The Impact of Emotional Responses to Public Service Announcements: The Case of Gun Violence in Schools

Published date01 July 2021
Date01 July 2021
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2021, Vol. 49(4) 347 –358
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X211004158
The headlines are eerily and sadly familiar: “3 people killed
in shooting at California high school parking lot” (New York
Times, May 6, 2020), “Mourning after the Saugus High
School shooting” (New York Times, November 14, 2019),
“High School student in Santa Rosa shot schoolmate” (New
York Times, October 22, 2019). According to data collected
by the US Center for Homeland Defense & Security, the
average number of days between school shootings in the
United States has decreased to an all-time low of 77 days.1
Several organizations have been created to focus exclusively
on curbing gun violence in schools. For example, March for
Our Lives was founded by survivors of the mass shootings at
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida
where 17 people were killed and 17 more people were injured
when a former student opened fire on students and staff with
a semi-automatic weapon.
Advocacy organizations working to reduce gun violence
in the United States have several common goals. First,
these organizations seek to understand the causes of gun
violence and find ways of curbing violence in the future.
Second, several of these groups aim to change public atti-
tudes regarding common-sense gun policy, including uni-
versal background checks and regulating semi-automatic
assault weapons (see, e.g.). Third, a number of
these organizations seek to mobilize citizens to advocate
for changes in gun laws at the local, state, and federal lev-
els. For example, an explicit goal of Everytown for Gun
Safety is for people “to take action that will help us pass
common-sense laws and implement policies that will save
lives” (
A common tool of advocacy organizations is the develop-
ment and dissemination of public service advertisements
(PSAs). PSAs, according to O’Keefe and Reid (1990), are pro-
motional materials that focus on problems of public concern.
PSAs typically attempt to increase public awareness of such
problems and their possible solutions, and in many instances
also try to influence public beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors
concerning them.” (O’Keefe & Reid, 1990, p. 67). And, gun
violence prevention groups, like the Brady Campaign to
Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety, and Sandy
Hook Promise, utilize PSAs to draw attention to the problem
of gun violence, raise awareness of ways to prevent shootings,
and advocate for changes in gun policy.
1004158APRXXX10.1177/1532673X211004158American Politics ResearchFridkin et al.
1Arizona State University, Tempe, USA
Corresponding Author:
Kim Fridkin, Arizona State University, 6752 Coor Building, CLAS, Tempe,
AZ 85287, USA.
The Impact of Emotional Responses to
Public Service Announcements: The
Case of Gun Violence in Schools
Kim Fridkin1, Patrick Kenney1, Manuel Gutiérrez1,
and Ryan Deutsch1
We examine how people’s emotional reactions to gun violence public service announcements (PSAs) influence information
acquisition, policy preferences, and political engagement. Utilizing a non-student sample of more than 100 participants, we
look people’s emotional reactions (i.e., anger, sadness, contempt, and fear) to two Sandy Hook Promise PSAs. We assess
people’s emotional reactions by relying on two complimentary measures: the traditional self-report measures as well as
facial expression analysis. We demonstrate that when people are feeling sad after watching the Sandy Hook Promise PSAs,
they are significantly more likely to retain information from a news article about school violence. Furthermore, feelings of
contempt and fear lead people to seek out additional information about gun violence. In addition, we find when people feel
anger, contempt, and fear after watching the PSAs, they change their views of gun policies. Finally, fear and contempt increase
people’s likelihood of becoming politically mobilized.
gun violence, emotions, political engagement, gun policy

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