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Article

Patric R. Spence, David Westerman, and Robert G. Rice

Humans often prefer representations that are cognitively easier to store, and such representations are easier to retrieve later to make judgments about the social world. Exemplification theory draws on physiological memory mechanisms and argues that simple, iconic, concrete, and emotionally arousing depictions of events (exemplars) are favored and thus more likely to be stored and used than are abstract, inconsequential depictions or representations. Inconsequential information or representations are forgotten because they are not processed as being essential for survival. Exemplified events vary on a continuum of how accurately they represent a larger occurrence of events. Through specific uses of pictures, quotes and other depictive strategies, concrete, iconic, and emotionally arousing information is often added to a story. Research has documented the strength of specific exemplars in creating inaccurate estimations of events and perceptions of severity and susceptibility. Moreover, in the presence of a risk, portrayals with exemplars have been shown to motivate individuals to intend to change behavior. Exemplification is a strong theory that is understudied and underutilized. The theory has strong explanatory, predictive, and organizing power, and it has application to phenomena in contexts such as media effects, persuasion, crisis and risk communication, health communication and public relations.

Article

Since McCombs and Shaw first introduced the theory in 1972, agenda setting has emerged as one of the most influential perspectives in the study of the effects of mass media. Broadly defined, “agenda setting” refers to the ability of mass media sources to identify the most salient topics, thereby “setting the agendas” for audiences. In telling us what to think about, then, mass media sources are perceived to play an influential role in determining priorities related to policies, values, and knowledge on a given topic or issue. Scholars have studied this phenomenon according to both object (issue) salience and attribute salience and along aggregate and individual audience responses. The audience characteristics of need for orientation, uncertainty, relevance, and involvement are advanced as moderating and predicting agenda-setting effects. When agenda-setting theory is applied to the study of messaging related to health and risk communication, scholars have reviewed and identified common themes and topics that generally include media’s role in educating and informing the public about specific health conditions as well as public health priorities and administrative policies. Agenda setting is often examined in terms of measuring mass media effects on audiences. Looking at interpersonal communication, such as that coming from medical providers, opinion leaders, or peer networks, in studies will allow research to examine the combined effects of interpersonal and mass communication. Testing possible interactions among differing sources of information along with assessment of issue and attribute salience among audiences according to an agenda-setting framework serves to document audience trends and lived experiences with regard to mass media, health, and risk communication.

Article

Content analyses demonstrate continuing improvement in media representations of African Americans. However, research suggests that the progress is uneven across various media and genres, and while underrepresentation and portrayals of blatant stereotypes decline, more subtle stereotypical depictions continue to persist. Importantly, media representations of race can have consequences for both African-American and White media consumers. Research consistently demonstrates that negative media representations of Blacks have a detrimental effect on Whites’ intergroup attitudes and support for social policies. Positive representations, conversely, have the potential to improve intergroup attitudes. For Black viewers, stereotypical media representations of their own group can pose a psychological threat, whereas sympathetic representations serve as a source of empowerment.

Article

Lucretia Monique Ward, Sarah E. Erickson, Julia R. Lippman, and Soraya Giaccardi

Major findings concerning the nature and impact of sexual content in mainstream entertainment media, with a focus on empirical studies and content analyses (published from 2000 to 2015) indicate that sexual content is prevalent in mainstream media, appearing in approximately 85% of films and 82% of television programs. On television, sexual content varies greatly by genre, sexual talk is more prevalent that depictions of sexual activity, and references to sexual risks and responsibilities are minimal. Sexual imagery is also prevalent in music videos, where the most frequent portrayals are of sexual and suggestive dance, sexual objectification, and self-touching. Women and female artists are more often shown in sexual ways than men and male artists. This trend extends to video games, where women are underrepresented, and, when present, are much more likely than men to be shown with a sexualized appearance or in sexually revealing clothing. Drawing primarily on the premises of cultivation theory and social cognitive theory, researchers have explored how exposure to this content contributes to the sexual attitudes and behaviors of consumers. In terms of attitudes, heavier media exposure is associated with holding more positive attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration; stronger support of gender-related sexual roles, adversarial sexual beliefs, and the sexual double standard; and increased estimates of peers’ sexual behavior. Evidence is sparser for a causal link between media use and attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration. In terms of sexual behavior, cross-sectional surveys have found that frequent exposure to sexual media content is associated with increased reports of intentions to have sex, light sexual behavior (kissing, holding hands), and heavy sexual behavior, such as intercourse. Studies have also found that heavier exposure to sexual content predicts earlier or heavier sexual activity one year later. Several factors have been shown to moderate these connections, including the race and gender of the viewer and level of parental mediation. Sexually explicit material or pornography has become widely accessible, especially on the Internet. Among both adolescents and adults, more frequent pornography consumption has been associated with holding more permissive sexual attitudes, such as a greater acceptance of extramarital and casual sex; with gender-specific attitudes, including greater support of traditional sexual roles and adversarial sexual beliefs; and with a greater likelihood of perpetrating sexual coercion, harassment, and aggression. Evidence also connects pornography consumption to individual sexual behavior, especially among adults. Among adults, pornography use is linked to earlier coital initiation, more frequent participation in specific sexual activities, participation in casual sex, and having a higher number of sexual partners; it has not been consistently linked to condom use.

