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Media influence

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Media influence

Media influence or media effects are used in media studies, psychology, communication theory and sociology to refer to the theories about the ways in which mass media and media culture affect how their audiences think and behave.


  • Framing 1
  • New media 2
  • An instrument for social control 3
    • Mass media in a free enterprise capitalist society 3.1
    • Mass media, mass culture and elite 3.2
    • Media effects on nutrition 3.3
    • Media effects on body image 3.4
  • Media-influenced violence 4
    • Political 4.1
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7


The UPI, Reuters and Agence France-Presse — together provide 90% of the total news output of the world’s press, radio and television).[1] According to Stuart Hall, because some of the media produce material which often is impartial and serious, they are accorded a high degree of respect and authority. However, in practice the ethics of the press and television are closely related to that of the hegemonic establishment, providing vital support to the existing order. Therefore, he says, independence is not "a mere cover, it is central to the way power and ideology are mediated in societies like ours."[2]

According to this approach, the public is bribed with popular radio, television and newspapers into an acceptance of the biased, the misleading, and the status quo. The media are not, according to this approach, crude agents of propaganda. They organize public understanding. However, the overall interpretations they provide in the long run are those most preferred by, and least challenging to, those with economic power. Greg Philo demonstrates this in his 1991 article, "Seeing is Believing", in which he showed that recollections of the 1984 UK miners’ strike were strongly correlated with the media presentation of the event, including the perception of the picketing as largely violent when violence was rare, and the use by the public of phrases which had appeared originally in the media.[3]

McCombs and Shaw (1972) demonstrate the agenda-setting effect at work in a study conducted in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA during the 1968 presidential elections. A representative sample of un-decided voters was asked to outline the key issues of the election as it perceived them. Concurrently, the mass media serving these subjects were collected and their content was analyzed. The results showed a definite correlation between the two accounts of predominant issues. "The evidence in this study that voters tend to share the media's composite definition of what is important strongly suggests an agenda-setting function of the mass media." (McCombs and Shaw).

New media

Theorists such as Louis Wirth and Talcott Parsons have emphasized the importance of mass media as instruments of social control. In the 21st century, with the rise of the internet, the two-way relationship between mass media and public opinion is beginning to change, with the advent of new technologies such as blogging.

Mander’s theory is related to Jean Baudrillard’s concept of ‘hyperreality’. In the 1994 O.J. Simpson trial for example, the reality reported on was merely the catalyst for the simulacra (images) created, which defined the trial as a global event. Essentially, hyperreality is the concept that the media are not merely a window on to the world (as if a visiting alien were watching television), but are part of the reality they describe. Hence (although additionally there is the question of navel-gazing) the media’s obsession with media-created events.

It is this which led Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s to say that "The medium is the message", and to suggest that mass media are increasingly creating a "global village". For example, there is evidence that Western media influence in Asia is the driving force behind rapid social change: "it is as if the 1960s and the 1990s were compressed together." A notable example is the recent introduction of television to Bhutan, resulting in rapid Westernization. This raises questions of ‘cultural imperialism’ (Schiller) — the de facto imposition, through economic and political power and through the media, of Western (and in particular US) culture.

An instrument for social control

Social scientists have made efforts to integrate the study of the mass media as an instrument of control into the study of political and economic developments in the Afro-Asian countries. David Lerner (1958) has emphasized the general pattern of increase in standard of living, urbanization, literacy and exposure to mass media during the transition from traditional to modern society. According to Lerner, while there is a heavy emphasis on the expansion of mass media in developing societies, the penetration of a central authority into the daily consciousness of the mass has to overcome profound resistance.

Mass media in a free enterprise capitalist society

Although a sizable portion of mass media offerings – particularly news, commentaries, documentaries, and other informational programs – deal with highly controversial subjects, the major portion of mass media offerings are designed to serve an entertainment function. These programs tend to avoid controversial issues and reflect beliefs and values sanctified by mass audience. This course is followed by Television networks, whose investment and production costs are high.

