Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Psychology

Supervisor

Dr. Victoria M. Esses

Abstract

The media plays an important role in the process of shaping attitudes about controversial issues such as the arrival of refugees to Canada. The first aim of this research was to investigate how the Canadian newsprint media portrayed one noteworthy event involving the arrival of refugees to Canada: the arrival of the Tamil refugee boat to British Columbia in August of 2010. A media content analysis revealed that the overall portrayal of refugees in the Canadian press in response to this event was mixed. On the one hand, refugees were perceived either as bogus claimants or as criminals/terrorists. On the other hand, refugees were also perceived as victims. The second aim of this research was to investigate the effect of these media depictions on the automatic dehumanization of refugees. Results showed that exposing participants to editorials depicting refugees as bogus, terrorists or, surprisingly, as victims activated the automatic dehumanization of refugees. In contrast, exposing participants to an editorial with neutral, factual information about refugees did not activate the automatic dehumanization of refugees. The results are discussed in the context of the implicit social cognition model of media priming (Arendt, 2013). The results suggest that the best way for the media to approach controversial issues such as the arrival of refugees to Canada may be to engage in factual, non-biased journalism. The present research is the first demonstration that media portrayals of refugees can cause the automatic dehumanization of refugees.


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