Master of Arts (MA) in Journalism, Media and Globalisation
“Not a penny extra to Southern Europe”: The effect of the stereotyped media framing of Southern Europe citizens on public support for
Ricardo Acuña Martín Student ID: 13443712
Supervisor: Dr. R. (Rachid) Azrout Graduate School of Communication Master’s programme Communication Science
Date of completion: 26thMay 2021
Word count (excluding abstract, table of contents, tables, figures, references and appendices):7492.
The controversial negotiations of the COVID-19 EU recovery fund threatened to widen the European Union “north-south divide”. The tough negotiations between EU member state leaders were extensively covered in the media, sometimes in a very
stereotypical way, reopening the debate around EU solidarity and highlighting the tensions among Southern Europe countries and the so-called ‘Frugal Four’ (Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands). Through an experimental survey design conducted among Northern and Western Europe citizens, this study aims to empirically test how the exposure to different stereotyped media descriptions of Southern Europe citizens has an effect on public support for EU solidarity. It also analyzes how the effect is mediated by emotional responses associated with those stereotypes. While the exposure to the stereotyped media framing of Southern Europe citizens as lazy and incompetent slightly decreases the level of support for EU solidarity among Northern and Western Europe citizens, the exposure to the stereotyped media image of Southern Europe citizens as friendly and warm does not have any significant effect. Anger is identified as the only emotion functioning as a mediator in the indirect effect of the low competence stereotype on public support for EU solidarity. The findings of this study reveal how in the European Union context oversimplified and exaggerated negative media depictions of certain nationalities can threaten the consensus around the idea of solidarity as one of the core values of the European project.
Keywords: COVID-19, European solidarity, stereotypes, media framing, emotions, experiment
Table of contents
Introduction ... 1
The concept of EU solidarity ... 3
Stereotypes and media effects on public attitudes towards EU solidarity ... 4
The Stereotype Content Model ... 8
The role of emotions as mediators ... 10
Method ... 12
Sample ... 12
Experimental design and procedure ... 14
Stimulus material ... 15
Manipulation check ... 16
Measures ... 17
Results ... 18
Discussion and conclusion ... 22
On 21 July 2020, after four days of tough negotiations, the 27 member states of the European Union reached an agreement on the COVID-19 EU recovery fund that materialized in the Next Generation EU plan, a common investment of € 750bn that was agreed not without controversy among member states. The political and rhetorical confrontation around the largest stimulus package ever financed through the EU budget reawakened the tensions between Southern Europe countries and the fiscally conservative `Frugal Four´ (Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands), threatening to broaden the “north-south divide” in the EU.
The dramatic socio-economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic positioned EU member states in a similar scenario to the 2008 Eurozone crisis, a turning point moment in the European Union history that “highlighted the enormous regional differences and revealed a significant social distance between the citizens of different European Union member states and the persistence of national stereotypes” (Díez Medrano et al., 2019, p.
137). As a consequence of the confrontation, these national stereotypes flourished again in the extensive media discussions on the debate around European solidarity and EU financial redistribution. A good example of the stereotypical media framing of the controversy was the cover and the article of the Dutch weekly news magazine Elsevier Weekblad. Under the headline “Not a penny extra to Southern Europe”, tanned Southerners were portrayed as lazy profiteers lying on the beach while blond Northerners were represented as hard-workers. The relevance of stereotypical media depictions of social groups stems from the potential of media to influence the perception and judgement of the stereotyped group by making certain stereotypes salient (Roskos-Ewoldsen et al., 2002).
Although several scholars have mentioned the shortage of research on public attitudes towards solidarity beyond the context of national states (Ciornei, 2014; Bechtel, 2014), the
amount of research on European solidarity within EU public opinion studies has increased in recent years (Daniele & Geys, 2015; Kleider & Stoeckel, 2018; Ciornei & Recchi, 2017;
Meuleman et al., 2020). The growing academic attention embodies how the idea of European solidarity has shifted from margin to center in EU political and social debates after the 2008 financial crisis, a phenomenon repeated in the aftermath of the socioeconomic crisis sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nonetheless, the impact of the media on citizens’ support for EU solidarity has been almost ignored. In fact, research on media effects on EU public opinion has been primarily focused on other dimensions of the European integration process such as public attitudes towards EU enlargement (Schuck & De Vreese, 2006; De Vreese et al., 2011; Azrout et al., 2012). EU media coverage increases in times of crisis (van Noije, 2010) and media can change public attitudes towards the EU (Azrout et al., 2012), playing a key role in the formation of citizen’s disposition towards European solidarity (Goldberg et al., 2021). Thus, the present study empirically tests how media stereotyping can affect European citizens’
support for EU fiscal solidarity. By doing so, it aims to fill the above mentioned gaps in research and expand existing research on public support for EU solidarity to the novel context offered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study employs an experimental survey design conducted online among Northern and Western Europe (NWE) participants to examine to what extent public support for EU solidarity can be impacted by the individual and combined exposure to two different stereotypical media depictions of Southern Europe (SE) citizens. The two selected
stereotypes (lazy/icompetent and friendly/warm) are based on the Stereotype Content Model (SCM) (Fiske et al., 2002). The SCM illustrates how perceived group stereotypes can be explained by the possible combinations of two main dimensions (competence and warmth) and its application to previous studies revealed that SE citizens are perceived by fellow
Europeans as low in the competence dimension but high in the warmth one (Cuddy et al., 2009).