Mass media, mass culture and elite

The relation of the mass media to contemporary popular culture is commonly conceived in terms of dissemination from the elite to the mass. The concentration of ownership and media control has led to accusations of a 'media elite' having a form of 'cultural dictatorship'. Thus the continuing debate about the influence of 'media barons' such as Conrad Black and Rupert Murdoch. For example, the UK Observer (March 1, 1998) reported that the Murdoch-owned HarperCollins' decision not to publish Chris Patten's East and West, might have been taken to protect Murdoch's Chinese broadcasting interests (East and West describes the Chinese leadership as "faceless Stalinists"). In this case, the author was able to have the book accepted by another publisher. Related to this is self-censorship by members of the media in the interests of the owner.

Media effects on nutrition

Most food-related programs require substantial financial support. Research demonstrates that to include nutrition or health-related messages in entertainment programs on mass media could be cost-effective and promising. Research was done by T. W. Valente,[4] from the University of Southern California. After consultation with a CDC expert, the scriptwriter of the popular medical show ER (Emergency Room) came up with a storyline of an obese low-income Africa American teenager boy who had been diagnosed with hypertension during his visit to the emergency room. The storyline covered three episodes of ER, and discussed hypertension, obese, heart disease, 5 A Day (a nutrition concept which encourages people to consume five portions of fruits and vegetables each day), healthy eating habits, and life style. Valente examined people’s health/nutrition-related knowledge, attitudes, and behavior before and after the air of the three episodes of ER. And the results showed that, this minor storyline on ER about teen obesity, hypertension, and 5 A Day led to modest positive impacts on people’s knowledge, attitudes, and practices. In general, after watching those 3 episodes of ER, people gained higher awareness and knowledge of 5 A Day, and were reported to engage in some self-reported health behaviors. Since the cost of this intervention can be considered minimal, the modest changes in people indicate the cost-effectiveness of this particular intervention. This research does provide a new insight into the effects of mass media, especially mass entertainment programs, on the public, and high light the promising future of the cost-effective mass media/entertainment program intervention on people’s knowledge, attitudes, as well as behaviors related to nutrition/health field.[4][5]

On average, children in the United States view 15 television food advertisements every day, 98% of which are low in nutritional value,[6] averaging out to 5,500 messages per year. Another study has shown that only 2% of advertisements (out of the 10,000 food advertisements that a child watches on average yearly) are about fruits and vegetables.[7] Studies have found that recognizable labels test better with the public. One experiment done found that people gave better reviews to Coke from a cup with a Coke logo than they gave to coke served in a plain cup.[8] A similar study conducted found that preschoolers liked the taste of foods and beverages significantly more when they were placed in McDonald’s packaging compared to the same foods in plain packaging.[9]

Media effects on body image

Body image can be defined as "a subjective picture of one's own physical appearance established both by self-observation and by noting the reactions of others",[10] body image can also be seen as directly related to self-esteem and self-concept. Advertising, particularly for fashion and cosmetics, has a powerful effect on how we see ourselves and how we view our own personal body image.[11]

It has been reported that children as young as three years old have experienced the pressures of media on body image,[12] but it is adolescents that are more apt to be at risk for developing unhealthy attitudes towards their bodies based on their susceptibility to advertisement because of the rapid changes happening both physically and mentally during this stage in life. At this time in life young people are focused on developing their individual identities, they are also highly susceptible to both social pressure and media images which can have a profound effect on how they see their bodies. Women’s magazines in particular have tremendous influence on body image, with researchers reporting that teenage girls rely heavily on them for information on beauty and fashion.[13] This constant unavoidable pressure of the media has created the belief that ‘thin is beautiful’ within our current society. The media is able to influence us in such a drastic ways due to the psychological theories that have been founded that dramatically and successfully manipulate our brains into functioning or viewing something in a specific manor. A common theory used within advertising is that of Sigmund Freud and his theory of Psychogenic Needs, Freud believes that the three basic divisions of personality are: the ID, the super ego, and the ego. The ID contains primitive, amoral impulses as well as tendencies to empathy, imitation, and identification. Parents, peer groups, and cultural factors shape the super ego, and the ego consciously decides and wills the direction of behaviour.[14] When the media is able to successfully target each aspect of Freud’s theory, they will more successfully be able to market their product, in a way such as: One (product) will help you work, rest, and play.

