Impact of the Media on Society
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Media technologies are becoming an important aspect of today’s society. Each and every day, people interact with media of many different forms. Media is commonly defined as being a channel of communication. Radio, newspapers, and television are all examples of media. It is impossible to assume that media is made up of completely unbiased information and that the media companies do not impose their own control upon the information being supplied to media users. Since many people use media very frequently, it is obvious to assume that it has affects on people. According to the text book Media Now, "media effects are changes in knowledge, attitude, or behavior that result from exposure to the mass media," (386). This leaves us with many unanswered questions about media and its influences. This paper will look at how the effects of media are determined and explore the main affects on today’s society - violence, prejudice, and sexual behavior.
In order to understand how media can affect society or individuals, it is first necessary to look at different approaches that can be taken to analyze the media. According to the book Media Now, there are two main approaches that are used: the deductive approach and the inductive approach. The deductive approach is when a social scientist first comes up with theories or predictions through systematic observations of the media, and then uses the results of their research to support the theory or prove it false. An inductive approach is slightly opposite because this method looks first at peoples interactions with media and with each other, and then creates theories from the real-life situational research. The inductive approach tends to be used more frequently because its theories are based off real instances. Another difference in the ways to approach researching the effects of media is how some social scientists are interested in quantitative information while others are more interested in qualitative information. Quantitative information is when the desired results are as many as possible, while qualitative information is when the desired results are made up of the best, most useful information. All of these approaches and methods of research influence how social scientists determine the ways that media effects society and individuals. The kinds of studies done by these social scientists create detailed profiles of media and its content, and identify trends overtime. For example, one study found that exposure to alcohol advertising and television programming has been shown to be associated with positive beliefs about drinking and alcohol consumption (Austin 2).
Another study found that exposure to music videos, more specifically, have been shown to be associated with an early onset of drinking (Austin 2). Studies such as these help to show how the effects of media can be determined.
Most researchers find that the media has bad effects. The three main behavioral effects that are connected to media are violence, prejudice, and sexual behavior. Violence, as a behavioral effect from television and other media, has probably received more attention than any other type of media effect. The effect of violence is a problem because it is most commonly seen effecting children. Young kids have trouble understanding the difference between the "real world" and the world that is portrayed through television. Children these days spend a lot of time watching TV, and most of it is unsupervised. The average American child or adolescent spends more than 21 hours per week watching television (Dorman 1). When a kid sees Wiley The Coyote character from Saturday morning cartoons get bashed on the head and recover instantly, a child thinks the same should be true for them. Albert Bandura and his colleagues at Stanford University conducted one of the most influential experiments in the history of media effects studies. The experiment consisted of showing preschoolers a short film in which a child actor behaved aggressively toward a large plastic inflatable Bobo doll. The doll was about the size of a small child with the picture of a Bobo clown printed on it, and it was weighted with sand in the base so it rocked back and forth when hit. The actor in the film punched the doll in the nose, hit it with a mallet, kicked it around the room, and threw rubber balls at it. The preschoolers watched the film and then were led to a room with a Bobo doll, a mallet, some rubber balls, and other toys. Many of the children imitated the aggressive behavior in the film. The researchers concluded that the actions of the children suggest that mere exposure to television violence, whether or not the violence was visibly rewarded on screen, usually spurs aggressive responses in young children (Straubhaar 390). An interesting fact about TV violence is that the level of prime-time violence has three to five violent acts per hour, and Saturday morning children’s programming ranges between 20 to 25 violent acts per hour (Dorman 1). Although, the issue of the effects of television violence are controversial, it is still a concern, which is also the case with prejudice.
Prejudice is another problem that many feel is an influence from media. In this case, prejudice can include sexism, racism, and other forms of intolerance. The main aspect that goes along with prejudice is that a lot of media encourage stereotypes. Stereotyping is defined as the making of generalizations about groups of people on the basis of limited information (Straubhaar 401). Stereotypes can be easily imposed upon people through media, which is not good, especially when the stereotypes are used as reasoning to treat others unfairly. For example, it is common for mass media to portray women as inferior, placing them in passive roles or low-status occupations. A content analysis of theme music videos indicated that 75% of the videos contained sexually suggestive material and women are frequently portrayed in a condescending manner (Dorman 1). To the male viewer, this portrayal might make it seem acceptable to treat women as inferior, and it also may make younger women accept the idea of being less important. Experimental studies show that young girls exposed to a heavy dose of TV shows that portray women in traditional sex roles do tend to limit their own career aspirations to traditionally female occupations such as a teacher, nurse, secretary, or housewife (Straubhaar 389). Also, a lot of media make it seem that beautiful women are more valuable, which can be a very negative stereotype to many women. These examples help to understand how media creates stereotypes, however they are by no means limited to women and minorities. As long as people can understand how the media portrays different stereotypes and know the difference, it is not harmful. However when the negative stereotypes move into our daily lives, they become a concern.
Besides prejudices, another concern of media effects is sexual behavior. Sex in the mass media has been an issue since the 1920’s (Straubhaar 403). Most of these issues originated from the wave of Hollywood sex scandals. Interestingly enough, Hollywood had originally imposed strict self-censorship standards upon itself, such as no cleavage, no navels, separate beds for married couples, no kisses longer than four seconds, and a cut to the clouds if sex would be apparent (Straubhaar 403). Since the last decade, many dramatic changes have occurred in the depiction of sexual behavior in media. According to the book Media Now, experimental studies have proven that when males are exposed to explicit pornography, they are more likely to express negative attitudes toward women, are more likely to think that relatively uncommon sexual practices are widespread, and are likely to be more lenient with rape offenders in hypothetical court cases (403). This example clearly shows how media is affecting sexual behaviors. It is having a negative effect on society because people are making assumptions about sex that is put in their minds by the media, however these assumptions are not always true or "real life." Another fact is that teenagers see an estimated 14,000 sexual references and innuendos per year on television with only 150 of these dealing with sexual responsibility, abstinence, or contraception (Dorman 1). This shows that media is making a big impact on society and most of the impact is negative.
It is clear that media does have an effect on people. The deductive approach and the inductive approach help us to see that many people are influenced in similar ways. We learned that children are highly susceptible to the influence of violence, media imposes prejudices and stereotypes upon people, and media also has a large impact of sexual behaviors on individuals in society, which change morals and the ways people would naturally act. Experimental studies often find evidence of effects, even from extremely short exposures to media of 15 minutes or less (Straubhaar 389). People need to be aware of the influences of media so that they can control how they absorb media information, and not let the media control them.
>>Austin, Erica Weintraub, Bruce E. Pinkleton, and Yuki Fujioka. "The Role of Interpretation and Parental Discussion in the Media’s Effects on Adolescents’ use of Alcohol." Pediatrics. February 2000. Vol 105 Issue 2, p343.
>>Dorman, Steve M. "Technology Briefs." Journal of School Health. January 2000. Vol 70 Issue 1, p33.
>>Heldenfels, R. D. "Worries about the effects of media on society have remained constant." Akron Beacon Journal. 17 March 1999.
>>Straubhaar, Joseph, and Robert LaRose. "Chapter 12 - Media and the Individual." Media Now: Communications Media in the Information Age. Stamford, CT: Wadsworth Thomson Learning: 2000.