Author(s), Title and Publication
Kim, H. J., & Cameron, G. T. (2011). Emotions matter in crisis: The role of anger and sadness in the publics’ response to crisis news framing and corporate crisis response. Communication Research, 38(6), 826-855.

Past research suggested that different emotions could promote different levels of information processing, recall, and judgment. The present study aims to examine how emotional news frame of a corporate crisis may influence people’s emotional response, information processing (i.e., heuristic vs. systematic processing), as well as subsequent evaluations of the company. Through a between-subject design experiment, the study found participants exposed to anger-inducing crisis news read the news less closely and had more negative attitudes toward the company than those exposed to sadness-inducing news. Emotional frames were also found to affect how individuals perceive the different types of corporate responses.

A 2 × 2 × 2 between-subject design experiment (N = 240) was conducted. The independent variables were: type of news frame (anger-inducing vs. sadness-inducing), type of corporate response toward the crisis (punishment-focused vs. relief-focused), and the presence of intensive emotional appeals in corporate responses (presence vs. absence). Participants were first asked to read a news story of a crisis breakout, which induced two types of emotional states (anger vs. sadness). They were then asked to answer questions measuring their emotional states, message elaboration, and attitudes toward the company. Next, participants read one of the four types of corporate response messages via a company press release: response types (punishment vs. relief) × emotional appeals (presence vs. absence). Afterwards, participants were presented with a questionnaire measuring their emotional states, credibility perceptions, degree of blame attribution, attitudes toward the company, and future behavioral intentions.

Key Findings

  • Those exposed to sadness-inducing news were more likely to read the news closely with much attention (systematic processing) as compared to those exposed to anger-inducing news (heuristic processing).
  • Participants exposed to anger-inducing crisis news had more negative attitudes toward the company than those exposed to sadness-inducing news.
  • Participants who read the sadness-inducing news tended to perceive the corporate response as more credible when it focused on relief.
  • Those who read the message with intensive emotional appeals tended to have higher behavioral intentions as compared to those who read the message with no emotional appeals.

Implications for Practice
The study findings yield implications for developing effective corporate response strategies in a given crisis situation. For example, if an organizational crisis is framed by the media in a way that induces public sadness, practitioners should consider developing response messages that focus on the relief and well-being of victims with intensive emotional appeals. On the other hand, if the media frame the crisis in a way that induces public anger, practitioners should consider designing responses that focus on the well-being of victims and use emotional appeals sparingly.

Location of Article
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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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