The Effects of Social Identity on the Perception of Racism in U.S. Crime News Briefs
 
Student researchers

Omotayo Banjo, Michelle Early, and Earlissa Granger (Graduate Students)
This paper is based on a project from a graduate research methods course.

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar

Introduction

Schema theories, such as hostile media and confirmatory bias theories argue that perception of news media are influenced by prior beliefs and personal values. Journalists’ methods of framing crime stories have also been shown to affect how audiences interpret media messages, as well as determine the relevance of the story. In this study, we consider the role that social identity plays in how individuals interpret crime news. Employing scales that measure three forms of social identity: 1) mainstream identity (Western European culture), 2) Black identity and 3) collective identity, the present study examines the relationship between social identification and perceptions of racism in print news media.

Hypotheses

H1: Students who most identify with mainstream identity will be less likely to perceive news bias.

H2a: Black students who score higher on collective identity will be more likely to perceive news bias than students with lower scores on collective identity.

H2b: White students who score higher on collective identity will be less likely to perceive news bias than students who have lower scores on collective identity.

H3: Regardless of race, those who score higher on Black identity will be more likely to perceive news bias than those who have lower scores on Black identity.

Method

169 graduate and undergraduate Penn State students responded to a 20-item online survey using scales that measured mainstream identity, collective identity and Black identity. Participants were then assigned to one of two conditions. In the experimental condition, participants were exposed to a crime news brief manipulated to be implicitly racist. The control group was exposed to a brief that was unbiased. After reading these briefs along with two other neutral briefs, participants were asked to rate the level of bias they perceived in each brief.

Results

Overall results showed that people perceived more bias in implicitly racist news than in other news.

H1: Supported. Participants, who more strongly identified with mainstream identity, regardless of ethnicity, were less likely to perceive bias in the crime news brief.


H2a: Not supported. Although findings indicate that to some degree Black students were more likely to perceive bias in a race neutral brief, the findings were not statistically significant.

H2b: Not supported. Unexpectedly, our findings for hypothesis 2 were reversed. White participants in the experimental condition, who scored high on the collective identity scale were more likely to perceive bias in the crime news brief.

H3: Not supported. Participants who scored high on the Black identity scale, regardless of ethnicity, were more likely to perceive bias in a crime news brief. However, the findings were not statistically significant.

Conclusion

Social identity has the potential to influence whether or not we recognize racism in print news, and, implicitly, in society. This may have serious implications for public opinion and public response to social and racial issues presented in the media.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at sss12@psu.edu or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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Media Effects Research Lab at College of Communications, Penn State University