21 Oct 2009

Sample Essay: Impact Of Media On Individual's Way Of Thinking

The determination of degree of influence of media on human thinking can be studied with the help of the already existing theories addressing media effects in a limited and partially satisfactory manner. The extent of the influence may vary from one individual to another. The non conclusive nature of the problem widens the scope of existing and future research in a considerable way. There are in general four established theories related to media effects. The theories are as follows: 1. Cultivation Theiry, 2. Social Action Theory, 3. Agenda Setting Theory and 4.Media Dependency Theory.

Cultivation Theory was propounded by George Gerber. The theory talks about the small but measurable existence of media subject to long term exposure to it. The theory is mainly for viewing the television. The television being the most widely used media nowadays, the study covers a broad section of population.  The study has confirmed the perceptual change is related to long term exposure to television. Heavy viewing is related to the perceptual deviation from the real world. The real world being in general a challenging one, a considerably long term watching of the television can initiate the formation of a utopic idea about life. The lack of real life obstacles makes it a psychological tendency to develop such things. It is referred as a case of development of escapism in non rigorous sense. The story telling role of television is promptly acknowledged in the theory. (Livingstone, 16) The theory says that it has replaced religion as the leader in story telling. Actually the change in taste of common people has a very important role in it. It is also important to note why and how TV gets this level of attention.  The dominance of TV over the other forms of media can be well explained on the basis of the related advantage an audio visual media gets over the rest. Since the person exposed to it is receiving a multi-channel reception, the impact on the person is well expectedly higher than the other forms of single channel media. The effect of long term and long period TV viewing had non uniform effect on the population. So the effect of the media is not only related to the duration of viewing and listening but also the demographic and socio economic factors of the people exposed to it. (Bryant, Jennings and Zillman Dolf, 43)  Demographic factors include age, gender and related information and socioeconomic factors include financial and other social accepts. It has been found that the poor, who cannot get access to most of the factors to enjoy in the society, get negatively affected in a larger way. The difference in their real world and what they see in television or other audio visual medium is so vast that in most of the cases they fall prey to do something to equalize the two without thinking about law and order. Their well anticipated low education and other factors work as catalysts in this case. The effect of media on the population differs within the same social subgroups. Considerable amount of difference has been found in the same subgroup of people with different level of television exposure. (Chandler)

Social Action theory developed by Meyers gives certain weights to the receivers’ expose to the media also. The basic concept lies in a faith of the receivers, at least partial, selection making potential.  What intention the creator has, what is the related convention of the object and most importantly how it is being accessed by the receiver -all these are important in this theory. Agenda setting theory, proposed by Macworld and Saw gives relatively more power to the media over the receiver. According to this theory, the media can strategically influence the thinking process. The effect of media can be studied from the angle of ‘what to think about’ rather than ‘what to think’. So the domain of thinking can be influenced by the media in a way of selective coverage of news. Strategically covering the present, recovering the previous issues and focusing on the future, media can definitely kindle and rekindle public memory and hence can affect the sense of decision making mainly related to politics or other matters of mass importance. (Perse, 26)

Media dependency theory raises questions on the potential of media regarding the creation of need. It also enters the domain of asking the possibly of people’s exposure to the media to full fill their needs. The basic assumption of the theory is based on the concept of need. Agents’ exposure to media is seen from the angle of need. The people will be exposed to the media to satisfy their need and the media has the strategic potential to fulfill the same. The potential to create needs, the potential to fulfill needs and assuming this need is the force that brings together the social agents and media on the social stage of interaction-these are the foundation of media dependency theory. On the basis of these the theory has widen the acknowledgement of media in the area of consumer behavior and market research. (Perse, 80)

