An Experimental Test of the Effects of Fictional Framing on Attitudes


  • *Direct correspondence to Kenneth Mulligan, Department of Political Science, Southern Illinois University, Mailcode 4501, Carbondale, IL 62901 〈〉. The authors will provide data for replication, in compliance with the guidelines of the Human Subjects Committee at SIUC. A previous version of this article was prepared for the 2009 Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association in New Orleans, LA. The authors thank Tobin Grant, Scott McClurg, Robert Goidel, and participants in the Works in Progress Seminar at SIUC for helpful comments. They thank Drew Seib, Josh Mitchell, and Brendan Toner for research assistance.


Objectives. Most studies of media effects in political communication focus on news media. A smaller body of work extends theories of news media effects to fictional entertainment media. Just as news media engage in priming and agenda setting, these studies suggest that fictional media do as well. In this study, we deal with fictional media's framing of issues. No research has sought to test the effects of framing in explicitly fictional media on political opinions. We develop the outlines of a theory we call “fictional framing” and test it in an experiment.

Methods. Participants in our treatment group watched the film Cider House Rules. The movie frames the issue of abortion in the case of incest in a pro-choice way, and frames morality in terms of following one's own conscience.

Results. The film influenced opinions in ways consistent with the framing of these issues.

Conclusions. Since abortion opinions and moral values tend to be entrenched, we consider this a strong first test of the effects of fictional framing.