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Date of Award

1999

Document Type

Thesis - Pacific Access Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Qingwen Dong

First Committee Member

Carol Ann Hackley

Second Committee Member

R. Alan Ray

Abstract

For the last two decades displaced homeless people living in public places have doted the American landscape, despite increasing national wealth. Two factors which may contribute to this phenomenon are: 1) how the issue of homelessness is perceived through media coverage, and 2) what attributions of causality and responsibility are extricated from the vast multitude of media messages. An integration of theoretical frameworks within social-psychology (attribution and priming theory) and communication (agenda setting and framing effects) was consummated in a hypothesized mediated inference process: conceptualized as a cognitive continuum where the issue of homelessness first enters the cognition of the social observer (inaugural prime); is then given salience by the frequency of media coverage (agenda setting); thereupon shaped by media portrayals (framed); and attributions of causality and responsibility are formed. To examine the proposed mediated inference process a survey questionaire (n=283) was administered to college students revealing a significant correlation between the importance placed on the issue of homelessness (agenda setting) and resultant attributions of causality. As respondents' perceptions of the importance of homelessness increased, their societal attributions of causality increased. Conversely, as perceptions of importance decreased personal, internal attributions of causality increased. Additionally, high television use was found, through regression analysis, to be a significant predictor of situational attributions of causality. An experiment (n=96) was also administered to examine how different newspaper and television framing conditions effect attributions of causality. The results indicate that newspaper portrayals presented as isolated events lead subjects to attribute causality to personal dispositions; whereas portrayals presented as overall accounts lead subjects to societal attributions. Although the evidence for a mediated inference process was inconclusive, the results suggest that the frequency and framing of media coverage significantly affect the process of attributing causality for social issues such as homelessness.

Pages

103

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