Who is responsible? The impact of emotional personalization on explaining the origins of social problems
Personalization refers to the journalistic practice of including emotional case studies of ordinary people in news stories, increasing vividness and emotional charge of news and eliciting identification and empathy in news consumers. Previous research suggests that personalization of news stories increases collectivistic (compared with individualistic) causal attributions by the news audience. In response, an experiment was conducted with a week time delay between stimuli presentation and open-ended participant responses to examine the influence of news personalization on how news consumers attribute causes for social issues. Participant (N = 80) trait empathy was included as an additional factor. Findings show that participants with high trait empathy expressed a greater shift to collectivistic attribution after watching personalized news stories than participants with low trait empathy, suggesting that individual differences in trait empathy may be an important factor in how individuals construct their own understanding of social problems.