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Title & Authors

Reconceptualizing Cognitive Media Effects Theory and Research Under the Judged Usability Model

ByungGu Lee (Independent Researcher, USA)

Douglas M. McLeod (University of Wisconsin—Madison, USA)


• This review evaluates existing theory and research pertaining to the cognitive media effects of agenda setting, priming and framing.

• Accessibility-based explanations typically used to account for agenda-setting and priming effects are shown to be inadequate.

Judged usability, an evaluation of whether a consideration is useful in making subsequent judgments, is suggested as a common mediator shaping cognitive media effects.

• Theory and research are synthesized into a Judged Usability Model, representing the common psychological processes of agenda setting, framing, and priming.

• At the heart of the Judged Usability Model is the equation: Judgment = ΣUi * Ei, where Ui is the judged usability of consideration i, and Ei is the evaluation of the target on consideration i.

• Judged usability is further broken down into the equation: JU = Σ Ii *  Ri , where Ii is the perceived importance of consideration i, and Ri is the perceived relevance of consideration i.

• The influence of judged usability standards is moderated by the judged certainty of each these judgments.

• The Judged Usability Model raises the prospect of reverse agenda setting and priming, the potential for a message to reduce the importance of a judgment consideration.


This review synthesizes the existing literature on cognitive media effects, including agenda setting, framing, and priming, in order to identify their similarities, differences, and inherent commonalities. Based on this review, we argue that the theory and research on each of these cognitive effects share a common view that media affect audience members by influencing the relative importance of considerations used to make subsequent judgments (including their answers to post-exposure survey questions). In reviewing this literature, we note that one important factor is often ignored, the extent to which a consideration featured in the message is deemed usable for a given subsequent judgment, a factor called judged usability, which may be an important mediator of cognitive media effects like agenda setting, framing and priming. Emphasizing judged usability leads to the revelation that media coverage may not just elevate a particular consideration, but may also actively suppress a consideration, rendering it less usable for subsequent judgments, opening a new avenue for cognitive effects research. In the interest of integrating these strands of cognitive effects research, we propose the Judged Usability Model as a revision of past cognitive models.


 open access verde 


Reconceptualizing Cognitive Media Effects Theory and Research Under the Judged Usability Model

ByungGu Lee (Independent Researcher, USA)

Douglas M. McLeod (University of Wisconsin—Madison, USA)


Keywords: Media Effects; Cognitive Media Effects; Framing Effects; Agenda-setting; Priming; News Framing


  Filesize 8.79 MB Download 198






Overview of Agenda Setting, Priming, and Framing

Agenda Setting

Priming Effects

Framing Effects

Cognitive Psychological Approaches to Agenda Setting, Priming, and Framing Research

Psychological Mechanisms of Agenda Setting, Priming, and Framing

Agenda Setting

Priming Effects

Lacking Support for the Accessibility Bias Hypothesis

Agenda Setting and Priming: Recent Evidence

Mechanisms of Framing Effects

Redefining the Relationships among Agenda Setting, Priming, and Framing

The Judged Usability Model

Judged Usability Standards

Importance and Relevance


Judgment Certainty

Message Effects and Judged Usability

Reverse Agenda Setting and Reverse Priming






Media Effects, Cognitive Media Effects, Framing Effects, Agenda-setting, Priming, News Framing.


About the Authors

ByungGu Lee received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. His research examines cognitive effects of mediated messages in the contexts of political and health communication.

Douglas M. McLeod is the Evjue Centennial Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication. His research develops three lines of inquiry: 1) social conflicts and the mass media; 2) media framing effects, and 3) public opinion. He focuses on the role of the media in both domestic and international conflicts, news coverage of social protest and its effects on audiences. McLeod has published more than 100 journal articles, book chapters, and law reviews. He recently published News Framing and National Security: Covering Big Brother examines how news framing of domestic surveillance influences audience assessments of issues related to national security and civil liberties.