In the same way that Freuds theory can be used to create a specific message within an advertisement. The media is also able to use advertising trends within their visual aspect to influence the audiences view of body image. Advertisers use trends such as Objectification, in which advertisers only focus of portions of the body when displaying people in advertisements, the body parts portrayed are mostly sexually focused. Such as zoomed in pictures of women’s breasts, and perfectly defined abs on men. This objectification within advertisements goes hand in hand with another type of advertising trend, Irrelevant Sexualization. Irrelevant sexualization is where advertisers focus on a person’s value based on his/her sexual appeal or behaviour.[15] These advertising trends along with the many others that are used in ads we see daily such as: Domestication, Infanticization, Commondification, and Racialization allow for the media to majorly effect people’s views on body image. Although the aim of advertising is to get us to buy things, these advertisements seldom portray average looking people in which their product is targeted to sell to, for example the average female fashion model wears per se a size 0 or 2, where in reality, regular women wear sizes much larger than that. With this barrage of unrealistically skinny and beautiful people consistently in all areas the media within our daily lives, it creates feelings on inadequacy, anxiety and depression. Due to the nearly impossible expectations of beauty being placed society. These feeling of inadequacy, and unrealistic hope to look the same as the models seen in these advertisement can lead to the development of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia in both males and females, and long term psychological problems like depression that they may carry with them throughout the rest of their lives.

Media-influenced violence

Various studies indicate that media affects public opinion.

In 2008, The Lancet published a review suggesting that North American young boys were negatively influenced by portrayals of violence on television. The authors concluded that evidence suggested exposure to media violence results in short term fearful or aggressive behavior, but that evidence for a link to criminal behavior was weaker.[16]

In 2006, an Associated Press article reported the negative effects on self-image of both men and women, the result of the use of unrealistic models in advertising.[17] However, this is a contentious issue.

To explain the problem of violence in society, researchers should begin with that social violence and seek to explain it with reference, quite obviously, to those who engage in it: their identity, background, character and so on.
— Ten things wrong with the ‘effects model’

David Gauntlett goes on to criticize studies that focus on children by stating that they do not have a control group, and that the studies are conducted primarily to further a "barely-concealed conservative ideology." He counters the premise of these studies with the concept that not all depictions of violence are even bad to witness. USC Professor Henry Jenkins, for instance, suggested in his speech to congress that The Basketball Diaries utilizes violence in a form of social commentary that provides clear social benefit.[18]

Gauntlett explains further that objects defined as "violent" or "anti-social" may not be judged as such in the minds of the viewer and tend to be viewed in artificial circumstances. These objects are furthermore based on previous studies with flawed methodology, and are not grounded in theory. Additionally, he states that the effects model attempts to understand the meanings of media.[19]

  • Historical criticisms situate the 'meta-narrative' of effects theory within a long history of distrust of new forms of media, dating as far back as Socrates's objections to the deleterious effects due to the written alphabet.
  • Political criticisms pose an alternative conception of humans as rational, critical subjects who are alert to genre norms and adept at interpreting and critiquing media representations, instead of passively absorbing them.

Supporters of effects theory contend that commercials and advertising prove that media influence behavior. In the 20th century, aggressive media attention and negative coverage of trials involving celebrities like Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle or Michael Jackson have influenced the general public's opinion, before the trials effectively started.[20] However, these critics do point out that while the media could have an effect on people's behavior this isn't necessarily always the case.

Critics of the media effects theory point out that many copycat murders, suicides and other violent acts nearly always happen in abnormal upbringings. Violent, emotionally neglectful or aggressive environments influence behavior more than watching certain programs, films or listening to certain music. Most people who carry out these acts are also mentally unstable to begin with.

