Media schemas about the power of the media are widely thought to influence perceived media effects and third-person perception, but only one study has shown this, and it did not consider desirable messages. The current research finds focus group evidence for the existence of additional media schemas relevant to estimating effects of pro-social messages, then examines the relationships between media schemas, perceived media effects of desirable and undesirable messages on self and others, and first-, second-, and third-person perceptions. Results indicate that some media schemas can be applied to perceived media effects of self and others, although not exclusively to desirable or undesirable messages. There was no evidence that these schemas are related to first- or third-person perception, but they seem to be better suited to predict the mutual perceived effects of second-person perception.
For almost as long as there have been mass media, there have been widespread conceptions about their power.1 When King Henry VIII took control of printing presses in England in 1529, he demonstrated the same kind of belief in the media's persuasive power that Davison saw in the white officers who withdrew their black troops after the troops had been targeted by Japanese leaflets in World War II.2 It was observations like this that led Davison to posit a "third-person effect": that people tend to believe media messages have greater effects on others than on themselves (the perceptual component), and that they act on this belief (the behavioral component).3
In the context of the third-person effect, Perloff4 has suggested that people hold a lay theory of media, or media schema, resembling the "hypodermic" model: "To the degree that individuals believe that the average person is susceptible to media or that the media are all-powerful, they can logically infer that others are more vulnerable to media than themselves."5 Media schemas also have been used to explain the third-person effect's "target corollary," how people's estimates of a group's exposure to a message predict their estimates of the message's effect on that group.6 In short, if people assume media are powerful, then exposure equals effects.
However, there is to date only one empirical study of media schemas' role in third-person perceptions.7 Moreover, it would seem that media schemas about the power of the media and vulnerability of others to influence could not easily account for first-person perceptions, wherein others are seen as less influenced by desirable media messages than oneself.8 No one has yet investigated media schemas in the context of desirable messages, but Perloff suggested that there may be media schemas specific to socially desirable content that would contain beliefs about the relative weakness of positive messages and the intractability of the audience.9
Third- and first-person perceptions both deal with differences between perceived media effects on others versus on the self. Some recent research has advocated investigating not just differential but also joint perceived effects.10 No research has yet addressed how media schemas might be related to these "second-person perceptions" of mutual influence.
This study sets out to explore the beliefs audiences hold regarding the effects of anti-social and pro-social media content. A series of focus groups was conducted to determine those beliefs and how they were expressed. Focus group data aided the development of reliable quantitative measures of schemas to test their relationships with perceived media effects as well as third-, first-, and second-person perceptions.
Media Schemas and Perceived Media Effects
Social psychology literature suggests people have multiple schemas for understanding and processing information, not all of which will be activated at any given time. Perceiver, situation, and stimulus characteristics affect what schemas are applied.11 In the case of estimating media effects, there are several relevant features: the topic of the media message, the desirability of the message, the receiver, and more. …