Research Related to Agenda Setting and Interpersonal Communication

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Updated: Jun 18, 2022
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This section will examine a few of the different issues that agenda setting has been applied to. The section will also discuss some of the extension that have been made to the theory as well as other theories that have been argued to be an extension of agenda setting. Yang and Gerald (2003), examined how agenda setting can be applied to interpersonal situations. They found that although agenda setting refers to how the media can influence the public agenda, people who rely on interpersonal communication to obtain their news, are also affected by the media’s agenda. In fact, they tend to have the same agenda as others who rely on mass media for their news. Yang and Gerald (2003), make the claim that the public agenda, which is established by the media can also flow through interpersonal communication.

When people discuss the news and issues that they believe to be important, they influence each other’s own public agenda. Therefore, the media has the capacity to influence the public agenda of everyone regardless of whether the public consumes media content or not. Under these scenario, a moderating variable is added. The media does not directly affect the public agenda of people who do not consume media content, instead it is interpersonal communication with other individuals (who have been affected by the media) that transfers the media’s agenda to the public agenda. Agenda setting has also been applied to health communication. Jones, Denham, and Springston (2006), studied both mass and interpersonal communication regarding breast cancer screening practices. They found that the media is essential for setting an agenda for proactive health behaviors. Women who were either directly or indirectly exposed to news articles about breast cancer tended to conduct more frequent screenings than women who were not exposed to such articles.

This research shows evidence of first and second level agenda setting. Exposure to articles about breast cancer makes it a prominent issue in women’s minds and it also affects women’s attitude towards both breast cancer and towards screenings. More recently, research has been conducted on how agenda setting works on Twitter (Conway, Kenski, & Wang, 2015). Twitter is a platform that is used to gather news information and to express public opinion. Conway et al. (2015), found that Twitter allows for the relationship between the media and the public. Although it has been argued that Twitter does not have the ability to set an agenda in the same manner that conventional news outlets do, Conway et al. (2015) found a positive correlation between issue ranks in news coverage and issue ranks in Twitter feeds. Twitter and conventional news outlets must therefore reflect one another in terms of their agendas.

Agenda setting has also been applied to issues that do not tend to have as much media coverage, such as human trafficking. Papadouka et al. (2016), found that online news platforms are vital in controlling the discussion of human trafficking. Within the topic of human trafficking, there are multiple issues, some of which the media is more successful in setting the agenda for: Sex workers & paid sex; Gender relations in human traf?cking; workers and forced labor, human rights in human traf?cking, and other topics which the audience tends to set the agenda for. With the issue of human trafficking Papadouka et al. (2016), found that the media and the public tend to have different opinions on what is important to discuss. Not a lot or research has been done on this topic, but it could be argued that the disagreement in importance within the topic of human trafficking can be due to the media’s lack of attention towards it as a topic worth reporting about.

Research on news reports of crime has also connected agenda setting effects to those of cultivation theory. Cultivation theory says that people who consume large amounts of television content are more likely to hold perceptions of the real world that reflect the realities observed on television. Both theories assume that there is an objective reality that the media does not reflect. Instead the media creates a new reality. Lowry et al. (2003), found that people’s perceptions of reality based on mass media are sometimes more powerful than reality itself. Television news coverage of crimes often made the public concentrate on public cases and tremble with fear at its implications (Lowry et al. 2003). They also found that they average length of stories about a case was the strongest predictor of whether prosecutors engaged in negotiations for homicides cases. Research has also connected agenda setting to other communication theories – priming and framing have often been considered to be extensions of agenda setting. Priming is a technique where exposure to one stimulus influences a response to a subsequent stimulus without conscious guidance or intention. According to Dietram and Scheufele (1997), priming is considered to be an extension of agenda setting because both effects are based on memory-based models of information processing.

These models assume that people form attitudes based on salience and accessibility. By making some issues more salient in people’s minds through agenda setting, the media can also shape the considerations that people take into account when making other judgements (priming). Framing has been compared to second-level agenda setting. Second-level agenda setting examines the influence of attribute salience (McCombs eta al., 1997). It involves the way, and word choices, the valence in which certain information is conveyed to the public in order to affect their judgement of it. Similarly, framing claims that the media focuses audience attention on certain events and then places them within a field of meaning. Both theories claim that the media has the power to tell its audiences how to think about a particular issue. However, attention to messages seem to be more necessary for a framing effect to occur than they are for an agenda setting effect. Mere exposure to the message can be sufficient to create an agenda setting effect (Dietram & Scheufele 1997). Another expansion of agenda setting is the term agenda-melding. Agenda melding focuses on the personal agendas of individuals in relation to their community and their group affiliations (Regas & Roberts 2009). This means that individuals join groups and then blend their personal agendas with the agendas of the group.

