Effects of Victim Exemplification in Television News on Viewer Perception of Social Issues

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 1996


Two broadcast news stories were manipulated to show victimization (food poisoning, handgun violence) in one of three versions: without victim exemplification, with exemplification by unemotional victims, and with exemplification by highly emotional victims. Male and female respondents, whose empathic sensitivity had been predetermined, recorded their own perceptions of each issue addressed: its severity as a national problem, the likelihood of it becoming a local problem, and the likelihood that they themselves might be placed at risk. They also indicated their reaction to each news story. Emotional victim exemplification fostered perceptions of greater problem severity than unemotional and no victim exemplification. Additionally, emotional victim exemplification, compared with no exemplification, fostered perceptions of increased victimization risk to self, whereas unemotional victim exemplification failed to do so. Empathic sensitivity did not interact with exemplar emotionality, but produced a main effect. Highly empathic persons perceived the severity of danger and risk to themselves as greater than did less empathic persons. Respondent gender similarly produced a main effect without interacting with exemplar emotionality. Female respondents assessed all dangers and risks as higher than did their male counterparts. Finally, exposure to emotional exemplification, but not unemotional exemplification, fostered reports of greater distress reactions than did exposure to the news stories without exemplification. Women reported greater distress than did men, and highly empathic persons reported greater distress than did less empathic persons.

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