Bregje Holleman

I am working as an assistant professor at Utrecht University. Most of my time is devoted to teaching students Dutch Language & Culture, Communication & Information Sciences, Linguistics, and Liberal Arts about persuasion and about communication research methodology. Besides that, I do research on framing, persuasion, surveys and Voting Advice Applicatoins.

Initially, Claes de  Vreese and me started thinking about this project because we felt it would be interesting to bring together framing research from two different traditions. On the one hand, there is the news framing research tradition. In this research, framing refers to the central organizing idea through which a certain theme is communicated. I.e., is wearing a niqab discussed in the context of immigration and integration, or in the context of cultural diversity? On the other hand, there is the valence framing tradition, which is about positivity vs negativity. I.e., does discussing whether or not to forbid niqabs induce or activate different attitudes compared to discussing whether or not to allow them?

Claes and I have done ample work in one of these framing traditions, but never combined them. How different are these two types of effects from each other when combined in one text, i.e. a Voting Advice Application? How does news framing work when applied in a survey-like instrument; and what do valence framing effects look like in the context of a VAA, when not only the answers may be affected, but also the resulting advice and political attitudes? Moreover, the VAA-context allows for an assessment not only of framing effects, but also of the extent to which the frame deliberated upon in the process of VAA-construction – within the VAA-team as well as with stakeholders, such as politicians.

Having worked on the effects of framing in attitude surveys, I always felt it would be fantastic to extend this work to Voting Advice Applications. I cannot think of an attitude survey that is filled in by this many people, and that has such large implications, potentially, for the political landscape of the country it is about. VAAs have the potential to really teach their users something about the political system and the political parties in their country, and heighten their level of political participation. At the same time, we hardly know anything of VAAs, their users and their usage. VAAs might not reach the right target groups, might not succeed in giving the right advice, or might not be able to communicate this advice in a manner that reaches the optimal cognitive and motivational effects.

VAAs are decision aids, instruments to help people make informed decisions, comparable to instruments used in medicine to help patients decide whether they should take a prostate test… There are ways to investigate the extent to which the instrument succeeds in reaching its goals, and to assess the relation between knowledge effects, attitudinal effects and behavioral effects. That is what this research project is about.

In previous research I worked on the effects of question polarity (e.g. smoking in cafes should be forbidden versus smoking in cafes should be allowed). My research focused on establishing the generalizability of these framing effects across questions, as well as the cognitive mechanisms underlying these effects. Does question polarity cause different attitudes to be activated, or does it cause similar attitudes to be expressed differently on the answering scale? Besides this work on surveys, I am working on the causes of valence framing effects in persuasive and informative texts. Why are people’s attitudes about a course more positive if it is described positively (i.e. in terms of an 80% success rate) compared to when it’s described in terms of its (20%) failure rate? Building on to the work of Sher & McKenzie (2006), Henk Pander Maat and I are working on the types of inferences generated by different valence frames.

You can find more about my research and publications here