Article

The ongoing revolution in information and communication technologies (ICTs) has fundamentally transformed the landscape of democracy and the way people engage in politics. From the configuration of media systems to the decision-making of the voting public, the changes have permeated through almost every level of society, affecting political institutions, political actors, citizen groups, and mass media. For each aspect, a synopsis of classical and emergent political communication theories, contemporary and contentious political issues, and cutting-edge research adds to the discussion of new media. The discussion is unfolded with an account of research of new media effects on politics in international setting and cross-cultural contexts with insights of how Western theories and research apply (or fail to) in international contexts.

Article

Mohan Jyoti Dutta, Satveer Kaur-Gill, and Naomi Tan

Cultivation theory examines the effects of the media, mainly television on viewer perception over an extended period of time. Television is seen by people throughout the globe, with many spending considerable amounts of time watching the medium. The act of watching television has been described as the first leisure activity to cut across social and ethnic divisions in society. This made it a unique mass media tool because mass message dissemination to diverse groups in a population was made possible. Cultivation scholars have studied the effects of the medium, trying to understand how television content can alter one’s social reality. Heavy viewers are considered to be most susceptible to the effects of cultivation. The reality of these effects poses important questions for health communication scholars considering the role television plays in disseminating health messages. Health communication scholars became interested in studying cultivation to understand the health-related effects the medium could have on viewers. Understanding the health effects of television is pivotal, considering that television and the structures that constitute television content set the agendas for many health topics, often disseminating negative and positive messages that can impact society, especially the young and impressionable. With television content addressing health issues such as nutrition, diet, body image, tobacco, cancer, drugs, obesity, and women’s health, cultivation theory can offer health communication scholars a framework to understand how health behaviors are shaped by the mass media and the roles these media play in reinforcing unhealthy behaviors. By establishing a basis for studying how such portrayals have direct health-related effects on viewers, cultivation theory creates openings for questioning the structures of the media that put out unhealthy content and for interrogating the roles and responsibilities of media agenda in inculcating positive health messages. Directions for future research include looking at contextually contrasting populations that share different cultural and community values, and different ways of consuming television. Research questions exploring the roles of community structures with different sets of subjective norms, or with different roles of community norms, in the realm of cultivation effects offer new areas for exploration.

Article

Alexander Sink and Dana Mastro

The media have long been criticized for the manner in which racial and ethnic groups have been (and continue to be) represented in its content. Characterizations of Latinos are no exception. Issues regarding portrayals of Latinos in the media have garnered considerable attention over the decades, prompting the establishment of the National Latino Media Council in 1999. The self-stated mission of this conglomeration of 12 Latino civil rights and advocacy groups has been to increase Latino employment in media industries and reduce the stereotypical depictions that harm Latino communities. If current social scientific evidence is any indication, the objectives of this organization remain as timely and socially important today as they were when the organization was formed. Existing quantitative research concerning the prevalence and quality of portrayals of Latinos in the media, as well as studies examining the effects of exposure to this content, reveal predominately harmful patterns of results (which, of course, depend on the quality and nature of the content). Content analyses that have documented representations of Latinos in media across various platforms conclude that Latinos are underrepresented in the media and frequently presented in stereotypical ways, though blatant stereotypes appear to be declining in the most recent examinations of these portrayals. Empirical investigations into the effects of exposure to these characterizations (on both Latino and non-Latino audiences) demonstrate that media images can influence audience members in terms of numerous cognitive, attitudinal, and behavioral outcomes. Importantly (and unsurprisingly), there appear to be substantive differences in how Latino and non-Latino audiences react to such messages. Although many studies of media effects in this context are focused on the harmful implications of exposure (e.g., stereotyping, discrimination, the exacerbation of interethnic tensions), a small body of work also demonstrates that pro-social outcomes can emerge based on media exposure, especially (but not exclusively) in the contexts of health, education, and political decision-making.