This analysis goes beyond media stereotyping effect on public support for European solidarity and aims to provide some evidence to the line of research examining the role of emotions as mediators in the media framing process, a growing trend within media effects studies (e.g. Gross, 2008; Lecheler et al., 2013; Lecheler et al., 2015). The opposing views on the negotiations and the sharper tone of the debate reflected how European financial solidarity is a controversial and sensitive topic in net-contributing EU countries (Meuleman et al., 2020; Baute et al., 2017), closely linked to welfare opinions that are “powerfully shaped by social emotions¨ (Petersen et al., 2012, p. 397). Precisely emotions are significantly involved in explaining why news framing has an effect on public behaviours and opinions (Lecheler et al., 2013). As the function of emotions as mediators of media framing is
particularly interesting when dealing with controversial political or social issues (Lecheler et al., 2015) such as COVID-19 and its immense socioeconomic repercussion, the present study also aims to contribute to the existing academic knowledge by measuring the different
emotional responses derived from the exposure to the different stereotyped media portrayals of SE citizens and analyzing their indirect effect on public support for EU solidarity.
The concept of EU Solidarity
In ‘Roadmap to a Social Europe’, Jürgen Habermas (2013) locates the historical origin of the appeals to solidarity in the dynamic of the new class struggles that emerged in the newborn industrial societies of the 19th century. The idea of solidarity as an element of social cohesion in the presence of modern individualism and social inequality (Sangiovanni, 2015) permeated the core of the democratically constituted nation states as a result of the institutionalization of the opposition between the social classes of industrial capitalism (Habermas, 2013). More recently, economic globalization and the increasing pressures of
economic interdependencies expanded the discussion around solidarity beyond the nation state borders, reaching transnational polities such as the EU.
Although the art. 2 of the Treaty of Lisbon cites solidarity as one of the EU’s core values, the concept of solidarity did not become central in EU political debates until the start of the Eurozone crisis (Fernandes & Rubio, 2012). The 2008 financial crisis aroused both social and academic interest in European solidarity (Díez Medrano et al., 2019), invigorating the debate about the social aspect of the European integration process. During the crisis, the EU offered enormous financial resources for debt-ridden member states (Lengfeld et al., 2020). These policies resulted in a fierce public backlash, especially in the major donor countries, where an important share of citizens express strong opposition to the rescue funds (Bechtel et al., 2014) and reject financial redistribution policies within the EU.
In both social and academic discussions, the concept of EU solidarity has been used in an ambiguous way explained by its theoretical complexity. EU solidarity has been defined as a multidimensional concept (Baute et al., 2017; Meuleman et al., 2020) including four main areas: EU social regulations, member-state solidarity, EU wide social citizenship (transferable social security rights between member states) and interpersonal solidarity (policies such as an European minimum income benefit).
This study addresses the member state solidarity dimension, which refers to the financial transfers between EU countries, providing financial assistance from more affluent regions to poorer ones (Baute et al., 2019a; Meuleman et al., 2020). Member state solidarity is the primary aspect of EU solidarity for the general public (Baute et al., 2017; Meuleman et al., 2020) and almost a perfect predictor for citizens’ disposition towards EU solidarity in general (Baute et al., 2019b; Baute et al., 2017; Meuleman et al., 2020). Considering the context, member-state solidarity dimension is particularly relevant for the present study as it is a sensitive topic in net-contributing countries that dominates the debate and the conflict on
Social Europe in general (Meuleman et al., 2020; Baute et al., 2017). Thus, it is logical to assume that citizens’ attitudes towards EU solidarity is driven by the discussion around member-state solidarity which in turn can be considered as a pretty reliable predictor of citizens’ disposition towards EU solidarity in general terms.
Stereotypes and media effects on public attitudes towards EU solidarity
Media has been described as one of the most significant factors influencing public opinion on policy decisions (Mastro & Kopacz, 2006), acting as a “key socializing agent in shaping individuals’ attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors” (Ramasubramanian & Murphy, 2014, p. 385). Although media plays a key role in citizen’s attitudes towards European
solidarity (Goldberg et al., 2021) and it is capable of changing public dispositions towards the EU (Azrout et al., 2012) it has received almost no attention in EU solidarity research, with the exception of Goldberg et al., (2021). However, the present study differs from the latter in analyzing the impact of media content and not media use in European solidarity in times of crisis.
The role of stereotypes has received a fair amount of attention within media effects research. As argued by Ramasubramanian & Murphy, “media plays a significant role in the formation and maintenance of cultural stereotypes and prejudicial feelings toward
out-groups” (2014, p. 386) and stereotypes literature has commonly reflected on how media can make stereotypes salient and influence the perception and judgement of the stereotyped group (Roskos-Ewoldsen et al., 2002). This assumption has been empirically supported by several studies (e.g. Power et al., 1996; Hansen & Krygowski, 1994) and a common
explanation has been that stereotyped mediated images may be the only source of information for those that do not often encounter the stereotyped groups (Kidd, 2016).
The definition of stereotypes still involves inaccuracy and controversies (Kurylo, 2012). In one of the most comprehensive reviews of stereotype definitions, Kanahara (2006)
built his own conceptualization based on the main two commonalities of the revised approaches: the perception of stereotypes as beliefs and as a group concept. Therefore, he defines stereotypes as “a belief about a group of individuals” (Kanahara, 2016, p. 311).
Stereotypes have been also studied as “generalizations” (Brigham, 1971) and as “a priori”
phenomena, which means that they “are based on previously formed attitudes and opinions”
(Samovar & Porter, 1988, p. 280). Drawing from these previous conceptualizations, this study defines stereotypes as a set of generalized beliefs about a specific group based on previously formed attitudes and opinions. The neutrality of this definition reflects how although stereotypes are usually inaccurate, exaggerated and tend to portray the stereotyped group in a negative way, this is not always the case.
