The Social Effects of Media

This was my final Essay for Freshman Comp. last Semester.


Media is everywhere: it is in our homes, places of work, and even on our phones.  With this in mind I ask the question; what type of influence does media have on how we view society?  I grew up as a child in the 1980’s and as a teenager in the early 1990’s.  It was at this time that there was a lot of chatter about how much television being watched could lead to violence.  There were others who talked about how violence in Television and movies makes kids more violent.  I had always thought that it was neither of these and depended more on the individual state of mind over the shows themselves.   I mean I watched all the violence in TV shows cartoons and movies and I was never violent.  In fact, over the years I have seen plenty of positive effects of TV and movies.  One of the major contributors I have seen in TV and movies that has made a positive effect on society, at least in a technological way is Star Trek.

Ok now this is where I will let my geek flag fly.  In the Star Trek series, of which there are four of them, were the inspiration for many gadgets that we either have today or have been surpassed.  Examples of these are the flip phone, which we see in the original series; tablets, which we see in the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager; and the 3D printers which are the precursor to the solid light replication system they use in all three series.  These are just some of the technological advances that Star Trek inspired.  The show also was on the fore front when it came to social issues as well with, the first interracial kiss broadcast between Capt. Kirk and Lt. Ohura.  This is not the only show that brings social issues up in this manner.  I found out about a Social Studies teacher who learned his whole class watched The Walking Dead, so he turned it into an extra credit learning experience about the history of civilization.  I found out about him on The Talking Dead, which is a discussion show after the airing of new episodes of The Walking Dead.  This is pertinent to me because he is working in the same field I want to get into Social Studies Education.

One of the other things I noticed over the past few years are how many military commercials there are on TV.  Then I noticed that there has been little to no Peace Corp. Commercials on TV. Of course we very rarely here about the United States Government talk about peace.  Of course the military also sponsors pro-football as well.  So the government could without even knowing be pushing more violent tendencies as well, through the media. I know it is a little conspiratorial, but then again these are just a few of the thoughts I have had about that matter.  Which leads me to the question of; How has TV and movies helped to promote violence and/or altruism?

Preliminary Research

My first search terms I used were television media effects on society in the search terms.  I got over ten Million hits.  I found a site that is about the impact of media on youth, Mass Media and it Influence on society.  There are many studies that popped up, and they all looked like science journals.  In fact, there was a whole separate page that led to the journals on Google.  I found plenty of sources on the negative effects of television on our society.  Studies that focus on how the violence on television and movies creates more violent kids and adults.  I have taken a few history classes and have seen that we were violent well before television and movies ever were invented.  I wonder does media violence really make us more violent or do we make violent media because of the real violence in our world.

Next I looked on You Tube to see if there were any videos on there that might answer my question a bit better.  Again I found plenty of stuff on violence in media.  I also found a few that added to that talked about media (television) and obesity.  Especially because we spent more time sitting in front of the television and less time outside.  Another reason was that we are inundated with commercials about fast food, sugary cereals and other assorted foods.  This not the type of influences I am looking in to.  I want to focus more on the prosocial and antisocial effects of television and movie media.

Further Research

In an article by Barbra Wilsons article Media and Children’s Aggression, Fear, and Altruism, she makes the point that it is the type of programming that children watched is more important than; how much time is spent watching media.  This view-point is backed up by Erica Bailey and Bartosz W. Wojdnski’s article Effects of “meaningful” Entertaining Media on Altruistic Behavior: Investigating Potential Mediators.  “Specifically, viewing entertainment with portrayals of moral beauty has been shown to lead to altruistic intentions as well as behaviors that involve helping others. (Bailey and Wojdynski, p. 604) Wilson looks at a study of children from grades kindergarten to second and third to fifth that says kids learn more emotional lessons from shows with no humor; than from sitcoms that may are supposed to have the similar content. She says that humor can distract from the main points and make it harder to relate to for kids. (Wilson, p.90, 91) She also states that girls learn emotional lessons better than boys do.  I personally think this depends on the individual myself I knew some pretty unemotional girls and I was an over emotional boy myself.

In Bailey and Wojdynski’s study into altruistic behavior they took 106 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 26.  To see how willing they are to help both an in-group and out-group professors in their research.  They showed them one of two clips of the T.V. show Rescue Me.  One of the clips was of the main character Tommy (played by Denise Leary), as he goes through a divorce and the loss of his cousin on 9/11.  Another clip where he and his fellow firefighters prank each other. The first clip saw higher levels of “meaningful affect” and elevated the “physical response” than in the more comedic clip. (Bailey and Wojdynski, p. 609-610)   When they were done they were given the option to help the researcher they were randomly assigned too.  The first researcher was a young white male professor from their college.  The other was an older black male professor from a different college.  It turned out that those who saw the more dramatic clip were more willing to help (at 98%) than those who saw the more comedic clip (at 61%). (Bailey and Wojdynski, p. 613) So this study shows that when we watch a more dramatic T.V. shows that we would be more willing to help people out more.  Of course this is but one study and even the researchers that did this study that more studies need to be done on this subject. (Bailey and Wojdynski, p. 616) One reason I can see right off the bat is the size of the group.  This was a relatively small group of people so there could be other variables involved.