Article

Karin Wahl-Jorgensen and Allaina Kilby

The relationship between journalism and its audience has undergone significant transformations from the earliest newspapers in the 18th century to 21st-century digital news. The role of the audience (and journalists’ conceptions of it) has been shaped by economic, social, and technological developments. Though the participation of the audience has always been important to news organizations, it has taken very different forms across times, genres, and platforms. Early newspapers drew on letters from their publics as vital sources of information and opinion, while radio established a more intimate relationship with its audience through its mode of address. Though television news genres may not have emphasized audience engagement, research on the medium was heavily invested in understanding how it affected its audience. The rise of the Internet as a platform for journalism has represented a significant turning point in several respects. First, it has challenged conventional hierarchies of news production and value by facilitating user-generated content and social media, enhancing opportunities for audience contributions. This presents new opportunities for engagement but also challenges journalists’ professional identities, compelling them to assert their authority and skill sets. Further, digital journalism has led to the rise of the quantified audience, leading to the increased role of metrics in driving the behavior of journalists. As the audience and its behavior are shifting, so are the practices of journalism. The two actors—journalists and audiences—remain interlocked in what may be a troubled marriage, but one which is structurally compelled to change and grow over time.

Article

Brenda L. Berkelaar and Millie A. Harrison

Information visibility refers to the degree to which information is available and accessible. Availability focuses on whether people could acquire particular information if they wanted. Accessibility focuses on the effort needed to acquire available information. In scholarly, industry, and popular press, people often conflate information visibility with transparency, yet transparency is generally a valued or ideological concept, whereas visibility is an empirical concept. Growing interest in studying and managing information visibility corresponds with the rapid growth in the use of digital, networked technologies. Yet, interest in information visibility existed prior to the introduction of networked information and communication technologies. Research has historically focused on information visibility as a form of social control and as a tool to increase individual, organizational, and social control and coordination. As a research area, information visibility ties to classic communication and interdisciplinary concerns, as well as core concerns of contemporary society including privacy, surveillance, transparency, accountability, democracy, secrecy, coordination, control, and efficiency. An emerging research area with deep historical roots, information visibility offers a promising avenue for future research.

Article

Yulia A. Strekalova and Janice L. Krieger

Risk is a social construction, and its understanding by information consumers is shaped through interaction with messages, opinions, shared and learned experiences, and interpretations of the characteristics of risk. Social actors and information flows can provide heuristic cues about risks, their relative importance and unimportance, and the attention that an information consumer ought to pay to a particular risk. Social cues can also accentuate particular characteristics of risk, further amplifying or attenuating attention to it and shaping behaviors. This, in turn, can generate secondary and tertiary effects resultant from the public’s reaction to risk. The process of social amplification of risk, therefore, has structural components that include the social elements that get enacted in the process of the translation of risk information. Risk amplification is also affected by message factors, which can dramatize information, increase attention and uncertainty, and generate shared signals and symbols. And finally, social amplification of risks results in reactions that can shape pathways for risk assessment and management, frame views, fuel intergroup dynamics in response to risk, contribute to the accumulation of experiential knowledge and signals of different risk situations, and label and stigmatize some groups or outcomes as undesirable.

Article

Media technologies are at the heart of media studies in communication and critical cultural studies. They have been studied in too many ways to count and from a wide variety of perspectives. Yet fundamental questions about media technologies—their nature, their scope, their power, and their place within larger social, historical, and cultural processes—are often approached by communication and critical cultural scholars only indirectly. A survey of 20th- and 21st-century approaches to media technologies shows communication and critical cultural scholars working from, for, or against “deterministic” accounts of the relationship between media technologies and social life through “social constructivist” understandings to “networked” accounts where media technologies are seen embedding and embedded within socio-material structures, practices, and processes. Recent work on algorithms, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and platforms, together with their manifestations in the products and services of monopolistic corporations like Facebook and Google, has led to new concerns about the totalizing power of digital media over culture and society.

Article

Sarah C. Vos and Elisia Cohen

Using pictures (also called images) in health and risk messages increases attention to messages and facilitates increased retention of message content, especially in low-literate populations. In risk communication, researchers have found that pictorial warnings stimulate communication and that images without text can communicate risk information as effectively (or, in some cases, more effectively) than text. However, little empirically based guidance exists for designing images for health and risk messages because most studies use an absence-presence model and compare visual communication to textual communication, rather than compare different types of visual communication. In addition, visual communication theories focus on describing the “how” aspect of communication instead of offering proscriptive guidance for message design. Further complicating the design of visual messages is that the number of possibilities for a visual message is, like text-based messages, almost infinite. Choices include colors, shapes, arrangement, and the inclusion of text, logos, icons, and so on. As a result, best practices on visual messages often draw on design recommendations. Before the widespread advent of Internet use and the adoption of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, using images—especially color images—could be cost prohibitive. However, these online platforms facilitate the distribution of visual content, and many public health organizations use these platforms to distribute visual messages. The need for guidance and research on using pictures effectively is growing. Although there has been increasing focus on images in health messages, many questions still exist about how visual messages should be composed and what their effect is. The existing evidence suggests that visual information can improve persuasive and, on social networking sites, diffusion outcomes. However, visual information may be prone to misinterpretation. Researchers should also evaluate ethical considerations when choosing pictures. Message testing is highly recommended.