Related to public attitudes towards solidarity, stereotypes have been studied in the context of public opinion on welfare and framed in what Petersen and colleagues (2011) refer as “deservingness heuristic”. The deservingness heuristic sustains that public attitudes towards welfare policy are often explained by perceptions of deservingness of welfare recipients either as “lazy” or “unlucky”. In fact, there is strong evidence of the empirical link between welfare opinions and judgments of recipients’ effort (Petersen et al., 2011). As proved by different studies (Johnson et al., 2009; Hjorth, 2016), opinions on welfare recipients' deservingness and therefore support for welfare policies can be conditioned by stereotypical representations of the recipient group. In this sense, stereotypes matter because support for public policies is significantly impacted by stereotypes of target populations (Schneider & Ingram, 1993).
If the impact of stereotypes on individuals’ attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors towards out-groups is based on the existence or previously formed opinions in the individuals minds, framing understood as an applicability effect is the most suitable theoretical
explanation to the potential effect of the stereotyped media portrayal of SE citizens on NWE citizens’ support for EU solidarity.
Framing explains the mechanism behind media influence on public opinion and sheds light on how the way in which media presents an issue has an effect on how it is perceived and evaluated by the audience (Scheufele & Tewksbury, 2007). Framing involves selection and salience which means that media “selects some aspects of a perceived reality and makes them more salient” (Entman, 1993, p. 52) at the expense of others.
The term “framing effect” has been used to explain different phenomena (Druckman, 2004) and there seems to be a substantial conceptual confusion regarding types of framing and the relationship between them and related concepts (Chong & Druckman, 2007).
Previous research has identified two types of framing effects: equivalence framing and emphasis/issue framing. Equivalence framing focuses on how providing different but logically equivalent information alters individuals’ preferences (Druckman, 2001) while emphasis (Druckman, 2001) or issue (Druckman, 2004) framing refers to “situations where, by emphasizing a subset of potentially relevant considerations, a speaker leads individuals to focus on these considerations when constructing their opinions” (Druckman, 2004, p. 672).
Issue framing effects play a significant role in politics (Druckman, 2001) and it is more widely present in political news reaching most citizens in comparison with equivalence framing (Slothuus, 2008). This second type of framing is the most relevant for this study.
The different psychological processes underlying news framing effects and other media effects models such as priming or agenda setting have been identified as the source of the conceptual confusion among them. Early studies presented framing as an accessibility effect (Iyengar, 1991) equivalent to priming or agenda setting. The accessibility model hypothesizes that framing works by “making considerations in the individual’s mind more salient and therefore more likely to be used when forming an opinion” (Lecheler & De
Vreese, 2019). According to this model, emphasis frames change opinion not by changing the content of an individual’s beliefs but through a process of making the individual´s
pre-existing consideration more accessible so that they become a priority when constructing an opinion (Slothuus, 2008).
As an applicability effect, news framing functions by “altering the weight of
particular considerations” (Nelson et al., 1997, p. 236) and activating pre-existing schemas in the individual’s mind. Schemas are “the cognitive structures in which information is stored”
(van Drunen, 2014, p. 52) that can be activated by media frames, forming attitudes and evaluations in the individual’s mind. This model assumes that if the emphasized
consideration is not already accessible in the individual’s mind, the schema is not activated and therefore the framing effects are unlikely to happen. In Slothuus words, issue frames in the applicability model “influence opinion by affecting the perceived relative importance of different already accessible considerations” (2008, p. 5). Several scholars such as Scheufele (2000) have discarded the consideration of framing as an accessibility effect as previous research has not provided empirical support for this model (Slothuus, 2008; Lecheler & De Vreese, 2019). Conversely, there is a vast amount of empirical evidence supporting the
applicability model (e.g., Nelson et al., 1997; Druckman & Nelson, 2003), which has made it prominent in news framing research. Therefore, understanding framing as an applicability effect, this study assumes that the effect of stereotyped media framing of SE citizens on NWE citizens’ support for EU solidarity will only happen if the emphasized stereotypes are already accessible in NWE citizens’ minds, activating a priori formed schemas.
The Stereotype Content Model
Once this study has clarified the concept of stereotype, the role of stereotypes in media effects research and their relevance in the context of public attitudes towards solidarity, it is also important to mention how stereotypes are perceived. In doing so, the present study
relies on the Stereotype Content Model (SCM) (Fiske et al., 2002). The SCM argues that stereotypes are captured by two main dimensions: competence and warmth, universal across perceivers, cultures and time (Cuddy et al., 2008) and whose perception underlies and differentiates group stereotypes. Stereotypes are perceived based on all the different combinations of these two dimensions. The lack of competence dimension has been
associated with traits such as incompetent, inefficient and lazy while the warmth dimension is manifested in traits such as good-natured, trustworthy and friendly (Cuddy et al., 2008).
Cuddy and colleagues later work on the applicability of the SCM across different cultures (2009) is specifically significant for this study. They used the SCM to measure how European nations rate other EU members and their findings suggested that citizens from SE countries were usually perceived with low levels of competence but high levels of warmth (Cuddy et al., 2009).
Based on all the theoretical arguments gathered in the previous sections, it seems plausible to assume that if media framing in general and stereotyped media framing in
particular has an effect on how the public perceives and evaluates controversial issues such as the debate about EU solidarity and financial redistribution, the presence or absence of the different stereotypes predicted by the SCMl in the media portrayal of SE citizens will have different effects in NWE citizens’ support for EU solidarity. This argumentation leads to the first two hypotheses:
H1: Support for EU solidarity is lower among individuals exposed to a stereotyped media framing of Southern Europe citizens as lazy/incompetent than among those not exposed.