The role of media in the context of the way people think can be explained with the help of these theories. The fundamental difference in various theories lies in the different sets of assumption on which these are formed. Since the assumptions are not true always and more importantly few are right and few are not at a given point of time, it is not possible to get a definite answer by the single application of any of these theories. The problem can be of two types.  One or few assumption of one theory can be true and the rest may be false or two mutually conflicting assumptions of two different theories may be true at one point of time and may found to be wrong at another point of time. The changing nature of the response process is the primal reason behind this problem.  A particular group of theories gives high importance to the influencing power of media. The other group of theories shows considerable faith in the selection making potential of the receivers. Media dependency theory brings the two extreme concepts on a common platform and explains some vital issues.Considering media as an integrated powerhouse of collecting design and distributing information, important enough from different points of view cannot rule out the non negligible effects of it on the society. The effect on society refers mainly to the impact on the way the people think. The way of thinking can be operationally split into components like ‘what to think’, ‘what to think about’, ‘why to think’ and ‘how long to think’.   We can start thinking about anything depending on our individual capacity of thinking. The strategic importance lies in the way of thinking about any particular topic or thing. The question lies in the possible role of media in crafting this situation or problem specific way of thinking.  Men being the receptors, absolutely no impact of media is practically impossible or unacceptable even considering their individual level of decision making. The way individual level of thought process will get affected by media coverage will depend on individual level of absorption and rejection level. Personal level of absorption and rejection level considerably depends on preexisting level of competence of the person. The level of individual competence again depends on previous level of thought processes. So the non recognition of media impact in an absolute manner rules out the development of socio-economic thought process. The other types of thought process relevant to very personal level may be influenced by impact of media depending on the cultural orientation of the person. This is an extreme and very rare case and considerable in a very limited sense. So the impact of media on individual level or even group level is not constant in magnitude. It is a continuous process of acceptance, analysis and even possible rejection. People with low level of ingenuous information processing, interpreting and situational retriving, reinterpreting and possible rejecting potential will continue to get affected. The persons with above average level of the aforesaid qualities will continuously practice the other qualities in addition to absorption. So in general the impact will get slender in due course of time and cannot cross some individual level of threshold. This threshold is determined by the innate quality of the person (After all there exist at least few things that cannot be injected). Formation of various media houses with different level of social, political and ideological inclination is the practical proof of this. So the impact of media is a slow but gradually decreasing impact on individual level of thought process. The level will never mathematically come down to zero due to continuous social exposure of the individual. In the extreme case the person will develop alternative thought process, most possibly with like minded thinkers to ensure alternative media coverage in order to propagate his or her own thought process. In most of the practical cases, the common population with average level of reflexive maturity is bound to get affected by media at a considerable level. (Gentile and Sesma)

In the initial stages of the life processes of an individual, Cultivation theory is most relevant. Since at the initial stages of life, individual level of selection making capacity is considerably low, impact of media is intense. In the later stages of life, social exposure of an individual grows. Increase in social exposure opens the doors of alternative thought process. People gradually hold a number of mutually inclusive and mutually exclusive opinions. This generates the need for selection. Selection at the individual level is not possible without help of individual level thinking. This is the starting point of Social Action theory – recognition of the decision making potential of the receivers. This situation demands the ability of selection and rejection. So it can be said that exposure to mutually contradictory opinions generates the need of selection. To fulfill this need   people come again to media with an expectation of getting a solution. This is the reflection of media dependency theory. The purpose for which individual will come to the media can be partially affected by the ‘agenda setting’ behavior of media. The reason behind this partial nature can be explained again by Social Action Theory. Agenda setting theory explains the possible ways in which media can craft the world it covers. This way it can definitely affect the possible set of choices at the individual level. Any purposefully designed selection set will affect the entire thought process. The effect will vary and this variation can be explained through social action theory. So the way people think gets affected in a multistage manner. The entire dynamics is yet to be unearthed. A combination of the existing popular theories can give a relatively more satisfactory answer.

Works Cited

Bryant, Jennings and Zillman Dolf, Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002

Chandler, David, “Cultivation Theory”, retrieved on March 31, 2009 from: http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/short/cultiv.html

Gentile, Douglas A. and Arturo Sesma, “Developmental Approaches to Understanding Media Effects on Individuals”, retrieved on March 31, 2009 from: http://drdouglas.org/drdpdfs/106027_02.pdf

Livingstone, Sonia, Making Sense of Television. London: Pergamon, 1990

Perse, Elizabeth, Media effects and society, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001

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