Effects of two different motivations on agenda-setting : NFO, motivated reasoning, and the second level of agenda-setting

Lee, Na Yeon
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This dissertation seeks to understand how the need for orientation (NFO) and motivated reasoning influence the agenda-setting process at the level of the individual by examining whether and to what extent the two types of motivations guide individuals to process information differently, thereby resulting in differences in the second level of agenda-setting effects. The first motivation, the need for orientation (NFO), was developed as part of the agenda-setting theory in communication studies, while the other set of motivations (i.e., accuracy and directional goals) was introduced by the theory of motivated reasoning that was developed in the field of psychology. By combining the two motivations - NFO and motivated reasoning - this study demonstrated that the role of NFO on the agenda setting process was moderated by motivated reasoning, accuracy and directional goals. In other words, participants with High-NFO who used accuracy goals that motivated them to seek information in accurate ways searched for more news about unemployment which was manipulated as the most salient attribute. Their information seeking behaviors, in turn, led to higher agenda-setting effects. By comparison, participants with High-NFO who used directional goals to seek information that was congruent with their prior perspectives or perceptions were less likely to seek information about unemployment and showed lower agenda-setting effects. Overall, the findings of this study suggest that individuals’ motivation to seek more information about an issue (NFO) may not always result in higher agenda-setting effects: if their motivations are biased by strong prior perceptions or perspectives, then their eagerness to seek information may blind them to what the media cover. Individuals’ motivations are expected to play an increasingly important role in their information seeking behaviors in the new media environment where people have unprecedented opportunities to access a broad range of information that varies in content as well as perspectives. Implications for the findings of this study and for the role of the media in a democratic society are also discussed.