H2: Support for EU solidarity is higher among individuals exposed to a stereotyped media framing of Southern Europe citizens as friendly/warm than among those not exposed.
One of the most interesting findings derived from the empirical studies using the SCM is that subjectively positive stereotypes in one dimension can coexist with subjectively negative stereotypes in the other. In practice this means that many groups are perceived as competent but not warm (e.g. elderly people) and vice versa (e.g. Asians). Using diverse samples, these studies have revealed that most group stereotypes appear high on one dimension and low on the other (Cuddy et al., 2008). This is the case for SE citizens, perceived both as warm and incompetent (Cuddy et al., 2009).
Cuddy and colleagues (2008) argue that, as ambivalent stereotypes lead to ambivalent affect and volatile behavior towards the stereotyped groups, future work should focus on the consequences of this ambivalence. This study aims to fill this gap and considering the absence of empirical evidence, it poses the following sub-research question:
RQ1: How do the exposure to an ambivalent stereotypical media framing of Southern Europe citizens as both warm and incompetent affect the support for EU solidarity?
The role of emotions as mediators
Mediators are understood as “causal mechanisms by which an independent variable influences a dependent variable” (Lecheler & De Vreese, 2019) and in the context of media framing effects it is closely linked to the psychological processes that underlie them.
The study of mediators within news framing effects is a growing trend among framing scholars. This line of research has recently paid a significant amount of attention to the role of emotions as mediators (e.g. Gross, 2008; Aarøe, 2011; Lecheler et al., 2013). Previous research has proved that exposure to news frames causes specific emotional reactions (Gross
& D’Ambrosio, 2004; Holm, 2012) that can act as mediators in framing effects (Gross, 2008;
Lecheler et al., 2013; Lecheler et al., 2015). Emotions play an important role in explaining why news framing has an effect on public behaviours and opinions (Lecheler et al., 2013) and
those frames eliciting emotions are more effective in influencing attitudes and opinions (Gross, 2008; Aarøe, 2011).
Lecheler et al. (2015) sustain that the role of emotions in framing effects is
particularly interesting when dealing with controversial political or social issues. In this line, Petersen and colleagues demonstrated that welfare opinions are “powerfully shaped by social emotions'' (2012, p. 397). Therefore, in addition to the proved mediation role of emotional responses in framing effect, the controversial nature of the debate around EU solidarity and its closeness to welfare discussions, this study predicts that the effect of stereotyped news framing of SE citizens on NWE citizen’s support for EU solidarity will be mediated by specific emotional responses.
Specific emotional responses associated with stereotypes also fall under the scope of the SCM, which suggest that “perceptions of high versus low warmth and competence elicit predictable, differentiated patterns of social emotions and behaviors'' (Cuddy et al., 2008, p.
102). Although diverse empirical studies have shown that not every emotion acts as a mediator (e.g. Lecheler et al., 2013; Petersen et al., 2012; Miller, 2007), the SCM highlights that the low competence stereotype elicits anger, an emotional response that Lecheler et al.
(2013) empirically identified as a mediator in the framing effect process. This argumentation leads to the third hypothesis of the study.
H3: The effect of media stereotyped framing of Southern Europe citizens as lazy/incompetent on public support for EU solidarity will be mediated by anger.
In the case of the high warmth stereotype, the SCM predicts sympathy as the
emotional response to it. Sympathy is associated with feelings of care and hope to those that are suffering (Lee, 2009). Although there is not an academic consensus around the possibility of positive emotions acting as mediators in framing effects (e.g. Miller, 2007), the fact that
sympathy motivates people to help others in need (Chismar, 1988) concludes in the fourth hypothesis:
H4: The effect of media stereotyped framing of Southern Europe citizens as friendly/warm on public support for EU solidarity will be mediated by sympathy.
Finally, the SCM links the ambivalent stereotype with ambivalent emotions such as pity and compassion. These emotions are directed to high warmth/low competence groups perceived “as deserving pity and compassion for uncontrollable negative outcomes that occur despite their best intentions” (Cuddy et al., 2008, p. 103). Thus, a fifth hypothesis is
H5: The effect of media stereotyped framing of Southern Europe citizens as both friendly/warm and lazy/incompetenet on public support for EU solidarity will be mediated by pity/compassion.
In order to investigate the effect of the stereotyped media portrayal of SE citizens on public support for EU solidarity, an online experiment was conducted among a sample of citizens from NWE countries.This methodological approach was selected as experiments are very common within media effects studies (Ramasubramanian & Murphy, 2014) and the best research design to study cause and effect (Christensen et al., 2014) as one variable can be manipulated while holding the others constant (Reinard, 2006).
An online survey was designed using the software Qualtrics to collect the data. The survey was distributed through the researcher’s own personal network and posted on Facebook groups and Reddit subreddits to ensure a wide range of respondents. In total, 213 respondents filled the survey within a 10 days period between April 3rdand 13th.
Data was collected using a convenience sampling technique with subsequent random assignment of the respondents to the different stimulus. Randomization is the best control technique for ensuring equivalence between conditions as it allows to assume that there will not be systematic group differences on extraneous variables as long as there is a sufficient size of the sample (Christensen et al., 2014).
Table 1: Descriptive statistics and frequencies of the measured variables.
