A Mediated World: a Study on the Media Equation Theory

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A Mediated World: A Study on the Media Equation Theory
John Nolan Pelosi
University of Kentucky

A Mediated World: A Study on the Media Equation Theory
We’ve all done it. Whether it is aggressively screaming at the sports team you are watching on television, or frantically warning the victim of a horror movie not to open the door, everybody responds to mediated communication systems. However, the majority of mass media viewers are unaware of just how often they are actively responding. Although there has been a relatively small amount of research done linking interpersonal and mass communication researchers, are constantly aiming to bridge the gap between the sub disciplines of communication. Throughout this research I will be exploring the Media Equation Theory through the mediums of televisions and computers. I will explain what the media equation is, and describe the impact of the two communication mediums. With previous research in mind, I will be discussing how humans have become obsessed with media, and provide historical context as to why. A mass majority of this research focuses on the link between psychology and communication regarding to the positive correlation between the two. More specifically, psychological politeness reports between ‘human to human’ interactions are compared to research reports between ‘human to media’ interactions to prove that life is media, and media is life.

Theoretical Background
The Media Equation is a general communication theory developed by Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass while working at Stanford University in 1986. The two professors began collaborating on a research project they named “Social Responses to Communication Technologies” with the basic premise that media and real life are similar (Reeves & Nass, 1996). With this theory in mind, the two hypothesized that an understanding of how people interact with other people would help enhance the knowledge of how people interact with media. Taking this logic further, Reeves and Nass (1996) then hypothesized that, “it is possible to take a psychology research paper about how people respond to other people, replace the word ‘human’ with the word ‘computer,’ and get the same results” (p.28). In order to implicate this strategy Reeves and Nass (1996) followed specific steps for their research design. First, they were to select a social science finding regarding how people respond to each other (Reeves & Nass, 1996). For example, this could include a psychology report on the perception of liking. The next step was to find a summary of the social science rule as in, “People like to be praised by other people, even when that praise is undeserved” (Reeves & Nass, 1996, p.14). The third step, in this example, would be to replace the word “people” with the intended media. For example, the above sentence would be replaced with, “people like to be praised by computers, even when that praise is undeserved.” Step four of Reeves’ and Nass’ (1996) process was to “find the part of the report that describes how the rule was tested” (p.14). Finally, the experiments were completed and implications were drawn. This task-oriented, not-too-difficult research method resulted in Reeves and Nass (1996) “collecting a great deal of evidence [to support] the media equation- media equal real life” (p.5), and the theory makes aim to explain why people respond automatically and unconsciously to mass media as if it were human.

Examination of Medium
The media equation is directly related to its’ audiences automatic response to mass media.“Mass communication” is defined as “a society-wide communication process in which an individual or institution uses technology to send messages to a large mixed audience, most of whose members are not known to the sender” (Hanson, 2011, p. 9). More specifically, the media equation focuses on televisions, and the internet.

With two-thirds of Americans subscribing to cable television, the industry’s...
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