Framing Inequality


Framing inequality: How different ways of describing economic inequality shape appraisals of and responses to inequality


Inequality can be framed in various ways. Descriptions can focus on the rich having more than the poor or on the poor having less than the rich. It can be framed in terms of income, wealth, living conditions, and in many other ways. Importantly, such often subtle differences in framing matter, because language is not only an expression of human thoughts and feelings, it also influences them and affects behavior. In this project, we address the core of the Inequality Cycle Framework (ICF) by addressing the question how economic inequality translates into psychological reality – more specifically, how framing shapes individual and collective responses to inequality that then feedback into existing inequality. Specifically, we argue that comparison focus (i.e., who is compared to whom) influences which aspects of an unequal situation become salient and therefore shape further responses relevant within the ICF, such as legitimacy appraisals, policy support, and collective action (intentions). We focus on the role of emotional responses to and attributions of inequality as primary processes linking comparison focus and the responses mentioned afore. In two work packages, we test our hypotheses by using both controlled experiments and content analyses of real (public) discourse about economic inequality. In Work Package 1, we test underlying processes explaining the effect of comparison focus on legitimacy appraisals (i.e., the hypothesized mediating role of emotional responses and attributions) as well as whether these legitimacy appraisals transfer into collective action and support for redistribution policies. In Work Package 2, we go beyond these experimental approaches and assess the prevalence and hypothesized correlates of different framings of inequality in “real world” discourse about inequality. More specifically, we will examine patterns of framing in a representative survey (RU representative survey), an interview study (together with Project Becker & Asbrock), and in social (Twitter) as well as in classic (newspapers/magazines) media. This allows us to test several of our hypotheses in an unobtrusive and ecologically valid manner. Finally, analyzing public discourse allows us to address naturally-occurring speech in diverse social settings.

Funding Organisation:

German Research Foundation (DFG)

Principal Investigators:

Prof. Dr. Susanne Bruckmüller, Prof. Dr. Gerhard Reese (University of Koblenz-Landau)

Ph.D. Researcher: Maike Braun, M.Sc.

Cooperation Partners: Prof. Dr. Sarah Martiny (Artic University of Norway), Prof. Dr. Michaela Maier (University of Koblenz-Landau)