Also there are other thinkers who criticize effects based research, such as Terry Flew and Sal Humphrey, Barker and Freedman.,[21][22][23]

Martin Barker (2001)[24] criticised Elizabeth Newson who alleged link between media violence and real life violence in her report in 1994, Brooke (2003–07),for example talks about this in details.[25] The report gained media attention when it stated the horror film Child's Play 3 had influenced two 10-year-old boys' behavior and led to the Murder of James Bulger in Feb. 1993. After examining and assessing Newson’s report, it was apparent that there was no clear link between the film and the crime. Critics pointed out that Newson's case studies were reliant on press accounts and opinions rather than independent research. However, Newson's report was influential, and has led to more censorship of videos and more concern from the British Board of Film classification on the psychological effects of media violence. The attention and question become whether they were watching violent media.

Barker rejected Newson's statement about the connection between media violence and real life violence. Barker indicates that there was no evidence that the boys had seen the movie, and Child's Play 3 is a moral film. He also criticized anti media campaigns and described them as ignorant and disguised political campaigns. He states that these statements are represented by media and most of people have no chance to check the credibility of them. He said that these films, including Child's Play 3, are often attacked because they deal with political issues. He listed real cases: for example "a man takes a gun and shoots his entire family after watching the news, arrested and tried, he explains his actions on the basis that the world news was so bad there seemed no point in anyone going on living". Barker suggests that this case for example is no different that other putative cases of media a causing violence, Barker said that we should not always blindly blame the media because people are not copycats, instead we should be aware of someone's mental state and take other factors into account before making such statements. For example, in his case he states that the man's reaction was abnormal. Therefore, his behavior could not be explained by suggesting "the effects of the news". There are other social and cultural factors in criminal acts in which the media are not the basic influence. Barker also suggests 'that we must look beyond a specific film to think about the specific context in which it has been consumed, and the wider social background of the people'.,[26] according to Barker there is no such thing called violence in the media that either could or could not cause violence, we should rather pay attention to how social factors and background make some people consume media in specific way.,[27] for instance, even the news also show lots of violence, so people should rather pay attention to how social factors and background make some people consume media in particular way. In addition Barker (2001) proposes further research, he suggests that the theory of media violence connection must be tested because identification with particular element in a film is not something can be seen. He also noted problem with campaigners treating delinquents as normal people who become influenced by the media. Therefore, he suggests further research on how these people understand and consume media.

Critics of effects research see no connection between exposure to media violence and real life violence. Although some research finds that heavy exposure to media violence can lead to more aggressive behavior, it has been suggested that exposure alone does not cause a child to commit crimes.[28]

Flew and Humphreys (2005) said that the assumptions of effects researchers are frequently flawed. According to Flew and Humphreys, Freedman (2001) and Goldstein (2001) the number of studies on games and violence is small and the research suffers from flawed methodologies which do very little to prove a direct link.[29] Terry Flew and Sal Humphreys also state ‘that differing context of consumption will always mean we need to take account of the particularities of players and how and why they play, effects researches often give insufficient account to the relevance of cultural contexts and the way in which media are actually implicated in the circulation of meanings in our cultures'.[30]

Freedman (2007)[31] is another thinker who rejects this idea, in reference to the FCC ‘the Federal Communications Commission in US’ report that suggests link between media violence and real life violence, Freedman indicates the lack of discussion and states that the FCC does not make a sufficiviolence. For example a recent long-term outcome study of youth found no long-term relationship between watching violent television and youth violence or bullying[32]


Having Their Fling (1917) by Art Young.

Certain groups tend to argue for media effects in an effort to promote a political agenda. Demands for the banning of certain songs or the labeling of obscene albums came specifically from conservative political groups in the United States. However, Tipper Gore was the founder of the Parents Music Resource Center, and was the main figure in pushing for warning labels on music although she does not fit into the conservative demographic. They argued that such material had simple and identifiable effects on children, and thus should be banned/labelled.

