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Priming Theory

Mass media has the capability to influence people to think based on the media concepts that have been presented to them. In thousands of images that people see on media sources everyday, the strong recall of each image leave marks on the minds of the viewers or readers which often lead to the conclusion that mass media is the influential and powerful tool to deliver messages to the mainstream. From entertainment to business purposes, media plays a very important role in the society.

The public does not always notice the strong effects of persuasive advertisements or well-narrated news story presented by media; however, the increasing demands determine the impacts of these media concepts to the people in all aspects. People buy a certain product because of the appealing commercial on television. People conform to the latest fashion trends because the models and endorsers on the magazines. People vote for a certain politician because of constant release of propaganda through newspapers. These are just few of the many examples showing the strong effects of mass media to the public.

Even though the people are often unaware of these influential demands and plain consumerism, the society still relies on the ability and credibility of mass media for providing information that would help each cluster function well in the society. This concept has an accurate explanation from the mass communication theorists. The pictures that people see on screen and magazine pages and the attitude of people prior to and upon seeing those images have been discussed and given explanations for the society’s better understanding.

Priming is one of the theories that would explain the media concepts and effects of media images to the public. Apparently, the concept of priming will be most effective to examine in the light of other theories in the field of communication like framing and agenda setting. These theories would help the people to understand the concept of priming and its focus on media messages. The Priming Theory During election campaign period, much propaganda are being released on popular media sources like television, radio, newspapers, and even magazines to inform and update the public about the event.

Typically, this is the hardest period for the politicians because this is the time when they need to build a rapport with the mainstream and make them aware about their candidacy. This is also the period when the mass media plays a very important role to make them reach the anticipated position in the society (Burstein, 1991). The dissemination of information creates a strong recall to the mainstream and the salient issues on media become the center of attention of the public.

Since the awareness of the people is being determined on their level of media exposure and participation, the constant release of advertisements and promotions are done by the politicians to reach all the target people. It has been mentioned that the concept of priming can be explained with the use of other theories; in fact, agenda setting theory serves as the umbrella of priming. Agenda setting suggests that mass media may not be successful in telling the people what to think; however it has been successful in telling the mainstream what to think about.

Mass media may not tell people to buy a certain product but the advertisements on television and billboards would affect the behavior of the consumers because of its persuasive appeal. In agenda setting, the media does not command people to conform but rather present the idea alone and let the people do the rest (Birkland, 1998). In other words, the media shows images in a way the people would easily get the messages that are being conveyed on media concepts.

According to agenda setting theory, the media highlight a certain issue or certain part of the controversy to make the people put too much attention on the salient issues rather than to those issues that media considers as less important. Apparently, issues help to develop the perceptions of people toward reality. They provide typical categories which organized the knowledge of the mainstream and their experiences in a large semantic framework relevant for communication in the community.

This is true for the depiction of current events in the news media, where headlines and keywords clearly indicate the issues the respective coverage refers to. And it corresponds with the audience members’ processing of news, which needs a principle to store and retrieve this information. Cognitive schemata emerge as a result of these mental networks, and very often relate to the schemata applied by the news media and reproduced in media coverage (Donsbach & Traugott, 2008. p. 205).

Basically, these three theories such as agenda setting, framing, and priming, focus only on the cognitive media effects. The agenda setting refers to the process of mutual influence between the media and the viewers’ perceptions of the important issues in the public life; framing describes the pattern of interpretation which are prevalent in media coverage and in viewers’ minds and emphasize certain aspects of reality while taking for granted other issues; and priming refers to the process in which the dominant aspects of media coverage serve as criteria for individual decision making.

The public opinion is being influenced by media concepts which only give emphasis to salient issues and highlight the necessary making the people pay attention only to the issues that are being talked about on media sources (Hill, 1985). People have their own experiences which they use in making decisions everyday. Apparently, this knowledge helps the people to choose the right words and actions. However, aside from knowledge and experiences, each individual is influenced by the external factors that make them choose another option instead of others.

Mass media falls to these external factors because they only provide information and the media images have nothing to do with the individuals’ personal lives. Surprisingly, these outside factors are much influential because of the creative concepts and persuasive appeal to the public. The concept of agenda setting related to the depiction and perception of issues had expanded to the mechanisms of the agenda of attributes.

