media effects research: what are “media effects”?

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I stumbled upon a document created by the Communication for Governance & Accountability Program that delivers an excellent synopsis of previous and current theories about the effects of media use. It begins by defining the term as the “many ways individuals and society may be influenced by both news and entertainment mass media, including film, television, radio, newspapers, books, magazines, websites, video games and music” (p 1). I think it’s important to note that, though I admit it begrudgingly, books qualify as media. I tend to focus on digital media and their predominantly negative effects, but I have to remember that society saw similar, albeit smaller, shifts with previous media advances (this is something Maushart made a point of noting in chapter 5, which I failed to include in my analysis).

The document largely outlines how communication models have shifted from “simple, one-way, linear” modes of media dissemination to a “two-way process that is more transactional or interactive in nature” (p 1). It also details various models of thought including the Cognitive Response Theory, the Elaboration Likelihood Model and the Diffusion of Innovation Theory. I was completely naive to these models (cut me some slack; I’m just beginning the communications portion of my graduate degree) and I find them to be pretty interesting. I’m wondering if I can incorporate some cool infographic into my literature review to simplify comparisons between these. Despite my instinct to shy away from visual models, the truth is that we’ve become a predominantly visual culture and I’m more concerned about getting my point across and increasing understanding than taking a stand against visual representations of information (so sue me). Also described are the two main “camps” of communications scholars—functionalists that believe the audience retains control and is active, and critical/culturalists who think of the audience as predominantly passive. I agree with the author that American culture probably falls somewhere in the middle.

The paper also talks about the difficulties that scientists face—it is impossible to control all demographic/psychographic/socioeconomic factors and therefore difficult to measure media effects (the document cites the classic example of violent video games). Traditional methods can not accurately determine cause-and-effect with so many uncontrollable factors.

One resource in particular titled Fundamentals of Media Effects outlines a few important digital media outcomes like the transition to an “era of active consumption” and correlations between high internet usage and higher levels of loneliness, anxiety and depression (but usage might also positively benefit introverts).

I’m excited about visually depicting the different theories; I’ll post anything I come up with later on.

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