(Un)Veiling Our Biases: Activating Religious, Emotional, and Contextual Cues in News Media Representations of Syrian Refugees

Laura P. B. Partain, Andrew J. Weaver


This experiment tests visual and textual cue effects on U.S. participants’ reactions to news media representations of Syrian refugees desiring resettlement in the United States during the 2016 presidential election cycle. Undergraduates from a large Midwestern university participated in this online experiment in April 2016. We analyzed participants’ extant biases and stereotypes toward Syrian refugee and Muslim communities and measured their emotional responses, feelings of threat, and attitudinal feedback. Our research shows that participants were less emotionally and attitudinally sympathetic and felt higher levels of threat toward Syrian refugees when receiving the visual manipulation with hijab. Additionally, our findings show that participants’ religious identification significantly influences responses to Syrian refugees and that visual representations of Syrian refugees with intensified facial emotions, such as despair and sadness, amplified participants’ varying feelings of perceived threat.


Syrian refugees, religion, media effects, ethnic stereotypes, priming

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