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Agenda-Setting Effects

David H. Weaver


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One of the most frequently cited approaches to studying media effects that emerged in the early 1970s is known as the agenda-setting effect (or function) of mass media. First tested empirically in the 1968 US presidential election by University of North Carolina journalism professors Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw ( McCombs & Shaw 1972 ), this approach originally focused on the ability of the mass media to tell the public what to think about rather than what to think. This was a sharp break from previous media effects studies that had focused on what people thought (their opinions and attitudes) and on behaviors such as voting and purchasing various goods and services (→ Media Effects, History of ). In their original 1968 study, published in Public Opinion Quarterly in the summer of 1972, McCombs and Shaw quoted Bernard Cohen, author of The press and foreign policy , who wrote that the press “may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about ” ( Cohen 1963 , 13). They also quoted from Kurt and Gladys Lang's chapter on the mass media and voting in Bernard Berelson's Reader in public opinion and communication : “The mass media force attention to certain issues. They build up public images of political figures. They are constantly presenting objects suggesting what individuals ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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