Skip to main content

How Does Media Influence Social Norms? Experimental Evidence on the Role of Common Knowledge

  • Eric Arias

How does media influence beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors? While many scholars have studied the effect of media on social and political outcomes, we know surprisingly little about the channels through which this effect operates. I argue that two mechanisms can account for its impact. Media provides new information that persuades individuals to accept it (individual channel), but also, media informs listeners about what others learn, thus facilitating coordination (social channel). Combining a field experiment with a plausibly natural experiment in Mexico, I disentangle these effects analyzing norms surrounding violence against women. I examine the effect of a radio program when it is transmitted privately versus when it is transmitted publicly. I find no evidence supporting the individual mechanism. The social channel, however, increased rejection of violence against women and increased support for gender equality, but unexpectedly increased pessimism about whether violence would decline in the future.

Hide All

Eric Arias, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance, Princeton University, 432 Robertson Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544 ( This research was carried out as part of a UNESCO Mexico program. the author especially thanks Samira Nikaein at the UNESCO Office in Mexico, Michael Gilligan and Cyrus Samii for their help and support. The author also thanks Michaël Aklin, Karisa Cloward, Livio Di Lonardo, Pat Egan, Jessica Gottlieb, Macartan Humphreys, Malte Lierl, Sera Linardi, Alan Potter, Peter Rosendorff, Shanker Satyanath, David Stasavage, Scott Tyson, participants at ISPS-Yale, WESSI-NYU Abu Dhabi, APSA, MPSA and PEIO for their suggestions and comments. All errors and interpretations are the author’s alone and do not necessarily represent those of UNESCO. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit

Hide All
Bancroft, Lundy. 2003. Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. New York, NY: Berkley Books.
Bandura, Albert. 1986. Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Chwe, Michael. 1998. ‘Culture, Circles, and Commercials: Publicity, Common Knowledge, and Social Coordination’. Rationality and Society 10:4775.
Chwe, Michael. 2001. Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Coleman, James. 1990. Foundations of Social Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
DellaVigna, Stefano, and Gentzkow, Matthew. 2010. ‘Persuasion: Empirical Evidence’. Annual Review of Economics 2:643669.
Finnemore, Martha, and Sikkink, Kathryn. 1998. ‘International Norm Dynamics and Political Change’. International Organization 52(4):887917.
Gottlieb, Jessica. 2015. ‘Common Knowledge and Voter Coordination: Experimental Evidence from Mali’. In André Blais, Jean-Francois Laslier and Karine Van der Straeten (eds), Voting Experiments, 89–113. New York, NY: Springer Press.
Jensen, Robert, and Oster, Emily. 2009. ‘The Power of TV: Cable Television and Women’s Status in India’. Quarterly Journal of Economics 124(3):10571094.
Krug, Etienne, Dahberg, Linda, Mercy, James, Zwi, Anthony, and Lozano, Rafael. 2002. World Report on Violence and Health. Geneva: WHO.
La Ferrara, Eliana, Chong, Alberto, and Duryea, Suzanne. 2012. ‘Soap Operas and Fertility: Evidence from Brazil’. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 4(4):131.
Lewis, David. 1969. Convention: A Philosophical Study. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Mackie, Gerry. 1996. ‘Ending Footbinding and Infibulation: A Convention Account’. American Sociological Review 61(6):9991017.
Miller, Dale, Monin, Benoit, and Prentice, Deborah. 2000. ‘Pluralistic Ignorance and Inconsistency Between Private Attitudes and Public Behaviors’. In Deborah Terry and Michael Hogg (eds), Attitudes, Behavior, and Social Context: The Role of Norms and Group Membership, 95113. New York, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Miller, Dale, and McFarland, Cathy. 1987. ‘Pluralistic Ignorance: When Similarity is Interpreted as Dissimilarity’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 53:298305.
Morris, Stephen, and Shin, Hyun Song. 2002. ‘Social Value of Public Information’. American Economic Review 92(5):15211534.
Paluck, Elizabeth, and Green, Donald. 2009. ‘Deference, Dissent, and Dispute Resolution: An Experimental Intervention Using Mass Media to Change Norms and Behavior in Rwanda’. American Political Science Review 103(4):622644.
Paluck, Elizabeth, and Ball, Laurie. 2010. Social Norms Marketing Aimed at Gender Based Violence: A Literature Review and Critical Assessment. New York: International Rescue Committee.
Ravallion, Martin, Walle, Dominique van de, Dutta, Puja, and Murgai, Rinku. 2015. ‘Empowering Poor People Through Public Information? Lessons From a Movie in Rural India’. Journal of Public Economics 132:1322.
Singhal, Arvind, Cody, Michael, Rogers, Everett, and Sabido, Miguel (eds) 2003. Entertainment-Education and Social Change: History, Research, and Practice. New York, NY: Routledge.
Staub, Ervin, and Pearlman, Laurie. 2009. ‘Reducing Intergroup Prejudice and Conflict: A Commentary’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 96(3):588593.
Tabellini, Guido. 2008. ‘The Scope of Cooperation: Values and Incentives’. Quarterly Journal of Economics 123(3):905950.
UNESCO. 2012. Análisis de contexto comunitario en el municipio San Bartolomé Quialana. Technical report UNESCO, Oaxaca.
World Bank. 2012. World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development. Washington, DC: World Bank Group.
Young, Peyton. 2008. ‘Social Norms.’ In Steven Durlauf and Lawrence Blume (eds), The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, 647–651. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Political Science Research and Methods
  • ISSN: 2049-8470
  • EISSN: 2049-8489
  • URL: /core/journals/political-science-research-and-methods
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Arias supplementary material
Online Appendix

 PDF (6.2 MB)
6.2 MB
Supplementary materials

Arias Dataset



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 3
Total number of PDF views: 39 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 475 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 20th February 2018 - 18th March 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.