Presenter/Author Information

Jens Newig
Julia Hesselmann

Keywords

agent-based modelling, rational choice, issue-attention, media coverage, public attention

Start Date

1-7-2004 12:00 AM

Description

Public attention, traced over time, often displays seemingly paradox behaviour: Contrary towhat one might expect, public concern is seldom highest when the environmental conditions are the worst.Rather, concern most often rises when conditions have already become better. Furthermore, public attentiondynamics frequently shows self-reinforcing behaviour resulting in distinct cycles, e.g. due to sometrigger event. In this paper, public attention is viewed as a social macro-level phenomenon that is soughtto be explained by the interaction of a multitude of single actors, namely individual citizens, the press, andpoliticians. First, a causal model based on rational choice theory is constructed in order to elucidate themechanisms according to which public attention dynamics develop and to address the question of whenand why public attention rises and falls. Key variables include the acuteness and visibility of the issue atstake as well as the ability to “solve” the underlying problem. Self-amplifying behaviour of agent interactionon different time scales adds to the complexity of the model. In a second step, an agent-based computermodel is constructed from the conceptual rational choice model. It allows to reproduce the basicfeatures of typical issue-attention cycles such as those analysed in empirical case studies. The model elucidatesthe causal mechanism and clearly displays the emergent structure, i.e. the typical, complex patternsof attention cycles. It thus serves to test and validate the conceptual model. In addition, it allows to incorporateadditional conceptual refinements such as simultaneously tracking attention towards multiple issues.However, further research is needed to elucidate the mechanism(s) according to which public attentiondeclines.

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Jul 1st, 12:00 AM

Modelling the Dynamics of Public Attention towards Environmental Issues

Public attention, traced over time, often displays seemingly paradox behaviour: Contrary towhat one might expect, public concern is seldom highest when the environmental conditions are the worst.Rather, concern most often rises when conditions have already become better. Furthermore, public attentiondynamics frequently shows self-reinforcing behaviour resulting in distinct cycles, e.g. due to sometrigger event. In this paper, public attention is viewed as a social macro-level phenomenon that is soughtto be explained by the interaction of a multitude of single actors, namely individual citizens, the press, andpoliticians. First, a causal model based on rational choice theory is constructed in order to elucidate themechanisms according to which public attention dynamics develop and to address the question of whenand why public attention rises and falls. Key variables include the acuteness and visibility of the issue atstake as well as the ability to “solve” the underlying problem. Self-amplifying behaviour of agent interactionon different time scales adds to the complexity of the model. In a second step, an agent-based computermodel is constructed from the conceptual rational choice model. It allows to reproduce the basicfeatures of typical issue-attention cycles such as those analysed in empirical case studies. The model elucidatesthe causal mechanism and clearly displays the emergent structure, i.e. the typical, complex patternsof attention cycles. It thus serves to test and validate the conceptual model. In addition, it allows to incorporateadditional conceptual refinements such as simultaneously tracking attention towards multiple issues.However, further research is needed to elucidate the mechanism(s) according to which public attentiondeclines.