Mass Media and Psychology

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Application of Psychology in Information Technology and Mass Media

Media psychology

Media Psychology seeks an understanding of how people perceive, interpret, use, and respond to a media-rich world. In doing so, media psychologists can identify potential benefits and problems and promote the development of positive media



Why do so many psychologists still regard television as nothing more than

a tin box generating visual stimuli, while the rest of the world is constantly

digesting and regurgitating its contents? One of the reasons for psychology’s

slowness in picking up on the influence of media is that, as a young

science, it has been cautious in its selection of topics for inquiry. Partly

this caution derives from its uncertain status as a science, so there has

been a neglect of topics that do not easily lend themselves to measurement,

preferably in the context of the laboratory. This caution is not peculiar

to psychology. Within academia in general, the media are not considered

a fit topic for academic research; many media researchers can recall

snooty comments from colleagues about their interest in the “trivia” and

“junk” of media culture. This attitude has trickled down to the student

body. One of my third-year students reportedly said to another, “Surely

you can’t be studying reality TV for your final year project?” These are not

stuffy, fogeyish young people, but they feel that academia is no place in

which to pick apart their leisure pursuits.

Negative attitudes to the serious study of media pervade far beyond the

academy: in the United Kingdom, even as recently as 1993, the Education

Secretary of the Conservative government referred to media studies as “cultural

Disneyland for the weaker minded” (O’Sullivan, Dutton, & Rayner,

1998, p. ix). Furthermore, the media themselves are not above pouring


scorn in serious attempts to study popular culture. Every few months, on

quieter news days, an end-piece story will appear about a Ph.D. student at

some university who is conducting a thesis on Madonna or “Big Brother,”

and newsreaders will raise a quizzical eyebrow and wonder which government

body is chucking away taxpayers’ money on such frivolous pursuits.

Although cultural snobbery and concerns for psychology’s scientific

credibility may partly explain its lack of interest in media, there are other

factors as well. The pace of technological change over the last century, and

the rapidity of associated social upheavals, have made it difficult for serious

research to get to grips with either. The current climate of speculation

about the future social consequences of the internet and virtual reality

echo the speculation that initially surrounded radio and television. Every

decade in the last 50 years has seen major developments in mass communications

and media. Keeping a finger on the pulse of change is difficult

when you are trying to discover universal truths about human nature.

It would be unfair to claim that psychology has ignored all aspects of media.

A quick trawl through North American social psychology journals in

the 1970s and 1980s reveals a large number of research papers dealing with

the “effects” of television and films. Most of these studies were instigated by

a concern that, far from being a harmless box of tricks in the corner of the

living room, the television is a source of imagery and information that is capable

of turning acquiescent and innocent little children into gormless

zombies, or, worse, mass murderers. This research is largely the legacy of

behaviourism, and is discussed in full in part II of the book.

It is, however, symptomatic of much psychological research that it is essentially

problem driven, rather than curiosity driven. In other words, the...
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