Political factions use the media to influence possible members into joining their groups.

ent distinction between people’s opinions, intuitions and musings on the one hand, and the hard scientific data on the other, and he indicates the lack of discussion of one of the strongest arguments against the idea that media violence causes aggression. According to Freedman the rate of violent crime in the United States increased sharply from 1965 to 1980 and some people blamed that increase on media. The rate of violent crime leveled off until about 1992, since that time, television continued to have violent programs, there was also more scenes and media showing more violence, if exposure to violent media cause real violence one would surely expect the rate of violent crime to have increased sharply, yet, since 1992 there has been a dramatic drop in violent crime, it seems clear that media violence did not cause the earlier increase. Therefore, it is widely accepted that there is no convincing evidence that prove that media violence causes violent crime or any type in real life.

See also

While Media Influence Theories are often used to demonstrate the negative effects of the media on society, it is also of note that media can influence in a positive way. The following are of note:


  1. ^ New Internationalist Magazine. June, 1981.The Big Four Retrieved 02 Mar 2013
  2. ^ Hall, Stuart. 1973. Encoding and decoding in the television discourse. Birmingham, England: Centre for Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham
  3. ^ Philo, Greg. July, 1990. Seeing Is Believing. British Journalism Review vol. 1 no. 4 58-64
  4. ^ a b Valente T.W., Murphy S., Huang G., Gusek J., Greene J., & Beck V (2007), Evaluating a Minor Storyline on ER About Teen Obesity, Hypertension, and 5 A Day. Journal of Health Communication, 12:551-566
  5. ^ Glanz, Rimer, & Viswanath (2008), Health Behavior and Health Education-4th edition, pp 364-387
  6. ^ Powell, L. M., Szczpka, G., Chaloupka, F. J., & Braunschweig, C. L. (2007). Nutritional content of television food advertisements seen by children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 120, 576–583.
  7. ^ "Body Image & Nutrition", Teen Health and the Media. Retrieved on 18 September 2014.
  8. ^ McClure, S. M., Li, J., Tomlin, D., Cypert, K. S., Montague, L. M., & Montague, P. R. (2004). Neural correlates of behavioral preference for culturally familiar drinks, Neuron, 44, 379–387.
  9. ^ Robinson, T. N., Borzekowsi, D. L., Matheson, D. M., & Kraemer, H. C. (2007). Effects of fast food branding on young children’s taste preferences. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 161, 792–797
  10. ^ "body image." Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 11 Nov. 2014.
  11. ^ Magazine Publishers of America, Market Profile: Teenagers! (NY: Magazine Publishers of America, 2000),
  12. ^ Harriger, J.A., R.M. Calogero, D.C. Witherington et al. 2010. Body size stereotyping and the internalization of the thin ideal in preschool girls. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research 63: 1-5
  13. ^ Magazine Publishers of America, Market Profile: Teenagers! (NY: Magazine Publishers of America, 2000)
  14. ^ Schultz, Duane P., and Sydney E. Schultz. Theories of Personality. 9th ed. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole Pub., 1976. Print.
  15. ^ Yusof, Noraini Md., Esmaeil Zeiny Jelodar, and Shahizah Ismail Hamdan. "Continued Visual Objectification: The Image of the Fair Sex in Occidental Advertisements." Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences 5.20 (2014): n. pag. Web.
  16. ^ Summary of Lancet article
  17. ^ Washington Post. (Oct. 6, 2006) Experts: Men Have Body Image Worries Too Retrieved 02 Mar 2013
  18. ^  
  19. ^  
  20. ^ Rutten, Tom. "For some, Jackson verdict is already in". Los Angeles Times, June 11, 2005, Retrieved May 20, 2011
  21. ^ Flew, Terry and Humphrey, Sal. ‘Games: Technology, Industry, Culture’ in New Media: an introduction (second edition), ed. Terry Flew (South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2005). P.101-114
  22. ^ Barker, M. "the Newton Report: a Case Study in Common Sense’ in III Effects in the Media /Violence Debate, (second edition), ed. Martin Baker and Julian Petey (London: Rutledge, 2001), pp.27–46.
  23. ^ Freedman, Jonathan. ‘No Real Evidence for TV Violence Causing Real Violence’ First Amendment Centre, 2007, online, [2007, October 17.].
  24. ^ Barker 2001.
  25. ^ Brooke, Michael. Screen Online, (2003–07), online, ‘The Newson Report’. October 17, 2007
  26. ^ Austin, T.’Media Effects: A Never-Ending Debate’. Introduction to Media Study, 2002. effects lecture2.doc. [10 May 2004].
  27. ^ Austin 2002.
  28. ^ Ward, Michael. ‘Video games, Crime & Violence’ Net Institute, 2007, online, Available: [2007, October 17.].
  29. ^ Flew and Humphreys 2005
  30. ^ Flew, Terry and Humphreys, Sal. ‘Games: Technology, Industry, Culture’ in New Media: an introduction (second edition), ed. Terry Flew (South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 264.
  31. ^ Freedman 2007.
  32. ^ "Video Games and Youth Violence: A Prospective Analysis in Adolescents", Christopher J. Ferguson, Journal of Youth and Adolescence

