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Keywords:

  • Episodic Framing;
  • Emotion;
  • Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

Those seeking to frame political issues to their advantage recognize the power of emotional appeals. Yet the study of framing has focused mainly on the cognitive effects of framing rather than on its emotional effects. This study presents the results of two experiments designed to explore the effect of episodic and thematic framing on emotional response and policy opinion. Participants were randomly assigned to read a column arguing against mandatory minimum sentencing that employed either a thematic or one of two episodic frames featuring a woman who received a harsh sentence under the policy. Episodic framing was more emotionally engaging. Furthermore, the specific emotions elicited by the episodic frame—sympathy and pity for the woman featured in the column—were associated with increased opposition to mandatory minimum sentencing. Yet the thematic frame was actually more persuasive once this indirect effect of frame on emotional response was taken into account. The results are consistent with the conclusion that framing effects on policy opinion operate through both affective and cognitive channels. The theoretical and practical implications of the study are discussed.