News as entertainment : seduction or distraction?
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Mass media presentation of news stories more closely resembles entertainment than enlightenment. What effect does this have on: 1) the general public’s ability to recall political information; 2) their attitudes towards political actors and issues; and, 3) their ability to think critically about politics? Psychological research on the effect of “seductive details” has indicated that presenting interesting, but ultimately unimportant details in hopes of stimulating attention may serve to reduce individuals’ ability to remember and use information. To test for similar effects in print and television news, an experimental research design is employed to manipulate news presentation. One set of subjects is presented with serious news stories, while another is exposed to serious stories accompanied by frivolous stories. A number of techniques are employed to measure the effects of news as entertainment on recall, critical thinking, and political attitudes. Given that political information is acquired almost exclusively from the mass media, this dissertation raises important empirical and normative issues about the contribution of mass media to the general public’s information level and level of political sophistication.