The Third-Person Effect
RICHARD M. PERLOFF Cleveland State University
What effect do the media have on you? Does news change your mind about issues? Do commercials sway you? Does television violence make you more aggressive? Not really, you say. You make up your own mind, form your own ideas about politics and products, and you’re not much fazed by TV crime shows, though goodness knows, you’ve watched your share of them over the years. Okay—Do me this favor, estimate the impact that news, commercials, and television violence have on other people. That is, guess how they influence other individuals who tune them in. Say what? You think that news, advertising, and TV violence have a strong effect on other people? That others buy into what they see on the tube? Do we have a problem, Houston? Is there an inconsistency here? According to the third-person effect hypothesis, there is. If you are right that other people are influenced by media, then it certainly stands to reason that you too should be affected. On the other hand, if you are correct that you’re not affected and everyone else presumably claims the same lack of media influence, then you exaggerate the impact of media on others. “In either case,” as James Tiedge and his colleagues (1991) note, “most people appear to be willing to subscribe to the logical inconsistency inherent in maintaining that the mass media influence others considerably more than themselves” (Tiedge, Silverblatt, Havice, & Rosenfeld, p. 152).1 Welcome to the domain of the third-person effect—a complex, labyrinthlike area in which perceptions become reality, reality is enshrouded by perceptions, and perceptions hinge on the very important factor of whether you are considering the media’s impact on other people or on yourself. As uses and gratifications did in the 1970s, the thirdperson effect hypothesis turns conventional media effects theorizing on its head. Instead of looking at media effects on beliefs, it examines... [continues]
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