Although research has shown that media coverage of traumatic events can evoke intense fear in spectators, few studies have examined the mechanisms underlying this effect. Drawing from appraisal theories, this article investigates whether viewers' fear responses to traumatic reports are mediated by the appraisal of personal relevance, as well as whether positive framing of news stories is capable of dampening fear. In a 2 × 2 between-subjects design, participants watched one of two reports about mutilations caused by either an event with high signal potential (bacterial infection) or an event with low signal potential (explosion of land mines). Each of the reports could be either positively or negatively framed. Participants were asked to report their emotions in response to the news story and to answer questions concerning their cognitive appraisal. Results showed that the report with mutilations caused by bacterial infection elicited more fear than the report with mutilations caused by land mine explosions. This effect was mediated by the dimensions of suddenness, unpleasantness, personal relevance, and coping potential. Positively framed reports generated less fear than negatively framed reports, and this effect was mediated by the dimensions of coping potential and unpleasantness. The implications for media research are discussed.
- News Media