Further reading

  • Adorno, Theodor (1973), The Jargon of Authenticity
  • Allan, Stuart (2004), News Culture
  • Barker, Martin, & Petley, Julian, eds (2001), Ill Effects: The media/violence debate – Second edition, London: Routledge
  • Carter, Cynthia, and Weaver, C. Kay, eds (2003), Violence and the Media, Maidenhead: Open University Press
  • Chomsky, Noam & Herman, Edward (1988, 2002). Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon
  • Curran, J. & Seaton, J. (1988), Power without Responsibility
  • Curran, J. & Gurevitch, M. (eds) (1991), Mass Media and Society
  • Durham, M. & Kellner, D. (2001), Media and Cultural Studies. UK: Blackwell Publishing
  • Fowles, Jib (1999), The Case for Television Violence, Thousand Oaks: Sage
  • Gauntlett, David (2005), Moving Experiences – Second Edition: Media Effects and Beyond, London: John Libbey
  • Grossberg, L., et al. (1998). Mediamaking: Mass media in a popular culture. CA: Sage Publications
  • Harris, J. L., & Bargh, J. A. (2009). Television Viewing and Unhealthy Diet: Implications for Children and Media Interventions. Health Communication, 24(7), 660-673.
  • Habermas, J. (1962), The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere
  • Horkheimer (1947), The Eclipse of Reason, Oxford University Press
  • Lang K & Lang G.E. (1966), The Mass Media and Voting
  • Lazarsfeld, Berelson and Gaudet (1944), The People’s Choice
  • Mander, Jerry, "The Tyranny of Television", in Resurgence No. 165
  • McClure, S. M., Li, J., Tomlin, D., Cypert, K. S., Montague, L. M., & Montague, P. R. (2004). Neural correlates of behavioral preference for culturally familiar drinks. Neuron, 44, 379–387.
  • McCombs, M & Shaw, D.L. (1972), 'The Agenda-setting Function of the Mass Media', Public Opinion Quarterly, 73, pp176–187
  • Potter, W. James (1999), On Media Violence, Thousand Oaks: Sage
  • Powell, L. M., Szczpka, G., Chaloupka, F. J., & Braunschweig, C. L. (2007). Nutritional content of television food advertisements seen by children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 120, 576–583.
  • Riesman, David (1950), The Lonely Crowd
  • Robinson, T. N., Borzekowsi, D. L., Matheson, D. M., & Kraemer, H. C. (2007). Effects of fast food branding on young children’s taste preferences. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 161, 792–797.
  • Thompson, J. (1995), The Media and Modernity
  • Trenaman J., and McQuail, D. (1961), Television and the Political ImageMethuen
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