Press coverage as a heuristic guide for social decision-making about sexual offenders

Harper, Craig A. and Hogue, Todd E. (2017) Press coverage as a heuristic guide for social decision-making about sexual offenders. Psychology, Crime & Law, 23 (2). pp. 118-134. ISSN 1068-316X

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Item Type:Article
Item Status:Live Archive

Abstract

We present two studies examining the role of the British press in
promoting heuristic-based decision-making about sexual crime. In
Study 1, 1014 press articles were used in order to examine the
role of the availability heuristic. That is, we used the recent highprofile
Jimmy Savile sexual offending scandal to investigate how
this case impacted upon press reporting of sexual crime. We
found a 295% increase in the frequency of sexual crime coverage
after this case, in addition to a 22:1 over-representation of sexual
crime prevalence. Linguistically, tabloid stories about sexual crime
did not significantly differ in the 12 months following the Jimmy
Savile scandal, though broadsheets were less negative in their
coverage after the scandal broke. Tabloid headline descriptors of
sexual offenders were also substantially more offensive than those
used by broadsheets. In Study 2, tabloid readership was
associated with more negative attitudes and preferences for
harsher punishments for sexual offenders, which we propose may
be attributable to the affect heuristic. We discuss our findings
within the context of dual-process cognition, and argue that the
national press promote heuristic-based thinking about the issue of
sexual offending. Future research avenues, and potential
implications for press engagement, are also identified.

Keywords:Sexual crime, Media influence, Attitudes, Sex offenders, Jimmy Savile
Subjects:C Biological Sciences > C800 Psychology
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Psychology
ID Code:24867
Deposited On:27 Oct 2016 15:00

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