The Role of Media in International Conflict : The Impact of media coverage of the 2008 olympic Games in Beijing on americans Beliefs about China

Pamela Rutledge 1
Abstract : We are entering an era of increasing globalization. Countries are connected, cultures are colliding, and rules are changing faster than people can adapt. China has emerged, looming large on the horizon, as a visible challenge to the dominant political and economic position that the United States had held for a half-century. Media technologies play a large role in people's understanding of this process through the selective distribution of information; media sources vary in the way they emphasize, package and transmit content and this influences the meaning to the receiver. We rely on the information in the environment to construct the core beliefs that define our view of the world and of ourselves. Although information is supplied by multiple sources, if we rely on one source of information more than others, that source should influence our core beliefs more than others should. Core beliefs are central to the development of individual and group behaviors. Scholars have identified several core beliefs--vulnerability, superiority, distrust, injustice, and helplessness-- that function at both the individual and group level as predictors of conflict. Existing research supports 1) the rise of China as a global adversary (Gries, 2005); 2) the ubiquitous nature of media in the environment (Jenkins, 2006); 3) the increasing range of cognitive and affective experiences of different technologies (Harris, 2004); 4) the importance of the environment on the development of core beliefs (Beck, Emery, & Greenberg, 1985; J. E. Young, 1999); and 5) the role of core beliefs in conflict development (Eidelson & Eidelson, 2003; Kelman, 2007). Past and recent history suggest that 1) conflict is costly in human lives and deprives societies of basic human rights; 2) China's presence and power will increase over the next 50 years; and 3) technological advances will continue to transform communications. The purpose of this study is to address a gap in the literature on belief formation and conflict by looking at the impact of an individual's preferred sources of information on the individual's set of core beliefs that predict conflict. Online surveys were completed by 418 participants before and 478 participants after the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Demographics approximated the U.S. Census for a population between 18 and 44 years of age with a high school education. The results revealed that individual explanatory style and media choices based on political views and content tended to predict beliefs about the U.S. and Americans in the domains of vulnerability, distrust, injustice, and superiority. Measures of group affiliation, viewing China as an adversary, and endorsement of aggressive conflict styles were stronger for those who endorsed higher levels of group level vulnerability, injustice, and conservative political views. There was no significant change in core beliefs or media use preferences from before to after the Olympics, however perceptions of China as an enemy and China's media as inaccurate increased significantly. The model under investigation in this study hypothesized that media sources, as major factors in our environment, would influence the core beliefs that individuals use to construct their core beliefs and identities. Television, as a passive distribution channel, was conceptualized as funneling highly-filtered news about the world, driven by the profit motives of media distribution companies competing for viewers in order to remain financially viable. The profit motive is interpreted as an incentive to use fear, a powerful means of attracting viewers. The by-product of using highly-charged emotion as an attraction mechanism is the creation of a heightened sense of anxiety. This creates beliefs that predispose individuals toward conflict: vulnerability, distrust, injustice, helplessness, and superiority. The increase in negative beliefs was hypothesized to increase the need for in- and outgroup boundaries that maintain a sense of order, and identity validation. New media was hypothesized to decrease negative beliefs because it provided both an interactive, and therefore self-efficacious, approach to gathering information as well as exposure to wide variety of information that would mute the fear messages inherent in media's current methods of viewer attraction. The results of this investigation indicate that information sources were, in fact, correlated to the core beliefs and supported the hypotheses when individuals responded in the context of their beliefs about their country. While not consistent across all beliefs, the group-focused negativity scale, an aggregated scale of vulnerability, distrust, helplessness, and injustice, is an exemplar of these results. The most frequent factors that influenced this belief scale were television use; however, they were related to content and political affiliation as measured by preference for conservative programming and self-identified conservative political orientation rather than broader measures of television use. Individuals who scored higher on innate optimism, showed a preference for new media, or a preference for liberal programming, generally tended to measure lower in the beliefs that predispose individuals to conflict. This pattern seemed to indicate that content preference was a more meaningful predictor than type of distribution channel. For the U.S. versus China conflict scenario in this study, the emergence of conservative beliefs as a dominant predictor might suggest that we choose media on the basis of what we believe and not the other way around. The expectancy-value approach to uses-and-gratifications models evaluates media choice from a similar perspective (Rayburn & Palmgreen, 1984). Slater (2007) notes that early theories, such as Klapper in the 1960s and Comstock et al. in the 1970s, saw media content as reinforcing existing beliefs. Slater argues that an unspoken idea implicit in their theories is a reciprocity between media exposure and media effects. In essence, the interaction between use and beliefs is a dynamic event similar to a feedback loop in systems theory. I believe Slater's model is missing an important influence--the role of media producers in his framework of mutually influencing nodes in a network. Conceptualizing media choice as part of a dynamic interactive system acknowledges the role of individual decisions at every level rather than viewing any part of the system as inert or victims. It seems possible that much of communications and media theory has been informed by hypotheses that do not acknowledge the coevolutionary process of a system. This study, while not establishing the connection between pre- and post-Olympic changes in media sources, core beliefs and measures of conflict, does raise important issues about media choices and their function with identity and the core beliefs that predispose individuals toward conflict. This study emphasizes the importance of promoting contact to decrease the potential for conflict across cultures.
Type de document :
Communication dans un congrès
Communiquer dans un monde de normes. L'information et la communication dans les enjeux contemporains de la " mondialisation "., Mar 2012, France
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Soumis le : mardi 2 juillet 2013 - 18:29:30
Dernière modification le : mardi 2 juillet 2013 - 18:29:30

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Pamela Rutledge. The Role of Media in International Conflict : The Impact of media coverage of the 2008 olympic Games in Beijing on americans Beliefs about China. Communiquer dans un monde de normes. L'information et la communication dans les enjeux contemporains de la " mondialisation "., Mar 2012, France. 〈hal-00840691〉

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