In the recent United States–led “war on terror,” including ongoing engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, news organizations have been accused of showing a negative view of developments on the ground. In particular, news depictions of casualties have brought accusations of anti-Americanism and aiding and abetting the terrorists' cause. In this study, video footage of war from television news stories was manipulated to investigate the effects of negative compelling images on cognitive resource allocation, physiological arousal, and recognition memory. Results of a within-subjects experiment indicate that negatively valenced depictions of casualties and destruction elicit greater attention and physiological arousal than positive and low-intensity images. Recognition memory for visual information in the graphic negative news condition was highest, whereas audio recognition for this condition was lowest. The results suggest that negative, high-intensity video imagery diverts cognitive resources away from the encoding of verbal information in the newscast, positioning visual images and not the spoken narrative as a primary channel of viewer learning.
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Vol. 28 • No. 1