The Media's Influence on Health

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The mass media (including everything from television and music to popular novels and fan cultures), creates an endless and accessible flow of information. "What we know about the world beyond out immediate surroundings comes to us via the media (Yates 1999)." The technology of electronic media and the art of advertising have combined to create very powerful tools of influence. These tools are capable of shaping the attitudes, values and behaviors of large numbers of people (Walsh.) By identifying and examining the various forms of health information contained in the media, problems arise because the media does not present it's messages in a neutral and straightforward way. Because the media distorts reality, the public must become more conscious and critical of various medias in order to protect their mental and physical heath.

Emotion focuses attention, determines what is remembered, shapes attitudes, motivates, and moves one to act. Considering this, its no surprise that the emotional centers of the brain are the primary target for marketers and advertisers. "The art of advertising is difficult to master and it takes a great deal of skill and creativity to achieve proficiency (Walsh 1999.) However, the underlying psychological principles are quite simple. Once the desired emotional state is achieved in the viewer, the product or message becomes mentally linked to the state. For example, viewers seeing a television ad for the first time may not know what the product is until the very last seconds of the ad. The first 28 seconds of the 30-second ad are used to create the mood. Once the mood is set, then the product is introduced and the emotional association is made. The most effective ads are not informational, but emotional. In some cases, the feelings evoked by the ad may have no logical connection to the product whatsoever. As long as the desired emotion is linked with the product, the mission has been accomplished (Walsh.)

The media creates emotion using messaging techniques. Certain filming techniques are used to gear viewers towards the desired emotions, including the use of camera angles, selective editing, framing, reaction shots, sound effects, quick cuts, lighting tricks, computer graphics and music. These techniques focus attention, and create mental shortcuts on an unconscious level. Message qualities are further expressed using a combination of symbols, exaggeration, fear, humor, testimonials, repetition, flattery, sex appeal, visual imagery, bandwagon, plain folks, nostalgia, warm and fuzzy, beautiful people, and bribery.

Theories and models of health behavior can be used to explain behavior and clarify the effects of external influences on individuals. Health promotion educators use many different models for understanding behavior change and designing successful interventions. Some common models are used to describe and predict behavior. Skinner and Pavlov introduced a behavioral and operant conditioning theory that stated humans are biological machines and behavior is a product of conditioning, Freud argued humans are driven by subconscious instinct in his Psychoanalytic theory, and Rogers started a wellness movement in his humanist and client-centered view. Behavior theories exist on many levels including individual, familial, and societal.

On an individual level, the Health Belief Model states that changes in behavior depend on an individuals belief that a health problem is serious (perceived severity), that one may be susceptible to the problem (threat), that changing one's behavior will reduce the threat (benefit), ones perception of the obstacles necessary to change the behavior (barriers), and the belief that one has the ability to change one's behavior (self- efficacy.)

On a familial and/or societal level, the Theory of Reasoned Action, Transtheoretical theory, and Social Cognitive theory are used. The Theory of Reasoned Action focuses on ones intentions and motivations to change. The...
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