, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 221-246

Toward a Psychology of Framing Effects

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Framing is the process by which a communication source constructs and defines a social or political issue for its audience. While many observers of political communication and the mass media have discussed framing, few have explicitly described how framing affects public opinion. In this paper we offer a theory of framing effects, with a specific focus on the psychological mechanisms by which framing influences political attitudes. We discuss important conceptual differences between framing and traditional theories of persuasion that focus on belief change. We outline a set of hypotheses about the interaction between framing and audience sophistication, and test these in an experiment. The results support our argument that framing is not merely persuasion, as it is traditionally conceived. We close by reflecting on the various routes by which political communications can influence attitudes.