COM242: Effects of Mass Media

War of the Worlds: The Musical

Sample exam questions from last fall's first midterm, picking mostly the questions lots of people got wrong. The number in parenthesis is the percentage getting the question correct, and the correct answer is marked with "*".

1. Gantz measured learning from news and also what combination of motives for news viewing his respondents had. Which of the following is true regarding to Gantz's findings? (32%)

a. Those who watch with some reason will learn more than those watching without any motive
b. Casual viewers learn more than information seekers
c. Although recreation motive hampers learning, it can be counterbalanced if the viewer is also interested in information acquisition.
d. a and c
*e. None of above

Note: "a" was something Gantz hypothesized, but did not find. For "c", the recreation motive isn't "counterbalanced" much if the group with both motives still learns less than the "casual" group.

2. What does p<.05 mean? (57%)
a. You are less than 5% sure about your result
b. Your margin of error is +/- 5%
c. *The probability that our result is generated by pure luck is less than 5%
d. The probability that we are making a false conclusion
e. b and d
Note: A surprising number picked "e."

3. Billie's Bagel Bakery placed an ad in the Sunday paper. The owners of the bakery know that before the ad actually works (leads to purchase) Madison's bagel-mad consumers have to go through several steps. Some of these steps are, in order: (67%)
a. Awareness, conviction, knowledge, purchase.
b. Preference, conviction, liking, knowledge
c. Awareness, preference, knowledge, purchase
d. *Awareness, knowledge, liking, preference
e. Knowledge, awareness, preference, conviction

4. An audience that is selective and resists media effects is characteristic of which overall paradigm of mass communication effects? (90%)
a. magic bullet model
b. hypodermic model
c. conditional model
d. *limited effects model
e. all of the above

5. If an election-eve poll reports that Candidate A leads Candidate B 49% to 46%, with a 4% margin of error (i.e., the other 5% are still undecided), you can conclude that: (32%)
a. candidate A will just barely win
b. *candidate A will probably win
c. candidate B needs to pick up all the undecided vote
d. candidate A is 95% sure to win
e. none of the above
Note: We're not 95% sure Candidate A will win, but she's 3% up, which is most of the way toward being 95% sure. That has to be well above 50% sure, which is where "probably" starts. The 5% undecided is a red herring. We don't know how that will split, but that's not the question. This sample indicates that the population probably favors Candidate A.

6. Professor Osgood is conducting a survey of adolescents' media use. This allows him to: (70%)
a. Understand how most adolescents use media
b. Understand why adolescents turn to particular media more often
c. Make comparisons between behaviors
d. See whether heavy TV viewers read fewer books
  • e. All of the above

7. Medium "X" is used daily by almost all American adults, but there is enormous variation in how much individuals use it. Which medium could "Medium X" actually be in America? (22%)
a. Television
b. Newspapers
c. *Radio
d. Magazines
e. Movies
Note: Being "used daily by almost all American adults" rules out newspapers (30-40% don't use any given day), and "enormous variation" rules out television (where most adults watch between 2 and 4 hours per day).

8. Matching: Match each description with one of the theories, making them match as much as possible. You may use the same theory more than once. (2 points each)
a. Social judgment theory
b. Classical learning theory
c. Cognitive response theory
d. Balance theory
e. Dissonance Theory

9. Make comparison between existing and message attitudes - * A (86%)

10. Involves one's ability to generate arguments - * C (68%)

11. After getting virus warnings from DOIT, UW students avoided being victims of the "I LOVE YOU" computer virus. (1 point each)
a. Macro vs. b. Micro -- * B (84%)
b. Cognitive vs. b. Attitudinal vs. c. Behavioral -- * C (93%)

12. Research shows that people learn more of the day's main events from newspapers than from television news. Ignoring the difference in amount of information available (i.e., TV news is a headline service), give two separate explanations why this should be so. (6 points)

E.g., 1) control of flow of messages is in hands of receiver for print. 2) information-seeking vs. entertainment reasons for use (either in the immediate use of the news or as a habitual way of using the medium). 3) differences in attention/concentration/effort.

What are the different meanings of public opinion? Illustrate the different meanings with examples from the list of readings.

There are many different methods for measuring and studying public opinion such as content analysis, survey research, focus groups and experiments. Within survey research there are many different designs that are used such as cross-sections and panel surveys. Describe the different methods for measuring public opinion and illustrate the advantages/disadvantages of each method by referring to the readings. For example, is it impossible to measure opinions because of the problem of non-attitudes (lack of meaningful opinions) and measurement error (question effects). Discuss how each method or design can help our understanding of how the news media can affect public opinion.

Discuss the role of political knowledge/awareness in the formation of public opinion. What media factors (such as news watching, public service broadcasting preference, etc.) influence levels of political knowledge and how does knowledge influence public opinion? How can knowledge or awareness influence the relationship between the news and public opinion?

Define frames and framing effects. Why are framing effect important? How does framing differ from agenda-setting and priming effects? What frames are dominant in coverage of European political issues such as the Euro? According to the required reading, does the frame used depend on the medium (television vs. newspapers) or the issue covered?

