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PSY 355 Psychology & Media in the Digital Age

This page was last modified on February 21, 2018

Studying Media's Effects in Psychology and Social Science (Giles, 2003)

Early Approaches: 1930s-1960s

War of the Worlds NYT
  • Radio: fear of "brainwashing" and injecting propaganda into the minds of listeners
    • The great War of the Worlds {W} broadcast on October 30, 1938
  • Robert Merton & Paul Lazarfeld: Mass media as a kind of narcotic; creating public apathy
  • Frankfurt School (German sociology):
    • Mass media & pop culture are the same
    • media is a threat to "high culture"
  • UK: TV & movies (cinema) filled with cheap & emotional productions; entertainment filling empty lives

Consuming Media (particularly Television) in the 2010s
  • Recall that there are 24 hours in a day and 168 total hours in a week.

How much media do US adults consume every day in 2018?

US Adult Media Use 2011-2018
  • Digital (total) 6:01 hrs/day = 25.1% of day
  • Mobile 3:23 hrs/day = 14.1% of day
  • TV 3:55 hrs/day = 16.3% of day
Total Daily Media Use 2011-2018
Total consumption of media  12:08 hours/day = 50.1% of each day

Traditional TV Viewing by Age 2011-2017
  • There is a positive relationship between age & the number of hours of viewing traditional television.
  • Older people (65+ years) view television at a rate more than twice as high as < 50 years & especially younger viewers < 35 years
  • Overall hours of watching traditional television have been dropping for groups under the age of 50
  • However, traditional television is still the primary single media source for all age groups.

The "Effects" Tradition: 1960s+

Bobo Doll Experiment
  • Media as having negative effects, e.g., violent media & violent behavior
  • Uses experimental methods:
    • Treatment group exposed to a dose of media & control group not similarly exposed = Independent variable
    • Each group performs some activity (answers questionnaire, acts in some other way) = Dependent variable
    • If groups differ in their behavior, it must have been because of the media dose they were exposed to
  • Cognitive psychologists look at how the thought processes such as memory & comprehension are affected
  • Thinking/cognition & personality seen as moderating the effects of media exposure


Cultivation Research: 1970s+

Fort Apache, The Bronx
  • Media is a crucial element in a complex system of environmental & cultural forces.
  • George Gerber (U. Penn, d. 2005): How does a media-saturated society influence how the members of that society develop?
    • Steady watching of TV on a long-term basis has a measurable (though small) impact upon how audience members view the world. Television has become in Western society more important and dominating than other forms of media.
    • Themes such as "fear" pervading the media: Fort Apache, The Bronx (1980) as a movie conveys how supposedly dangerous NYC is. Media can create a misconception of how dangerous the world is in reality.
    • Often the victims of TV violence are minority and vulnerable people including the elderly, children, etc. 
  • The various streams of media across the world converge in a "mainstreaming" effect, i.e., values & cultures presented in media become commonplace all over the globe. US television programs & their impact on the developing world: US media are viewed everywhere
  • Media acts to reinforce people's real life experiences = Resonance


Maslow's hierarchyUses & Gratification Research: late 1970s+

  • Focusing upon the psychological motives of individual media consumers: what are people looking for when they expose themselves to media
  • Related to Maslow's hierarchy of motives
    • Papachrissi & Rubin (2000): the motives to go online include
      • Interpersonal utility (looking for online social interaction)
      • Passing time
      • Seeking information
      • Convenience
      • Entertainment
  • Media dependency theory: In a media-saturated world, users come to depend on media for information &, indeed, on specific media outlets. How?
    • Understanding ourselves by comparing ourselves to others
    • Orientation of our behavior - how to act and how to interact
    • Opportunities for play & recreation

The "Active" Audience

  • Focus on larger audience groups (rather than the behavior or psychology of individuals)
the Jersey Shore

The Voice
  • What is the role of "reality television"?
    • The Jersey Shore
    • The Amazing Race
    • Keeping Up With the Kardashians
    • The Voice
    • Survivor
  • What kinds of outlooks and "codes" do audiences bring to "read" the media they consume? In each of the responses noted below, the audience is doing something or responding in more than a completely passive way
    • Some see the "dominant" (preferred) message intended by the producers
    • Some modify the message according to personal experience of the audience itself
    • Some treat the message with deep suspicion (opposing the message) and seejust propaganda


  Rocky Horror

Wants to be Disney Princess
  • Fandoms & Lifestyle
    • Media figures can be incorporated into the daily lives of their audiences
    • Individuals may build their identities on media characters and situations



This page was first posted on 2/17/14