Reconceptualizing cognitive media effects theory and research under the judged usability model

Main Article Content

ByungGu Lee
Douglas M. McLeod


This review synthesizes the existing literature on cognitive media effects, including agenda setting, framing, and priming, in order to identify their similarities, differences, and inherent commonalities. Based on this review, we argue that the theory and research on each of these cognitive effects share a common view that media affect audience members by influencing the relative importance of considerations used to make subsequent judgments (including their answers to post-exposure survey questions). In reviewing this literature, we note that one important factor is often ignored, the extent to which a consideration featured in the message is deemed usable for a given subsequent judgment, a factor called judged usability, which may be an important mediator of cognitive media effects like agenda setting, framing and priming. Emphasizing judged usability leads to the revelation that media coverage may not just elevate a particular consideration, but may also actively suppress a consideration, rendering it less usable for subsequent judgments, opening a new avenue for cognitive effects research. In the interest of integrating these strands of cognitive effects research, we propose the Judged Usability Model as a revision of past cognitive models.

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How to Cite
Lee, B., & McLeod, D. M. (2020). Reconceptualizing cognitive media effects theory and research under the judged usability model. Review of Communication Research, 8, 17–50. Retrieved from
Communication Theory
Author Biographies

ByungGu Lee, University of Wisconsin--Madison

ByungGu Lee recently received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. His research examines cognitive effects of mediated messages in the contexts of political and health communication.

Douglas M. McLeod, University of Wisconsin--Madison

Douglas M. McLeod is the Evjue Centennial Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication. His research develops three lines of inquiry: 1) social conflicts and the mass media; 2) media framing effects, and 3) public opinion. He focuses on the role of the media in both domestic and international conflicts, news coverage of social protest and its effects on audiences. McLeod has published more than 100 journal articles, book chapters, and law reviews. He recently published News Framing and National Security: Covering Big Brother examines how news framing of domestic surveillance influences audience assessments of issues related to national security and civil liberties.


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