Priming Effects in Complex Information Environments: Reassessing the Impact of News Discourse on Presidential Approval

Authors

  • Scott L. Althaus,

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
      Scott L. Althaus is associate professor of political science and speech communication, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801. Young Mie Kim is assistant professor of communication, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210.
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  • Young Mie Kim

    Corresponding author
    1. The Ohio State University
      Scott L. Althaus is associate professor of political science and speech communication, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801. Young Mie Kim is assistant professor of communication, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210.
    Search for more papers by this author

Scott L. Althaus is associate professor of political science and speech communication, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801. Young Mie Kim is assistant professor of communication, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210.

Abstract

This paper revisits the original psychological literature on priming in order to assess new possibilities for research on priming effects stimulated by news discourse. We detail some important theoretical limitations of existing priming research; propose a method for studying the dynamics of priming effects in real-world, complex information environments; and illustrate the usefulness of this approach with a case study of opinion change during the 1990–91 Persian Gulf Crisis. This case study documents for the first time the daily dynamics of priming effects in a complex information environment and confirms that priming effects are not merely a function of changes in the volume of news coverage about a given topic. Our findings suggest that news priming effects can be produced by changes in the applicability of relevant knowledge constructs, rather than merely by their temporary accessibility in long-term memory, and by cumulative as well as recent exposure to news coverage.

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