Article

Jannie Møller Hartley

The focus of news-audience research has shifted from investigating news audiences of single platforms—such as newspapers, television, or radio news—to audiences in an inherently cross-media context; and from examining the audience as passive, choosing between content made available for them; to investigating what audiences do with the news more actively, often coined by the term “news engagement.” News-audience studies can be divided into five approaches: (1) media-effect studies of news consumption; (2) studies of news-media use and motives; (3) cultural audience studies of news practices; (4) news audiences’ comprehension and recall of news; and (5) news engagement in the digital age. Due to changes in the media landscape, both technological and commercial, traditional analytical models in news-audience research have been challenged. The final discussion addresses how a tendency to focus on either reducing audiences to quantifiable aggregates in big-data research or labeling news audiences as a thing of the past can be observed—in both cases removing news-audience research from actual empirical audiences.

Article

Patrick Lee Plaisance

News workers—writers, editors, videographers, bloggers, photographers, designers—regularly confront questions of potential harms and conflicting values in the course of their work, and the field of journalism ethics concerns itself with standards of behavior and the quality of justifications used to defend controversial journalistic decisions. While journalism ethics, as with the philosophy of ethics in general, is less concerned with pronouncements of the “rightness” or “wrongness” of certain acts, it relies on longstanding notions of the public-service mission of journalism. However, informing the public and serving a “watchdog” function regularly require journalists to negotiate questions of privacy, autonomy, community engagement, and the potentially damaging consequences of providing information that individuals and governments would rather withhold. As news organizations continue to search for successful business models to support journalistic work, ethics questions over conflicts of interest and content transparency (e.g., native advertising) have gained prominence. Media technology platforms that have served to democratize and decentralize the dissemination of news have underscored the debate about who, or what type of content, should be subjected to journalism ethics standards. Media ethics scholars, most of whom are from Western democracies, also are struggling to articulate the features of a “global” journalism ethics framework that emphasizes broad internationalist ideals yet accommodates cultural pluralism. This is particularly challenging given that the very idea of “press freedom” remains an alien one in many countries of the world, and the notion is explicitly included in the constitutions of only a few of the world’s democratic societies. The global trend toward recognizing and promoting press freedom is clear, but it is occurring at different rates in different countries. Other work in the field explores the factors on the individual, organizational, and societal levels that help or hinder journalists seeking to ensure that their work is defined by widely accepted virtues and ethical principles.

Article

Shirley S. Ho and Andrew Z. H. Yee

Health communication research has often focused on how features of persuasive health messages can directly influence the intended target audience of the messages. However, scholars examining presumed media influence on human behavior have underscored the need to think about how various audience’s health behavior can be unexpectedly influenced by their exposure to media messages. Two central theoretical frameworks have been used to guide research examining the unintended effects: the third-person effect and the influence of presumed media influence (IPMI). The theoretical explanations for presumed media influence is built on attribution bias, self-enhancement, perceived exposure, perceived relevance, and self-categorization. Even though both the third-person effect and the IPMI share some theoretical foundations, and are historically related, the IPMI has been argued to be better suited to explaining a broader variety of behavioral consequences. One major way that presumed media influence can affect an individual’s health behavior is through the shifting of various types of normative beliefs: descriptive, subjective, injunctive, and personal norms. These beliefs can manifest through normative pressure that is theoretically linked to behavioral intentions. In other words, media have the capability to create the perception that certain behaviors are prevalent, inculcating a normative belief that can lead to the uptake of, or restrain, health behaviors. Scholars examining presumed media influence have since provided empirical support in a number of specific media and behavioral health contexts. Existing findings provide a useful base for health communication practitioners to think about how presumed media influence can be integrated into health campaigns and message design. Despite the proliferation of research in this area, there remains a need for future research to examine these effects in a new media environment, to extend research into a greater number of health outcomes, to incorporate actual behavioral measures, and to ascertain the hypothesized causal chain of events in the model.