Minimum Maximum M SD n %
Age 18 72 30.43 12.26
Political positioninga 0 10 4.32 2.20
EU identity 1 7 4.97 1.30
Interest in national politics 1 5 3.76 1.02
Interest in EU politics 1 5 2.70 1.05
Males 123 63.73
Females 64 33.16
High school diploma 35 18.13
Bachelor's degree 85 44.04
Master’s degree 52 26.94
Lived abroad 99 51.30
Have foreign friends 159 82.38
High political knowledge 83 43.01
Low political knowledge 60 31.08
Note: N=193. The table only includes the variables not detailed in the article (see p. 12 )
aThe maximum value 10 (right) was not observed. The highest score was 9.
Respondents were mostly Dutch citizens (n=145) but also citizens from Germany (n=24), Belgium (n=13), Austria (n=3), Denmark (n=3), Sweden (n=3) and Finland (n=2).
There were also 20 participants from other countries that were automatically excluded from
the survey. As reflected in Table 1, the final analysed sample was formed by 193 respondents aged between 18 and 72 (M = 30.43, SD = 12.26). Most of them were males, positioned themselves closer to the left, with a rather high level of political knowledge and more interested in national than in EU politics. The most represented level of education was Bachelor’s degree. Finally, slightly more than half of the respondents have lived abroad and most of them have foreign friends
Experimental design and procedure
The study was conducted using a 2x2 factorial design between subjects1with the participants randomly assigned to one of the four conditions. Factorial designs are the most suitable experimental research design when two or more independent variables (low
competence stereotype / high warmth stereotype) are simultaneously studied to determine their separate and interactive effects on the dependent variable (Christensen et al., 2014). In this case, a first group was exposed to the stimulus material containing the low competence stereotype; a second group was exposed to the stimulus material including the high warmth stereotype and a third group was exposed to the stimulus material mixing both stereotypes.
The fourth group - exposed to the stimulus material in which both low competence and high warmth stereotypes were absent - functioned as a control group.
The experimental procedure was as follows: before the manipulation, participants answered a set of questions (Appendix D, Q3-Q11) aimed at measuring political attitudes and predispositions and cross-border practices and experiences. Next, they were randomly
assigned to one of the four experimental groups. After the manipulation, they completed the second part of the questionnaire formed by questions measuring the dependent variable and
1The number of experimental groups in a factorial design is determined by multiplying the number of levels of the independent variables. In this case, the two independent variables (competence and warmth) potentially have three different levels (high, low, absent). This means that in a situation without the time and resources
constraints of a Master’s thesis, the ideal design would be a 3x3 factorial design with 9 groups exposed to different stimuli. Reducing the groups from 9 to 4, the low competence and the high warmth stereotypes were selected as they have been identified as dominant in the perception of SE citizens (Cuddy et al., 2009).
the mediators (Appendix D, Q12 & Q13), a manipulation check (Appendix D, Q14 & Q15) and sociodemographic questions (Appendix D, Q16-Q18).
The randomization check revealed that EU identity was unequally distributed between conditions and therefore included as a control variable in the models. No significant
differences between groups were found on the rest of the variables2, meaning that there were no other initial differences between the different groups and that the potential between-group differences detected later constitute evidence that subjects responded differently to the respective experimental manipulation.
The stimulus material consisted of one constructed news article per treatment condition (Appendix B.1 to B.4). Using a constructed piece of news was more suitable for this study “as the use of real news coverage would have reduced the commensurability between conditions” (Lecheler et al., 2013, p. 197). Although the news articles were
specifically constructed for this study, except the invented quotes attributed to “sources close to the Dutch negotiators” and the manipulated descriptions of SE citizens, the rest of events, data and quotes are real and were reported in different international outlets such as Reuters, The New York Times or France24. In order to avoid media bias, the news articles were not attributed to any real or fictional media outlet.
Following the example of previous studies (e.g. Price et al., 1997; Lecheler et al., 2013), every news article kept the basic core information while some parts included different stereotypes. The stereotypes were operationalized by including in the stimulus material traits that the SCM associates to the analysed stereotypes (e.g. low competence = Countries like
2Randomization was successful for ideology F(3, 189) = .88, p = .451, living abroad Χ2(3) = 2.39, p = .495, living in a Southern Europe country Χ2(3) = 2.07, p = .557, foreign friends Χ2(6) = 4.89, p = .558, number of countries of origin of foreign friends Χ2(6) = 4.08, p = .666, interest in national politics F(3, 189) = .85, p = .467, interest in EU politics F(3, 188) = .19, p = .907, political knowledge Χ2(6) = 8.12, p = .230, gender Χ2(3)
=.42, p = .935, age F(3, 185) = 2.07, p = .106 and educational level Χ2(3) = 2.07, p = .558. Randomization was not successful for EU identity F(3, 189) = 3.29, p = .022.
Italy and Spain, which since the 2008 financial crisis have maintained their sun, party and
‘siesta’ (nap) lifestyle at the expense of EU funds ; high warmth= Countries like Italy and Spain, in which the pandemic has grieved the warm and joyful spirit of their citizens).
A manipulation check question asked the participants to evaluate to what extent the news article they read described SE citizens as “lazy / incompetent” and as “friendly / welcoming” (1 = not at all to 5 = very much). Manipulation was successful with respondents exposed to the low competence stereotype scoring significantly higher in the “lazy /
incompetent” scale (M = 3.47, SD = .12) compared to those not exposed (M = 2.01, SD = .12) (F(1,187) = 77.19, p < .001) and respondents exposed to the high warmth stereotype scoring significantly higher in the “friendly / welcoming” scale (M = 3.81, SD = .11) compared to those not exposed (M = 2.65, SD = .11) (F(1,187) = 51, p < .001).
