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According to Penn State researchers, news reports can boost empathy toward stigmatized groups, particularly if they go beyond factual information to include stories that more effectively trigger emotional responses.
When news reports focus on individuals and their stories, rather than simply facts or policy, readers experience greater feelings of compassion, said Penn State Distinguished Professor Mary Beth Oliver, co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory and a member of the Department of Film-Video and Media Studies. This compassion also extends to feelings about social groups in general, including groups that are often stigmatized.
"Issues such as health care, poverty and discrimination all should elicit compassion," Oliver said. "But presenting these issues as personalized stories more effectively evokes emotions that lead to greater caring, willingness to help and interest in obtaining more information."
"The news is often stereotyped as presenting only bad news and creating harmful attitudes," Oliver said. "But our research tells us that it also holds promise of addressing issues of social change."