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Selective perceptions of hydraulic fracturing: The role of issue support in the evaluation of visual frames

  • Melanie A. Sarge (a1), Matthew S. VanDyke (a2), Andy J. King (a3) and Shawna R. White (a4)

Hydraulic fracturing (HF) is a focal topic in discussions about domestic energy production, yet the American public is largely unfamiliar and undecided about the practice. This study sheds light on how individuals may come to understand hydraulic fracturing as this unconventional production technology becomes more prominent in the United States. For the study, a thorough search of HF photographs was performed, and a systematic evaluation of 40 images using an online experimental design involving $N=250$ participants was conducted. Key indicators of hydraulic fracturing support and beliefs were identified. Participants showed diversity in their support for the practice, with 47 percent expressing low support, 22 percent high support, and 31 percent undecided. Support for HF was positively associated with beliefs that hydraulic fracturing is primarily an economic issue and negatively associated with beliefs that it is an environmental issue. Level of support was also investigated as a perceptual filter that facilitates biased issue perceptions and affective evaluations of economic benefit and environmental cost frames presented in visual content of hydraulic fracturing. Results suggested an interactive relationship between visual framing and level of support, pointing to a substantial barrier to common understanding about the issue that strategic communicators should consider.

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Corresponding author
Correspondence: Melanie A. Sarge, College of Media and Communication, Texas Tech University, 3003 15th Street, Lubbock, TX 79409-3082. Email:
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