Understanding framing as an applicability effect, this study assumed that the effect of stereotyped media framing on respondents’ support for EU solidarity would only happen if the emphasized stereotypes were already accessible in the respondents’ mind. Thus, the questionnaire included a second manipulation check open-ended question about respondents’
perception of SE citizens3. More than half of the participants (59.1%) perceived SE citizens as either warm (33.2%), incompetent (19.7%) or both (6.2%), which means that the
stereotypes were already acessible in ther minds. When testing if the exposure to the different stereotypes emphasized these already accesible stereotypes, results suggested that while the exposure to both experimental conditions does not have a significant effect on respondents’
own perception of SE citizens as incompetent, the exposure to the high warmth stereotype has a positive significant effect on respondents’ perception of SE citizens as warm (Table 2).
3Responses to the open-ended question were manually coded for the presence of the low competence and the high warmth stereotype (0 = No, 1= Yes).
Table 2: Summary of binary logistic regression analysis for stimuli effect predicting respondents’ perceptions of SE citizens.
Perception of SE citizens as not competent
Perception of SE citizens as warm
β SE β SE
EU identitya -.37** .13 .37 .13
Low competence .42 .34 .09 .31
High warmth .34 .35 .81* .32
Note. * p <.05. ** p <.01. *** p <.001.
aEU identity has been added to the model as a control variable as it is not equally distributed between conditions.
Support for EU solidarity
The dependent variable - support for EU solidarity - was operationalized as support for financial transfers between EU countries providing financial assistance from more
affluent regions to poorer ones. It was measured with 6 items on a 7-point scale (1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree), with higher scores indicating greater support for EU
solidarity4. The items were adopted from Baute et al., (2019a) research and adapted to the context of the present study (Appendix D, Q12). A principal axis factoring analysis showed that the items load on one factor (explained variance = 66.32%) and the Cronbach's alpha coefficient (α = .90) indicated a high level of internal consistency and a good reliability of the items measuring the concept that resulted in an overall index (M = 4.66, SD = 1.22).
The participants’ emotional responses towards SE citizens while being exposed to the experimental intervention were measured in order to test their potential role as mediators.
They were measured using a verbal self-report 5-point scale (1 = not at all to 5 = very much)
4The coding was reversed for the last 3 items as because of their negative wording lower scores indicated greater support for EU solidarity.
in which respondents indicated to what extent they had felt anger (M = 1.62, SD = .94), sympathy (M = 3.24, SD = 1.12), compassion (M = 3.11, SD = 1.04) and pity (M = 2,48, SD = 1.14) towards SE citizens while reading the news article.
The measurement of the rest of the variables (controls) present in the study can be found in Appendix C.
The present study aims to analyze the effect of the stereotyped media portrayal of SE citizens on NWE citizens’ support for EU solidarity. The first part of the analysis focuses on how the exposure to the low competence and the high warmth stereotype impacts support for EU solidarity both when presented separately (H1, H2) and combined (RQ1). A two-way ANOVA was conducted to test the effect of the two independent factors on the dependent variable.
H1 predicts that support for EU solidarity would be lower among individuals exposed to the low competence stereotype when compared with those not exposed to it. Respondents exposed to the low competence stereotype report a lower level of support for EU solidarity (M = 4.53, SD = .11) compared to respondents not exposed to it (M = 4.78, SD = .11). This expected negative effect of the exposure to the low competence stereotype on the support for EU solidarity is very weak - only explains 2% of the variation of the independent variable - and marginally significant, F(1,188) = 2.85, p = .093, η² = .02. Therefore, there is a weak support for H1.
Regarding H2 the main assumption is that individuals exposed to the high warmth stereotype would reveal a higher support for EU solidarity compared with the ones not exposed to it. The subsequent analysis does not find any evidence of this effect as the reported support for EU solidarity is slightly higher among participants not exposed to the high warmth stereotype (M = 4.71, SD = .11) in comparison with the ones that encountered it
(M = 4.61, SD = .11). However, this contrary to predicted effect is far from any statistical significance, F(1,188) = .45, p = .505, η² = .002, H2 is not supported.
With no previous literature providing empirical evidence of the implications of the ambivalent stereotypes, this study seeks to answer RQ1 and shed some light on how the interaction between the two stereotypes traditionally associated to SE citizens might have an effect on NWE citizens’ support for EU solidarity and how that effect could be. Results (Table 3) show that the negative interaction effect of the exposure to the high warmth stereotype is higher when the low competence stereotype is absent (Mdifference= -.13) than when it appears simultaneously in the stimulus material (Mdifference= -.08).
Table 3. Marginal means for the interaction between conditions.
Low Competente High Warmth M SE
Yes Yes 4.49 .15
No 4.57 .15
No Yes 4.72 .15
No 4.85 .15
Nonetheless, this study does not offer a forthright answer to RQ1 as the previous difference is far from statistically significant, F(1,188) =.03, p =.866. In other words, the combination of the two stereotypes has no added effect above the individual effect of both.
The second part of the analysis examines if the effects of the first part are mediated by the emotions that the SCM associates to the different perceived stereotypes (H3, H4, H5). As recommended by Preacher and Hayes (2008), this study applies bootstrapping techniques to assess the significance of indirect effects through mediation. This method allows establishing 95% bias-corrected accelerated confidence intervals (95% bca CI) from 5,000 bootstrap samples for specific indirect effects, testing for multiple mediators simultaneously (Preacher
& Hayes, 2008). Based on this procedure, the indirect effect can be considered as significant if zero is not included in the interval. Using this method, this study analyses if the effect of the exposure to the diverse stereotyped media framings on support for EU solidarity is mediated by anger, pity, sympathy and compassion. The PROCESS Macro in SPSS developed by Hayes (2017) is used to conduct the analysis5.