Article

Editorial journalism and newspapers’ editorial opinions represent an area of research that can make an important contribution to our understanding of the relationship between the press and politics. Editorials are a distinctive format and are the only place in a newspaper where the opinions of a paper as an organization are explicitly represented. Newspapers and the journalists who write editorials play a powerful role in constructing political debate in the public sphere. They use their editorial voice to attempt to influence politics either indirectly, through reaching public opinion, or directly, by targeting politicians. Editorial journalism is at its most persuasive during elections, when newspapers traditionally declare support for candidates and political parties. Despite the potential of editorial opinions to influence democratic debate, and controversy over the way newspapers and their proprietors use editorials to intervene in politics, editorial journalism is under-researched. Our understanding of the significance of this distinctive form of journalism can be better understood by exploring four key themes. First, asking “What is editorial journalism?” establishes the context of editorial journalism as a unique practice with opinion-leading intentions. Several characteristics of editorial journalism distinguish it from other formats and genres. Editorials (also known as leading articles) require a distinctive style and form of expression, occupy a special place in the physical geography of a newspaper, represent the collective institutional voice of a newspaper rather than that of an individual, have no bylines in the majority of countries, and are written with differing aims and motivations to news reports. The historical development of journalism explains the status of editorials as a distinctive form of journalism. Professional ideals and practices evolved to demand objectivity in news reporting and the separation of fact from opinion. Historically, editorial and advocacy journalism share an ethos for journalism that endeavors to effect social or political change, yet editorial journalism is distinctive from other advocacy journalism practices in significant ways. Editorials are also an integral part of the campaign journalism practiced by some newspapers. Second, research and approaches in the field of political communication have attributed a particularly powerful role to editorial journalism. Rooted in the effects tradition, researchers have attributed an important role to editorials in informing and shaping debate in the public sphere in four ways: (1) as an influence on readers, voters, and/or public opinion; (2) as an influence on the internal news agendas and coverage of newspapers; (3) as an influence on the agendas and coverage in other news media; and (4) as an influence on political or policy agendas. Theorizing newspapers as active and independent political actors in the political process further underpins the need to research editorial journalism. Third, editorial journalism has been overlooked by sociological studies of journalism practices. Research provides a limited understanding of the routines and practices of editorial journalists and the organization of editorial opinion at newspapers. Although rare, studies focusing on editorial journalism show that editorial opinion does not simply reflect the influence of proprietors, as has often been assumed. Rather, editorial opinions are shaped by a complex range of factors. Finally, existing research trajectories and current developments point to new challenges and opportunities for editorial journalism. These challenges relate to how professional norms respond to age-old questions about objectivity, bias, and partisanship in the digital age.

Article

Entertainment is fun, and fun is an emotion. What fun is as an emotion, and how it depends on features of entertainment messages and on other emotions, needs to be understood if we want to explain the appeal of entertainment. Entertainment messages such as movies, stories, drama, games, and sports spectacles can move us in a great variety of ways. But characteristic for the use of all genres is a remarkable, intense focus on interacting with the entertainment message and the virtual world it stages. Gamers in action or listeners of radio drama tend to persist in using the message, apparently blind and deaf to any distraction. Persistence is emotion driven. Intrinsic pleasure in what is a playful activity drives this passionate persistence. Enjoyment, interest, or excitement and absorption are the emotions that make entertainees go for more fun in the ongoing use of an entertainment message. In the use of an entertainment message, these go-emotions complement emotional responses to what happens in the world staged by the message. Horror incites fear and disgust, while serious drama elicits sadness and bittersweet feelings. In our conception, go and complementary emotions are immediate effects of the use of entertainment content: I feel excitement and apprehension now, while I am watching this thriller. Models of distal effects of media entertainment, such as ones on mood, behavior, beliefs, attitudes, and preferences require a proper understanding of immediate emotional responses to concrete messages. The effects of entertainment are only incidental; the emphasis is on immediate emotional experiences in the use of entertainment messages. Immediate emotional responses can be understood and predicted from an analysis of entertainment messages. Entertainment comes in messages with a characteristic temporal structure. Entertainment emotions develop across the presentation time of the message. Their development can be captured and understood in models of a message’s emotion structure. The emotion structure of a message represents the dynamics of go and complementary emotions across consecutive events, such as story episodes or drama scenes, and within these. Research into the uses and effects of media entertainment has a long tradition. Immediate emotional responses to mediated entertainment messages have been theorized and researched since the seminal work of Dolf Zillmann in the 1970s. The state of the art in research on the entertainment emotions needs to be discussed—starting with a general model of these, and elaborating it for selected entertainment genres.