On Behalf of a Grateful Nation: Conventionalized Images of Loss and Individual Opinion Change in War

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Conventionalized images of wartime loss picture scripted, ceremonial events, such as flag-draped coffins off-loaded from planes or soldiers handing a triangular folded flag to grieving relatives saying, "on behalf of a grateful nation." In comparison, unconventionalized war photographs, such as battlefield pictures, present more chaotic, less standardized images. I develop a theory of wartime media that examines how qualities of both the signal (whether photographs deal with military loss or militarism, and whether images employ conventionalized or unconventionalized imagery) and the receiver (the partisanship of the individual) influence individual opinion. I anticipate that viewing conventionalized images of loss will affect the likelihood that individuals shift from supporting to opposing a conflict and that partisanship can mitigate this effect. Results from analyses of seven experimental studies with 1,769 subjects and varied research designs strongly support the theory, finding that qualities of the signal and individual (and their interaction) influence the likelihood of wartime opinion change. These findings help to explain previous weak results linking wartime photography and public opinion, improve our understanding of wartime public opinion dynamics, and speak directly to current policy debates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)545-561
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Studies Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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