The first mediation hypothesis (H3) theorizes that the effect of the exposure to the low competence stereotype on support for EU solidarity would be mediated by anger. As reflected in Figure 1, the exposure to the low competence stereotype has a direct negative but non-significant effect on support for EU solidarity (β = -.16, SE = .15, p = .291). The positive effect of the low competence stereotype on anger is close to significant (β = .22, SE = .14, p
= .104) and this emotion has a negative significant effect on support for EU solidarity (β = -.23, SE = .08, p = .005). The rest of the measured emotions are not affected by the exposure to the low competence stereotype.
Figure 1. Multiple mediation model for the indirect effect of the exposure to the low competence stereotype on support for EU solidarity via the mediators anger, pity, compassion, and sympathy.
Note. * p <.05. ** p <.01. *** p <.001.
The indirect negative effect of the exposure to the low competence stereotype on support for EU solidarity via the mediator ‘anger’ borders significance as zero is very close
5The results for every experimental intervention and every mediator are reflected in Appendix A.
to the upper bound of the 95% confidence interval (β = -.05, SE = .04) (95% bca CI: -.135:
.011). Therefore, there is a weak support for H3.
H4 sustains that sympathy would mediate the effect of the exposure to the high warmth stereotype on support for EU solidarity. Results show that the exposure to the high warmth stereotype has a direct negative non-significant effect on support for EU solidarity (β
= -.14, SE = .15, p = .353). It is also non-significant the indirect effect of the exposure to the high warmth stereotype on support for EU solidarity via the mediator ‘sympathy’ (β = -.01, SE = .02) (95% bca CI: -.074: .027). Both the negative effect of the high warmth stereotype on sympathy (β = -.12, SE = .16, p = .442) and the positive effect of sympathy on support for EU solidarity fall short of significance (β = .09, SE = .09, p = .324) (Figure 2), same outcome than for the rest of the measured emotions. Therefore, support for H4 is not found.
Figure 2. Multiple mediation model for the indirect effect of the exposure to the high warmth stereotype on support for EU solidarity via the mediators anger, pity, compassion, and sympathy.
Note. * p <.05. ** p <.01. *** p <.001.
Finally, the last mediation hypothesis (H5) assumes that the effect of the simultaneous exposure to the low competence and the high warmth stereotype on support for EU solidarity would be mediated by pity and compassion. This third mediation model includes as its independent variable the simultaneous exposure to both stereotypes, including only
participants that encountered both stereotyped media portrayals in the same news article (n =
49). The direct effect of the exposure to the ambivalent stereotype on support for EU
solidarity is negative and not significant (β = -.20, SE = .17, p = .222). The indirect effect of the simultaneous exposure to both stereotypical media framings on the dependent variable is almost non-existent and not significant via both the mediator ‘pity’ (β = -.001, SE = .02) (95% bca CI: -.037: .030) and the mediator ‘compassion’ (β = -.01, SE = .03) (95% bca CI:
-.077: .039). Thus, H5 is not supported.
Figure 3. Multiple mediation model for the indirect effect of the exposure to both the high warmth and the low competence stereotype on support for EU solidarity via the mediators anger, pity, compassion, and sympathy.
Note. * p <.05. ** p <.01. *** p <.001.
Discussion and conclusion
The socio-economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic reopened the debate about European solidarity and reawakened the tensions among Southern and Northern EU member states. The controversial negotiations around the COVID-19 EU recovery fund that materialized in the Next Generation EU plan were broadly covered in the media, sometimes unleashing simplistic narratives built on stereotypes reinforcing and widening the EU
north-south divide. In this context, the present study examined to what extent the stereotyped media portrayal of Southern Europe citizens had an impact on Northern and Western Europe citizens’ support for EU financial solidarity. An online experiment was conducted in order to analyse the individual and combined effect of two stereotypes traditionally associated with
Southern Europe citizens: low competence and high warmth (Cuddy et al., 2009). The second part of the analysis also tested how this effect is mediated by emotional responses linked to these prejudices.
As expected, the study provides weak support for the hypothesis sustaining that the exposure to the stereotyped media framing of SE citizens as lazy and incompetent decreases the level of support for EU solidarity among NWE citizens. In contrast, the exposure to the stereotyped media image of SE citizens as friendly and warm does not have any significant effect. If participants not only successfully identified the high warmth stereotype but were also more likely to describe SE citizens in a positive way when exposed to it, this last finding suggests that even if individuals are aware of the stereotypes and those stereotypes have an effect on their perception and judgement of the stereotyped group, this not necessarily translates into a significant impact in their support for EU solidarity, at least for positive stereotypes.
However, considering that the perception of welfare recipients often explains public attitudes towards welfare policy - and therefore solidarity - (Petersen et al., 2011), this study reinforces the empirical evidence of previous research assuming that support for solidarity can be conditioned by stereotypical representations of the recipient group (Schneider &
Ingram, 1993; Johnson et al., 2009; Hjorth, 2016), at least in the case of negative stereotypes.
Regarding the different results for both the low competence and the high warmth stereotypes, these findings corroborate the results of several studies examining framing effects on opinions, support, attitudes and behaviors towards minorities (e.g. Igartua &
Cheng, 2009; Igartua et al., 2011; Bos et al., 2016). These studies share the conclusion that negative framings had negative effects on opinions, support, attitudes and behaviours while positive framings generally did not have a significant effect, and oppose to other line of
research empirically supporting the effects of positive framing (e.g. Lecheler & De Vreese, 2011).
