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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.

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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

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Political Science Research and Methods
  • ISSN: 2049-8470
  • EISSN: 2049-8489
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