What You See is How You Feel: How Framing Shapes Emotions in the Wake of Collective Stressful Events
This dissertation examines how collective stressful events are framed and the implications of these framings for mental health outcomes. Prior research has found that people often frame the same events differently and that the way in which they frame an event can shape their emotional responses to it. The research herein builds on the extant literature by testing this relationship in the context of collective stressful and traumatic events, extending theoretical models to include broader subjectivist conceptualizations and adopting a text-based approach to studying event framing. Study 1 assessed framing of and responses to a national political event, the 2018 Judge Brett Kavanaugh-Dr. Christine Blasey Ford Senate Judiciary hearings. Using qualitative and quantitative data from a U.S. national sample, analyses explored how people framed this event, whether there were partisan differences in framing, and whether partisan framings were differentially related to acute stress responses following the hearings. Results suggest that Democrats and Republicans did view this event differently and that Republicans and individuals who adopted a Republican framing were less distressed by the event. Study 2 assessed the longitudinal relationship between event framing and general and event-related emotional responses to a mass violence event, the Boston Marathon bombings (BMB). Data from a U.S national sample were analyzed to examine how people framed this event at its one-year anniversary and whether those framings predicted BMB-related posttraumatic stress symptoms, general distress, and violence- and terrorism-related worry one year later. Regression analyses revealed that redemption-focused framing of the BMB was associated with lower BMB-related posttraumatic stress responses and that framing that blamed legal actors was related to greater posttraumatic stress and worry about future violence and terrorism. Study 3 explored how people framed an ongoing, chronic stressful event, the COVID-19 pandemic, as it unfolded and how those framings related to mental health over time. Framings were assessed by examining individuals’ greatest pandemic-related worries in a national sample in the early days of the pandemic in the U.S. and linking them to responses over the next six months. Regression analyses revealed that several COVID-19-related worries were associated with concurrent and prospective mental health outcomes. Health-related framing was associated with greater COVID- 19-related acute stress and general distress within the first month of the pandemic, economic framing was related to greater general distress within the first month, and scarcity framing was linked to general distress approximately six months later. The benefits of using a subjectivist, text-based approach for advancing knowledge and theory across all three studies are discussed.