Framing Terrorism and its Effects on Attitudes toward Islam: An Experiment


Most Americans do not personally know a Muslim and rely heavily on media portrayals to understand this otherwise little-known people group. Literature shows that Islam and Muslims are often associated with terrorism in media portrayals. Such repeated misrepresentation on media leads to Islamophobic attitudes. Especially news media, due to its perceived objectivity, makes the dissemination of such sentiments more effective compared to entertainment media. Although many studies have separately explored the media frames used in covering terrorism and public perceptions of terrorism and Muslims, little to no studies have attempted to bridge the gap between these frames and attitude change. Understanding these, this experiment was designed to measure how radical Islamic frames in terrorism news coverage affect attitude toward Islam. However, any correlation between the frames and attitude will only reveal the problem. To take it a step further, this experiment also attempted to explore any possible solution to the problem—ways to negate any negative attitudes through news frames. Framing and Social Identity theories were used as the theoretical foundations to design the experiment. Based on the two primary independent variables—news framing and in and out-group sources—a two-by-two experiment was designed with four treatment groups. A news story about a failed terrorism plot reflecting the four variables was used as the stimulus for each group. The experiment was conducted among American university students. With an overall sample of 256, each treatment group had at least 60 participants. This study supports the audience-centered approach to stereotype reduction. Although there were no statistically significant results indicating a correlation between terrorism news framing and attitude toward Islam, the ANOVA means and the ranking of the groups based on mean attitude score show that in general, participants who were exposed to the in-group source had a relatively high positive attitude toward Islam. Political preference proved to be the strongest variable that had varying degrees of correlations with attitude toward Islam, media consumption, and age. Unlike what previous literature has shown, this study also suggests that increased knowledge of Islam can contribute to more favorable attitude toward Islam, negating Islamophobic sentiments.