experimental manipulation of two salient print media themes, this
study explores readers’ reactions to stories about agricultural biotechnology’s
role in world hunger, and role in trade and economics, two of the three most
frequently covered themes discussed in the U.S. national newsprint media in
2002, identified through content analysis.
(Outcome: Gain/Loss) x 2 (pre/post
test/post only); Solomon 4 group
(IRB Approval # 20148): A convenience sample of 240 (30 per cell) will
be selected to equally represent males and females from a population of
university staff, students and individuals in the surrounding areas.
All conditions will be presented in newsprint format, control for
news source (New York Times), sources cited and affected population and will
present a brief description of possible environmental risks of the technology in
order to frame use of agricultural biotechnology as a risky proposition.
: Attitudes toward agricultural biotechnology will be
measured through an index comprised of two components. Value assessment
will be measured on a four item, five point semantic differential scale. Attitude
will be measured on a 14 item, five point likert
type scale. Items for each
concept will be summed and averaged, then added together to yield one value
Knowledge, as a moderating variable, will be measured with a 14 item
true/false index, summed and averaged to obtain a percentage to represent
Indices will be checked for internal consistency with Chronbach’s alpha.
Demographic variables, age, income, and gender will be measured in order to
statistically control for any moderating effects on framing. Surveys with missing
items will be dropped from analysis.
Data will be analyzed using factorial
Low Knowledge High Knowledge
If actual results are consistent with expected results we will show that for an
unfamiliar subject like genetic modification of food the public’s understanding of
the issue is influenced by what and how the media report on the topic. An
individuals prior knowledge of the issue will also be shown to have a minimizing
effect on the media’s influence on perceptions.
Directions for Future Research
This study did not measure the preexisting risk seeking comfort zone of
subjects. Levin, Gaeth, Schreiber & Lauriola (2002) found that the ‘Big Five’
personality traits and scores on the ‘Faith in Intuition’ scale affect the
relationship between framing and risk decision making. It is likely that those
who are more disposed to risk
seeking behaviors are generally more accepting
of agricultural biotechnology.
Price and Tewksbury (1997) found that although framing did not affect the
volume of thoughts produced, it did affect the topical focus of those thoughts.
Future studies could employ an out loud reporting method, analyzed
qualitatively, to explore whether effects found in this research are consistent with
Hypotheses to be Tested
H1: Arena: Framing agricultural biotechnology as a solution to world hunger
(ethics) will have a greater effect on positive perceptions of the technology than
framing it as giving economic advantage to farmers (economics).
H2: Domain: Articles framed in the loss domain will be more positively related to
choosing risk to avoid loss than will articles framed in the gain domain.
H3: Knowledge of agricultural biotechnology will lessen the effects of framing.
Significance to the Field
Information regarding the effects of framing on readers’ perceptions may be
used as a basis to make some real
world inferences regarding how ethical and
economic arguments and individuals’ knowledge may influence their perceptions
when agricultural communicators engage the public on topics relevant to biotech.
Media Effects: Framing and Prospect Theory
An issue is framed when certain aspects of a perceived reality are presented and
made more meaningful to the audience (Entman, 1993).
A frame defines a situation, the issues, and the terms of a debate (Tankard, 2001)
without the audience realizing it is taking place.
People will select one equivalent outcome over another depending on whether the
outcome is framed in terms of a risk of loss or chance of benefit or gain.
Respondents seek to avoid risk when choices are framed in terms of gains. Risk
seeking results when a choice is framed in terms of losses (Tversky & Kahneman;
1981; Kahneman & Tversky 1984; Highhouse & Yuce, 1996).
Even though outcomes were identical in a posed moral dilemma that involved the
death of human beings, the wording save (gain) or kill (loss) had an effect on
resolution of the dilemma (Petrinovich & O’Neill, 1996).
When outcomes involve human lives, rather than money, subjects make riskier
choices regardless of whether the outcome is framed in terms of gain or loss
(Fagley & Miller, 1997).
There is a significant difference in level of risk perceived according to the type of
risk that is made salient (Chryssochoou & Dean, n.d.).
Significance to Society
Agricultural biotechnology’s connection with issues of world hunger,
environmental degradation, biocide use, and global economics are examples of the
broad and critical nature of what is at stake in the public’s assessment of the value
of this new technology.
Understanding cognitive responses to agricultural
biotechnology framing may help to explain the relationship between framing,
cognition and public opinion.
Figure 1. The Main Effects for Ethical
and Economic Framing of Agricultural
Figure 2. The Moderating Effects of
Knowledge on Ethical and Economic
Framing of Agricultural Biotechnology