Antal Wozniak
The framing effects of polysemic news visuals on climate change

Launch Conference of the University of Brighton Centre for Research in Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics, University of Brighton, 28. bis 29. April 2016

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) often draw on symbolic imagery to protest climate change policy and mobilize their own members as well as the wider public (Doyle, 2007; Wozniak et al., 2016). In covering climate change, mainstream media outlets are quite perceptible to NGO-created visuals of colorful protests or elaborate PR stunt installations (Wozniak et al., 2016). However, as Sobieraj (2011) argues, the meaning of such artful protest visuals might be lost to the majority of recipients. What do readers actually learn from such news visuals? Is their 'reading' of such visual images coherent and in line with the common use of visual synecdoches? This study starts with the basic assumption that news visuals are not exclusively processed on an affective level, but can also function as propositions or arguments (Birdsell & Groarke, 1996, 2007), i.e., they can communicate discrete aspects of an issue . However, visuals lack an explicit propostional syntax (Messaris & Abraham, 2001). Thus, their degree of polysemy offers degrees of freedom for audience members to select and decode certain elements of a given news visual while disregarding others. Such a variety of decoded elements which are used for associative configuration and iterative integration in visual frame processing (see Geise & Baden, 2014) should inevitably lead to diverse individual visual frame conceptions. An experimental study is conducted to assess (a) the effect the degree of polysemy of 'symbolic action' news visuals has on recipients' decoding mechanisms and their resulting visual frame conception (using a 'think-aloud'-design), and (b) whether (or to what extent) these conceptions are also moderated by individual-level context factors such as political attitudes, prior knowledge, and issue involvement (measured with a standardized survey design). In my presentation I will present the results of the first round of experiments (to be conducted in early April 2016).