Mass media

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Mass media comprises the collective communication outlets and technologies used to deliver information to the masses.


  • The advertising industry almost exclusively underwrites mass media in the United States. Newspapers obtain 75 to 80 percent of their revenue from advertisers, general circulation magazines about half (Jhally 1990). All revenue for broadcasts such as television and radio programming come from advertising. Clearly, advertising is the economic lifeblood of the media (Kilbourne 1989).
  • In the average American household, the television is turned "on" for almost seven hours each day, and the typical adult or child watches two to three hours of television per day. It is estimated that the average child sees 360,000 advertisements by the age of eighteen (Harris, 1989). Due to this extensive exposure to mass media depictions, the media's influence on gender role attitudes has become an area of considerable interest and concern in the past quarter century. Analyses of gender portrayals have found predominantly stereotypic portrayals of dominant males nurturant females within the contexts of advertisements (print and television), magazines fiction, newspapers, child-oriented print media, textbooks, literature, film, and popular music (Busby, 1975; DurMn, 1985a; Leppard, Ogletree, & Wallen, 1993; Lovdal, 1989; Pearson, Turner, & Todd-Mancillas, 1991; Rudmann & Verdi, 1993; Signorielli & Lears, 1992). Most of the research to date on the effects of gender-role images in the media has focused primarily on the female gender role. A review of research on men in the media suggests that, except for film literature, the topic of masculinity has not been addressed adequately (Fejes, 1989). Indeed, as J. Kate (1995) recently noted, "there is a glaring absence of a thorough body of research into the power of cultural images of masculinity" (p. 133). Kate suggests that studying the impact of advertising represents a useful place to begin addressing this lacuna.
  • The media are slavishly subservient to the entertainment desires of their audience.
    • Patrick J. Hurley, A Concise Introduction to Logic (2000 [Seventh edition], Wadsworth, ISBN 0-534-52006-5), p. 595
  • The hypothesis that media violence increases aggressive behavior has been widely studied in experimental research looking at the short-term effects of exposure to violent media stimuli, as well as in cross-sectional and longitudinal studies relating habitual media violence exposure to individual differences in the readiness to show aggressive behavior. Although there is disagreement among some researchers as to whether or not the evidence currently available supports the view that media violence exposure is a risk factor for aggression (Huesmann & Taylor, 2003), most meta-analyses and reviews have reported substantial effect sizes across different media, methodologies, and outcome variables, suggesting that exposure to violent media contents increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior in the short term as well as over time (e.g., Anderson et al., 2003; Bushman & Huesmann, 2006; Huesmann, 1982; Huesmann & Kirwil, 2007; Murray, 2008; Paik & Comstock, 1994). Other authors have questioned both the strength of the evidence and its implications (e.g., Ferguson, 2007; Savage & Yancey, 2008). Ferguson and Kilburn (2009, 2010) concluded from their meta-analysis that there was no support for the claim that media violence increases aggressive behavior. However, they acknowledged that experimental studies using proxy measures of aggression did produce substantive effect sizes and were relatively unaffected by publication bias, and their conclusions have been vigorously disputed by others (Anderson et al., 2010; Bushman, Rothstein, & Anderson, 2010; Huesmann, 2010).
  • Several studies have shown that in the long run, habitual exposure to media violence may reduce anxious arousal in response to depictions of violence. Research has found that the more time individuals spent watching violent media depictions, the less emotionally responsive they became to violent stimuli (e.g., Averill, Malstrom, Koriat, & Lazarus, 1972) and the less sympathy they showed for victims of violence in the real world (e.g., Mullin & Linz, 1995). Bartholow, Bushman, and Sestir (2006) used event-related brain potential data (ERPs) to compare responses by violent and nonviolent video game users to violent stimuli and relate them to subsequent aggressive responses in a laboratory task. Bartholow et al. found that the more violent games participants played habitually, the less brain activity they showed in response to violent pictures and the more aggressively they behaved in the subsequent task. In a series of studies with children age 5 to 12, Funk and colleagues demonstrated that habitual usage of violent video games was associated with reduced empathy with others in need of help (Funk, Baldacci, Pasold, & Baumgardner, 2004; Funk, Buchman, Jenks, & Bechtoldt, 2003).