In absence of empirical evidence about the effects of the exposure to positive and negative stereotypes at the same time, this study also aims to fill this gap by testing to what extent the simultaneous exposure to both the low competence and the high warmth stereotype had an effect on the desired level of support for EU solidarity. The results of the analysis do not reflect any significant interaction effect and suggest that the combination of the two stereotypes has no added effect above the individual effect of both.
An additional interesting finding and promising avenue for future research is derived from the fact that although respondents successfully identified the stereotyped media framing they were exposed to in the experimental intervention, less than half of them describe SE citizens as warm and only one out of four participants depict them as incompetent. Aligned with the understanding of media framing as an applicability effect - assuming that if the emphasized frame is not already accessible in the individual’s mind, the framing effects are unlikely to happen - the weak effect of the low competence stereotype on support for EU solidarity and the absent effect of the high warmth one might be explained by the absence of the emphasized stereotypes in most of the respondents’ minds. Another possibility is that even if the stereotype is present in the individuals' minds, they might deliberately reject it when describing the stereotyped group. Further research should intend to offer more clarity in this sense.
The different outcome for the low competence and the high warmth stereotype is also linked to the second part of the analysis: the role of emotions as mediators in the media framing process. This study aims to contribute to the growing line of research examining how the exposure to news frames unleashes emotional responses (Gross & D’Ambrosio, 2004;
Holm, 2012) that can act as mediators in media framing effects (Gross, 2008; Lecheler et al.,
2013; Lecheler et al., 2015). Based on the association that the SCM establishes between the different perceived stereotypes and specific emotional responses (Cuddy et al., 2008), the study theorizes that the effect of the low competence stereotype on support for EU solidarity will be mediated by anger while sympathy will mediate the effect of the high warmth
stereotype. It also predicts that the simultaneous exposure to both stereotyped media frames will elicit pity and compassion, acting also as mediators in the media framing process.
The analysis finds weak evidence of the indirect effect of the exposure to the low competence stereotype on support for EU solidarity via the mediation of anger and discards the indirect effect of the exposure to the high warmth stereotype via the mediation of sympathy. Previous research agrees on the assumption that only specific emotions act as mediators in the media framing process, but there is a lack of consensus regarding the possibility of positive emotions acting as mediators in the framing process. While some research has provided empirical evidence of positive emotions mediating framing effects such as enthusiasm (Lecheler et al., 2013) or compassion (Petersen et al., 2012), other studies only found evidence for negative emotions (e.g. Miller, 2007). The findings of the present study conform to the latter. Finally, the lack of evidence of the indirect effect of the
simultaneous exposure to the low competence and the high warmth stereotype on support for EU solidarity via the mediation of pity and compassion should be interpreted cautiously as it was only tested in a small part of the sample.
The findings of this study should be interpreted being aware of its limitations. Firstly, the sample is not representative of NWE citizens for certain relevant variables. For instance, while 38% of Dutch adults have a tertiary education (OECD, 2019), more than 75% of Dutch citizens in the sample had reached this educational level. Variables such as educational level are often correlated with prejudicial attitudes (Ramasubramanian & Murphy, 2014) and support for EU solidarity (Ciornei, 2014) and their lack of heterogeneity within the sample
limits the ecological validity of the study. Consequently, future research on this topic should not only improve the representativeness of the sample but also consider the potentially moderating effect of these variables.
Secondly, participants' single exposure to one framed news article limits the external validity of the study, as in real life individuals are usually exposed to multiple and often contradictory news frames (De Vreese et al., 2011). While single exposure is common in framing studies (Lecheler et al., 2013), within-subjects experimental designs in which all the participants are exposed to all the conditions is an interesting approach to improve the external validity.
The last constraint of this study is related to the conceptualization and
operationalization of its dependent variable: support for EU solidarity. This study has only considered member-state solidarity, which refers to the financial transfers between EU countries. However, EU solidarity has been recently defined as a multidimensional concept (Baute et al., 2017; Meuleman et al., 2020), in line with the general tendency to explore the multi-dimensional character of citizens’ attitudes towards the EU (De Vreese et al., 2019;
Boomgaarden et al., 2011). Recent research on media use impact on EU solidarity in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic (Goldberg et al., 2021) has revealed that support for EU solidarity varies depending on the dimension analysed and that it is subject to change over time. Goldberg and colleagues (2021) multidimensional and across time approach points in the right direction for future research on media effects on support/attitudes towards EU solidarity.
To sum up, the present study contributes to the almost non-existent research on media effects on citizens’ support for EU solidarity. Although European solidarity in times of crisis has been subject to a growing amount of research, almost no attention has been paid to the role of media, which has been remarked as crucial in the formation of citizens’ attitudes
towards European solidarity in moments of crisis (Goldberg et al., 2021). It also contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of stereotyped media framing on the perception and judgement of the stereotyped group, empirically proving that different
stereotyped frames have different effects in the shaping of individuals’ opinions, attitudes and behaviors.. Finally, it provides supportive evidence for the expanding line of research
analyzing the role of emotions as mediators in the media framing process, establishing a clear distinction between positive and negative emotions and emphasizing its particular importance when dealing with controversial political or social issues.
This study reflects the relevance of media narratives in times of crisis, controversy and disagreement. With social and political polarization flourishing in every corner of the globe, oversimplified and exaggerated media portrayals of certain social groups proliferate not without consequences. The present investigation reveals how in the European Union context negative descriptions of this nature can accentuate the already existing regional divides and threaten the consensus around solidarity as one of the foundational pillars of the European project.
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