Wilson talks about a study done by Mark singer in the Journal of the American Academy of child and Adolescent Psychiatry that studied fears and phobias in the long-term. This was a study of over 2000 grade school and middle school kids.  This was a “self-reported” survey that showed kids who watched more than six hours a week were at more risk of “anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress.” (Wilson, p93) In my life I have watch well over that per week as a kid and as an adult.  And I do suffer from both anxiety and depression but was it from watching too much television or from other events in my life.  This may be caused by combination of both; I could not say for sure.  She also mentions a survey of parents who allowed their children to watch television before bed. Wilson stated that these kids had a hard time falling to sleep and were more prone to nightmares. (Wilson, p.93)

In the article: The effects of Media Violence on Society by Craig A. Anderson and Brad Bushman they talk about the “casual connection between media violence and aggressive behavior in children” (Quoted from Joint statement on the Impact of Entertainment violence on Children).  According to Anderson and Bushman, J.G. Johnson did a longitudinal study that linked exposure to television to media violence effects adolescence and young adults as much as young children. This I can see when I reflect on my preteen and teenage years.  I remember that when I was a kid; when I would watch the WWE with my friends and brother, we would pretend we were wrestlers and throw each other around the yard.  My Trio counselor James Kircher who was a Social Studies teacher in a previous life say he thinks that the younger groups “have a propensity to mimic” what they see.  He feels that even anti-war films can lead to kids mimic the violence they see.

Wilson cited a study by John Wright and Athena Huston that stated: “children who perceived television as highly realistic had mental “schemata” for real world occupations such as nursing and policing that were similar to TV portrayals of such jobs.”  Schemata is how we store and structure knowledge to make sense of new information. (Wilson, p. 91) This was most likely the case when it came to me joining the military.  I had seen many more comedic films about the military growing up like “Stripes” and the constant bombardment of U.S. military commercials that helped me to make a decision about joining the army.  When I actually got to basic training reality hit.  The yelling and screaming of the drill sergeants were no long humorous they were now terrifying.  The reality that I may actually have to take another’s life scared and saddened me.  In this way the media warped my perception of Army life and lead to negative consequences for the rest of my tour of duty.

It seems as though that the type of media one consumes has an effect on how empathetic someone may be.  According to Wilson people who prefer fiction have more empathy than those who prefer nonfiction. (Wilson, p. 92) Though they are not sure if empathetic people are drawn to fiction or if the fiction creates more empathetic people.  If we look at the way kids view characters in movies or television shows they have a tendency to gravitate to characters that are more like them.  This could be because they are more easily relatable to them.  This could be how kids start to learn empathy.  According to Wilson: “Empathy” is developmental by nature, so it is based upon “the child’s ability to recognize emotions.” (Wilson, p. 91) Wilson state the example of how babies cry when they hear other babies cry.  Have you ever been to a hospital nursery?  It can be all quite until one baby starts to cry.  Although, this could just be from them waking up from a sound sleep by another baby crying.  So, does that mean that if a baby does not cry when another one does that they have no empathy or they are going to grow up to be someone who does not care.

Since 9/11 there have been some studies on how news media affect children according to Wilson.  After the tragic events on that day “parents found that 35 percent of American children experienced one or more stress symptoms”.  (Wilson, p. 94) They do find that how close kids are located close geographic location are to the site of a terrifying event, increases how much they identify with said event.  As an example if there were a mass shooting in St. Paul, Minnesota kids in the nearby suburbs, would then be more scared of mass shooting than if they were in Austin, Texas.  In the era of if” it bleeds it leads” news mentality and the twenty-four-hour news cycles; they have found in a study of “sixth graders suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder” as much as two years after an event like the Oklahoma City bombing. (Wilson, p. 94) We are living in a world that is growing increasingly together through the media.  I am not quite sure what to make of this.  I have become a news junkie over the past couple of years.  For me I see tragic stories like these and I wonder how can we stop events like these from happening since they seem to happen so very often.

Recommendations and Conclusions

Does media effect our society in a positive or negative way?  This is a total mixed bag I feel.  Media can help us to understand the human condition and train us in ways we do not even realize.  When I asked Kircher: if he thought that media could help to make positive or negative changes in our society?  He said that “I am yet to be convinced that this” type of media” is not just filler”.  He does not feel that these forms of media really challenge us to see other “perspectives and critical thinking skills.” (Kircher, interview) For me one of the biggest things we can do is to not glorify the most heinous of acts.  This is hard though; we need to have the news report situations accurately.  So as far as the news is concerned it is a balancing act between the” if it bleeds it leads” mentality and leading with more human interest stories.

Maybe we should focus more on the individuals rather than society as a whole.  It seems to me that everyone wants to blame everybody else for the issues of the world without really looking inward at ourselves.  I personally think that maybe we need to just get away from the media as a whole.  Then spend more time reflecting on who we are and what we can do to make this world a better place for everyone.


















Works cited

Anderson, Craig A., and Brad J. Bushman. “The Effects of Media Violence on

Society.” Science, vol. 295, no. 5564, 2002, pp. 2377–2379.

Bailey, Erica, and Bartosz W. Wojdynski.  “Effects Of “Meaningful” Entertainment On

Altruistic Behavior: Investigating Potential Mediators.” Journal Of Broadcasting &             Electronic Media 59.4 (2015) 603-619. Academic Search Premier. Web 2 Nov. 2016

Kircher, James. “Media Effects on Society.” E-mail interview. 10 Nov. 2016. Trio SSS

counselor and former Social Studies teacher


Wilson, Barbara J. “Media and Children’s Aggression, Fear, and Altruism.” The Future

of Children, vol. 18, no. 1, 2008, pp. 87–118.


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