Agenda-Setting Effects During Times of Social Disruption: The Influence of Mass Media and Personal Experiences on Societal Concerns

Sophia Schaller, Dorothee Arlt, Jens Wolling


Using an 8-wave panel survey of German citizens, the present study investigates the media’s agenda-setting power in the context of the disruptive coronavirus pandemic. By examining how societal concerns are influenced by mass media and personal experiences, this study shows differences regarding the health, political, and economic dimensions of the crisis. Only health-related societal concerns were influenced by the perceived issue salience in the media. Societal concerns regarding the economy were shaped by individuals’ evaluation of the adequacy of the perceived issue salience in the media and thus not by the media agenda per se. In contrast, societal concerns regarding restrictions on fundamental rights were strongly influenced by people’s personal experiences. Variations in the role of mass media and personal experiences over the course of the pandemic can be traced back to changes in the severity of the crisis and its different phases.



crisis, societal concerns, agenda setting, mass media experiences, personal experiences, COVID-19 pandemic

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