Experimental tests of terror management and psychological responses to TV news of immigrant criminals: implications for hostility, risk vulnerability, and issue judgment
The purpose of this study was to explore social and psychological effects of mortality salience in TV news and social group difference between news viewers and news protagonists. Using terror management theory and social identity theory as theoretical frameworks, the study assumed that news viewers would be significantly influenced by mortality primes in TV news as well as the social group to which the criminals belonged in TV news. The assumptions in this study were investigated by two experiments: One designed to examine the social influences of TV news on news viewers' mortality thought, hostility toward the criminals, risk vulnerability and judgment of the immigration issue, and the other one devised to explore viewer's moment-to-moment responses, namely emotional responses, news evaluations, and crime perceptions. Experiment 1 demonstrated that mortality primes in TV news activated (1) viewers' mortality thoughts, (2) increasingly hostile attitudes toward the criminals, and (3) more negative judgments on the immigration issue. There is evidence that terror management theory can be used to clarify the social influences of mortality salience on viewers. Additionally, Experiment 1 found the social influences of social group difference on viewers' judgment of the immigration issue, but not on their hostility and risk vulnerability. That is, viewers may hold negative attitudes toward the immigration issue because out-group criminals in the coverage were shaped as a negative prime in viewers, which activated viewers' negative perspectives on the immigration issue. Experiment 2 indicated that (1) mortality primes in TV news significantly led viewers to more negative emotional responses, more newsworthy evaluations of news stories, and more severe perceptions of the criminal acts in the coverage, (2) the coverage of in-group criminals significantly activated viewers to more severe perceptions of the criminal acts than that of out-group criminals, (3) the interactions between mortality salience and social group difference significantly affected viewers' emotional responses, news evaluations, and crime perceptions, and (4) the interactions between self-esteem and mortality primes partially generated influences on viewers' emotional responses. Therefore, mortality effects in TV news were more powerful than social group difference effects. News viewers may purposely process some news information closely related to themselves, but not react to the stories based upon the social group of the protagonists in TV news.