  • An alternative perspective on the relationship between anxious and pleasant arousal may be derived from the general aggression model extended by Carnagey et al. (2007), to include desensitization. They argued that because repeated exposure to media violence reduces the anxiety reaction to violence, new presentations of violence “instigate different cognitive and affective reactions than would have occurred in the absence of desensitization” (p. 491). One such affective reaction may be a positive response to violence that would otherwise have been inhibited by anxious arousal. Huesmann and Kirwil (2007) have called this process sensitization. They argued that, for some individuals, watching violence is enjoyable, and, whereas it may provoke anger, it does not produce anxious arousal. On the contrary, the more such individuals watch violence, the more they like watching it. They are experiencing a “sensitization” of positive feelings. Because finding violence pleasant is incompatible with experiencing anxious arousal, increased pleasant arousal to depictions of violence in individuals with a high exposure to media violence would constitute indirect evidence of desensitization of “negative feelings” about violence. On the basis of this line of reasoning, we propose that anxious arousal by violent media stimuli is negatively related to pleasant arousal and that habitual exposure to media violence should both decrease negative emotional reactions and increase positive emotional reactions to violence, though the increase in positive emotions may occur for only a subset of individuals. For example, in a recent study of young adults in Poland, Kirwil (2008) found that proactively aggressive individuals tended to respond to violent media stimuli with a reduction in anxious arousal, whereas reactively aggressive individuals tended to respond with an increase in enjoyment.
  • Barbara Krahé, Ingrid Möller, L. Rowell Huesmann, Lucyna Kirwil, Juliane Felber, and Anja Berger, “Desensitization to Media Violence: Links With Habitual Media Violence Exposure, Aggressive Cognitions, and Aggressive Behavior”, J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 Apr; 100(4): 630–646.
  • The incredibly sinister role of the press, the cinema, the radio, has consisted in passing that original reality through a pair of flattening rollers to substitute for it a superimposed pattern of ideas an images with no real roots in the deep being of the subject of this experiment.
  • One potential pitfall of genetic research on eating disorders is the misinterpretation that environmental factors such as the media do not matter. Western media’s idealization of an ultra-thin female body type has long been viewed as an important sociocultural risk factor for eating disorders. However, given the ubiquity of this influence in Western cultures, other factors must influence vulnerability to the thin cultural ideal. As Bulik suggests, genetically vulnerable individuals might seek out experiences, such as exposure to thin-ideal media images, which reinforce their negative body image. This hypothesis is supported by a longitudinal study which found that adolescent girls whose eating disorder symptomatology increased over a 16 month period also reported significantly greater fashion magazine reading at Time 2, compared with Time.
  • For example, violent video games, television, films, and music have all been found to affect aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behavior (Anderson et al., 2003; 2010), while the introduction of television itself to a rural area of Nepal significantly affected residents' attitudes and behaviors regarding family issues (e.g., contraceptive use; Barber & Axinn, 2004). However, not all media are expected to have the same effects on beliefs and behavior. Intuitively, it seems to follow that media content should tend to influence beliefs that are relevant to that particular content. For example, watching television crime drama is related to oppositional attitudes toward gun control (Dowler, 2002). Similarly, viewing genres of film or television that focus on relationships (e.g., romantic comedies) is associated with idealistic relationship expectations (Segrin & Nabi, 2002). As a final example, watching shows with paranormal content is associated with paranormal beliefs (Tseng, Tsai, Hsieh, Hung, & Huang, 2014). Each of these examples illustrates how specific content is associated with specific attitudes in ways that are consistent with the content. Media may influence attitudes as disparate as our perception of aggression and paranormal beliefs, so there is reason to believe that media may also influence sexist attitudes.
  • Sexism in media partly involves the portrayal of both men and women in ways that are consistent with prevailing stereotypes. Illustrating this sexism, men are more likely to appear in prime-time programming than women, and when women are shown, they are less likely to be shown working outside the home and more likely to be shown in a romantic relationship (Signorielli, 1989). Lauzen, Dozier, and Horan (2008) similarly found that women were underrepresented in prime-time shows and were more likely to be shown in interpersonal or social roles, while men were more likely to be portrayed in work roles. This underrepresentation of women even pervades television commercials, where women not only appear less, but are also more likely to be portrayed as secondary characters supporting a male character when they are present (Ganahl, Prinsen, & Netzley, 2003). The same trend holds true for video games, where female characters are less likely to be heroes or main characters and, when they are included, they tend to dress in a manner consistent with stereotypes (Dietz, 1998). Female (vs. male) video game characters are also more likely to be sexualized and scantily dressed, while male characters tend to be hypermasculine and violent (Dill & Thill, 2007). And, consistent with research on other media effects, sexist content does affect consumers in a content-consistent manner. For example, media consumption in general (Swami et al., 2010) and frequency of playing sexist video games specifically are both associated with greater benevolent sexism (Stermer & Burkley, 2015). In another study, greater video game playing over one's lifetime was found to correlate with hostile sexism (Fox & Potocki, 2016). Together, the research shows that the way gender roles are portrayed in media can influence consumers’ own attitudes.

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