An Economic Theory of Learning from News

By Marion Just, W. Russell Neuman, Ann Crigler

A paper by Marion Just, professor at Wellesley College; W. Russell Neuman, professor at University of Michigan; and  Ann Crigler, fall 1991 fellow, explores an economic approach to understanding how people select, pay attention to, and learn from news stories. Their research finds that as economic theory would suggest, study participants were most interested in news stories that directly touched their lives, or could be experienced directly. Additionally, people paid more attention to stories that were easier to process cognitively, for example, drug abuse stories, in contrast to issues of a more technical nature, such as defense policy. Cognitive skill and familiarity with the subject matter proved to be an advantage in understanding these “harder” stories. The study points to actions that news outlets can take to help people who are not highly skilled or well informed better understand complex stories.

Download the paper (PDF).