Advances in technology have made agenda melding more possible; the internet gives people all around the globe the opportunity to find others with similar agendas and collaborate with them (Regas & Roberts 2009). Critiques and Truth Value of Agenda Setting James Conant (1995), a philosopher of science has claimed that the most successful theories are fruitful within the scientific community. They generate new questions and inquiries to be studied within the field. Agenda setting has been able to do just that; it has a steady historical growth of its literature and it continues to generate new research problems across a variety of communications settings (McCombs & Shaw, 1993). Studies have shown that agenda setting is a cross-cultural theory. Information that the media decides to expose in certain countries correlates with the public’s view on politics, economics, and culture in those same countries (McCombs, 2005). Countries with more political power also tend to receive the most media exposure. Research from McCombs and Bell (1996) has found agenda setting effects in South Korea.

Agenda setting is a theory that has been widely used and tested within different contexts. Agenda setting theory is a falsifiable theory because there are possible scenarios where the theory can be proven to be wrong. If researchers find than an issue that is very prominent in the media is not prominent or even considered to be important within the public agenda, it would falsify the theory. However, tests of the theory have shown no such results. The theory was originally tested during the 1968 presidential election year. People who were registered to vote and claimed that they had not yet decided on who to vote for were asked about what issues they believed were more important (McCombs & Shaw, 1972). The study was done during a time when the media was heavily reporting on campaign issues—issues which are not often discussed outside of election time frames. The research participants were constantly exposed to messages about certain topics.

McCombs and Shaw found that the participant’s perceived important issues were the same as the media’s. McCombs and Shaw repeated their experiment with the 1972 presidential election and found the same results: the media’s agenda determines the public agenda. Agenda setting passes Popper falsification criteria and his severe test. However, tests on agenda setting are limited by self-report. Self-reporting is not always reliable. There is a chance that people are not telling the truth or that they are simply saying what they believe researchers want to hear. The way that a question is phrased can also affect the way that participants think about the question and how they respond to it. Although, research has been in favor of agenda setting theory, there is no guarantee that the actual methods of measuring it are free of flaws. Agenda setting is a causal theory, but it has been criticized because only a few studies have been able to establish its temporal order.

Dearing and Rogers (1988), reviewed more than 100 agenda setting studies and found that studies of agenda setting tend to aggregate media content categories and public responses into very broad categories. According to Dietram and Scheufele (2007), agenda setting tends to be simplistic in its focus on broad issues. Future of the theory Research on agenda setting, priming, and framing has signaled the last paradigm shift in political communications research (Dietram, 2007). These approaches are based on the idea that mass media has potentially strong attitudinal effects. However, these attitudinal effects depend heavily on predispositions, schemas, and audience characteristics that influence how they process messages in the media (Dietram, 2007).

Arguments have been made that framing, priming, and agenda setting should be combined under the larger umbrella of agenda setting. In doing so, it would create a more parsimonious understanding of the theories (Dietram & Scheufele, 2007). Agenda setting theory has existed for almost 50 years, and it is still considered one of the most cited theories of mass communication (Bryant & Miron, 2004). It remains a very prominent media theory, however if it wants to remain an applicable theory agenda setting must change alongside society. Agenda setting was created in the 1970s when newspapers and television were people’s main sources of news and the news outlets were limited – today that is not the case. People get their news from a variety of places including social media sites and even phone apps. The future of agenda setting is therefore intermedia agenda setting (McCombs & Funk, 2011). Intermedia agenda setting refers to the process by which news organizations affect one another’s agenda.

According to McCombs and Bell (1996) journalists live in an ambiguous social world and rely on each other for confirmation and as a source of ideas. Major news websites in South Korea influence the agendas of online newspapers as well as other online news websites (McCombs & Bell, 1996). Today’s world consists of hundreds of online news sources many of which report the same issues. Research should be conducted in intermedia agenda setting. Traditional media sources are vertical media in which authority, power and influence come from the top and flow down to the public. Today, vertical media is no longer as popular; instead it is horizontal media that is controlling the news. Horizontal news media enables everyone to become a source of information and of influence, meaning that the media is distributed horizontally instead of vertically (McCombs & Funk, 2011). Research needs to be conducted on how horizontal media affect agenda setting theory and if necessary modifications should be made to the theory.

Concluding Remarks Agenda setting has remained a relevant theory for close to fifty years. It has produced thousands of research within the communications field, and I believe that it will continue to produce more research in the future. As the nature of news changes, so should the theory of agenda setting. If the theory is updated alongside the changes in news sources, it will remain applicable in the next fifty years and it will continue to help guide media effects research. Most importantly it will continue to be useful in the communication of societal issues

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Research Related To Agenda Setting And Interpersonal Communication. (2022, Jun 18). Retrieved from