There are many different indicators of civic engagement, social capital and malaise. Describe how these are measured (the indicators or variables used) and then discuss how television and other media can influence these indicators of social capital, civic engagement and malaise. What is the evidence that TV erodes social capital or causes malaise? Does newspaper reading contribute to malaise? Do tabloids contribute to malaise? Are we seeing declining civic engagement in European countries? If social capital is declining, should we be concerned?

A lot of the readings discuss the "minimal effects" model of media effects on public opinion (for example see pages 4-6 and 99-102 in On Message and Iyengar, Peters and Kinder p. 848). Describe what is meant by "minimal effects". Would you agree that the media have only a minimal effect on public opinion? What is the evidence for a minimal effect? What is the evidence for a not so minimal effect? Do you agree or disagree that media have minimal effects on public opinion? Why or why not?

Describe the two-message model of opinion formation? In your answer pay attention to the role of values, political awareness (knowledge), exposure to media, elite opinion and media in the formation of public opinion. Consider why people with different values and different levels of political awareness may respond differently to news media messages.
Consider the following public opinion trend:

external image Image1.gif
[source: Gallup Poll News Service, downloaded 1 November 2001 (]

This graph shows the percent of people approving (top line) and the percent disapproving of George W. Bush (the current president of the U.S.) from February 1-4, 2001 until October 19-21, 2001. What accounts for the dramatic increase in approval decrease in disapproval (see September 14-15)? Obviously, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon happened between the measurement of approval on September 7-10 and the measurement of approval on September 14-15. However, as political communication scholars we should seek to explain this phenomenal shift in support for the president among U.S. citizens. Apply the spiral of silence (Noelle-Nuemann), two-message model (Zaller) and even priming (Iyengar, Peters and Kinder) theories to the change in distributions of opinions in the above figures. Are there any other theories we could apply? Do any of these theories adequately explain the shift in opinion?

Describe agenda-setting theory (focus on the agenda of the media and the agenda of the public). Compare Table 8.1 from On Message (p. 119) to Tables 1 and 2 (p. 852) in Iyengar, Peter and Kinder’s article "Experimental Demonstrations of the ‘Not-so-minimal’ Effects of Television News Programs." Both are results for experiments testing agenda setting effects. What is the evidence in favor or against agenda-setting effects in each of the studies? On Message concludes that the "public followed its own agenda" (p. 128) while Iyengar, Peters and Kinder write, "We have shown that by ignoring some problems and attending to others, television news programs profoundly affect which problems viewers take seriously" (p. 855). By examining the design, issues, etc., explain why the results from the two studies may differ.

1. Early writings on media effects raised fears that the mass media could be a powerful propaganda tool, while later studies suggested that the media have only minimal effects. Where do we stand today on the power of the media to influence attitudes and behavior? Begin by evaluating one theory of strong media effects. Then evaluate the "minimal or limited effects" view. Based on your knowledge of media effects research, just how influential is the media in affecting political attitudes and behavior?

2. Provide a good working definition of the following three media effects and discuss the research evidence for the effects, using examples: media priming, agenda setting, and media framing. In your essay, be sure to distinguish these media effects from those of attitude change.

3. Criticism of media coverage during the Vietnam War has been used to justify strict censorship of the press when the U.S. engages in military actions (e.g., the Iraq and Gulf wars). Drawing on our class discussion, to what extent was an independent and oppositional media responsible for “losing the war in Vietnam” and to what extent did the role of the media in that war justify strict censorship in times of war or in military conflicts?

4. Like many other media effects, political learning from the news is complex and conditional (e.g., Neuman, Crigler, and Just). How does learning vary across different media (newspapers versus television news), news stories, and audience characteristics and what does this say about the relative advantages of television news and newspapers for increasing political learning?

5. What is Lance Bennett’s theory of Indexing and how did it fare in Jonathon Mermin’s study of news coverage of post-Vietnam war military interventions?

6. Patterson and Zaller offer two very different explanations of patterns in news coverage. First outline the patterns of news coverage that Patterson identifies and Patterson’s explanation for them. Then use Zaller’s theory to explain those same patterns. Which explanation do you think has more validity in your view? Why?

7. I may pick one of the three behavioral rules of news coverage of elections, as described by Zaller, and ask you to evaluate the empirical evidence that Zaller provides for the rule. Know the rules, the assumptions about actors’ goals on which they are based, a few of the propositions derived, and be prepared to evaluate the empirical evidence for the rule.

8. Based on your reading of Paletz, evaluate the potential for the media to influence political socialization toward women, African-Americans, homosexuals, and violence in the way they are presented in movies, television and the news, both past and present.

9. Political consultants actually read social science journals and attend conferences to learn new techniques for manipulating public opinion. How might political consultants use the results of studies on media effects (e.g., bandwagon, spiral of silence and third-person effects) to help their candidate and hurt the opposition?

10. You are the media consultant for a newly elected president who was formerly a member of Congress and your job is to point out some of the major differences in resources and media strategies and tactics typically available to presidents compared with members of Congress, as discussed in Paletz (chs. 11 & 12). How is the President-elect’s goal of making news and controlling press coverage different now than it was when she was in Congress? How is it easier? How is it harder? Draw from the discussion in Paletz to formulate an answer.