Over two decades ago, Maxwell McCombs (1981) called for serious investigation of the mediators and moderators of media effects. Without rich, theory-based understanding of why and when agenda setting happens, he said, we cannot truly appreciate the phenomenon or its implications. This manuscript reports the results of a new experimental paradigm to examine the cognitive mechanism(s) of agenda setting. Challenging the assumption that accessibility is responsible for shifts in importance judgments, the current research shows that the content of news stories is a primary determinant of agenda setting. Rather than solely relying on what is accessible in memory, people pay attention to the content of news stories - to the extent that the content arouses negative emotions, national importance judgments follow.
- Agenda setting