Basically, beyond the agenda of objects is another level of agenda setting and each object on an agenda has various attributes, properties, and characteristics. Just as objects vary in salience, the attributes also depend on the salience of an issue to the public and to the media itself. The selection of objects for attention and the selection of attributes for picturing those objects are powerful agenda setting roles.

Due to these agenda setting, media is capable of making people think about the salient issue and what to do about it. Generally, frames can be defined as the pattern of interpretation through which information is being classified to handle it efficiently. Framing is the process of selecting some aspects of a perceived reality and making them more salient in communication context to gain an anticipated awareness from the audience, promote particular problem definition, moral evaluation, and casual interpretation.

Framing may be organized to three categories, the communicator approach which refers to the journalist’s cognitions as criteria of news production; the public discourse approach which investigates the efforts of politicians to launch their own interpretation of reality in the media; and the media effects approach which talks about the perceptions of reality of the audience that will be used by media to translate all the information into a salient issue and create a new constructed reality.

Everyday, media releases salient issues and the public perceive them based on the level of their involvement to a certain issue or based on the level of media exposure. In this manner, the priming effects of media coverage occur in the society prior to and upon the media exposure of concepts (McCombs et al, 1997). Media priming is the process wherein the news media calls attention to some issues while others are being ignored. Priming theory suggests that the viewers do not consider all relevant issues for judgment but merely those issues that are accessible at that moment.

The certain issue that is being intensely covered by the mass media may serve as a prime, remains accessible and can be activated again for viewers’ judgment. Although the media can provide all the information to the society, there is still a link between the cognitive-agenda setting effects and the attitude formation. In other words, the reaction of the people toward an issue will still determine if the media concept has been effectively delivered or if the audience found the issue interesting or not.

Typically, the society has been exposed to salient issues which often leads to the conclusion that any new issue that may appear on the public agenda might reduce or totally eliminate the perceived salience of older issues. The continuous news production affects the psychological aspects of the people that enable them to pay attention to the new ones instead of reviewing the older news stories that have already given proper attention.

The most important contingent conditions which enhance an impact of the media prime are: (1) if the prime is encountered more frequently; (2) it is encountered more frequently; and (3) if it is possibly fits a large number of upcoming real world events. The overwhelming number of studies supports the nation of a priming effect triggered by media coverage but it is not a universal phenomenon: The predicted effect often emerges only for certain types of respondents or under certain issue related conditions (Donsbach & Traugott, 2008. p. 213)

In order to come up with accurate study of agenda setting, the researches focused on the concept of priming which was derived from the cognitive psychological concept of priming. Media priming enhance the impacts of mass media by providing the audience prior context which will be used to interpret subsequent communication. Media provides the viewers with standards and frames of reference. While agenda setting merely refers to the issue, the priming on the other hand, tells the audience if the issue contains something good or bad or if the issue communicated effectively or not.

Apparently, mass media has primed the viewers about the appearance or characteristics of a certain person or things are. There has been increasing interest in the persuasive potential of mass communication with regard to the decisions, attitudes, and opinions of the audience. Media has been the powerful agenda-setter, capable of suggesting or priming the criteria by which the viewers evaluate a certain issue (Schmitt-Beck, 2003). Many studies have already confirmed that media can persuade specifically on unfamiliar issues until many people have proven that media can prime.

In other words, media can provoke opinion or behavior change not merely because individuals alter their beliefs or evaluations of objects but because they alter the relative weight they give to various considerations that make up the ultimate evaluation (Mendelsohn, 1996). The media frames certain issue in an episodic manner which often focuses on unrelated events and distinctive happenings. The strategic framing and creative organization of events contain contextual information which hinders the viewers to make broader connections between issues.

Through this thematic framing the people are being affected by societal forces. The people undergone to many process first before coming up with the decision which will guide them to perform the specific action; in fact, the people have competing and contradictory considerations on important matters in the society that would either allow or block them from doing what they have to be done. Even though the studies have already proven that priming does not operate in a dynamic world setting, the way media present the concepts affects the cognitive aspects of each individual in the society.

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