Media psychology studies the interaction of media technologies and human experience. There is no consensus definition of this field, but according to Pamela Rutlege, the director of the Media Psychology Research Center, media psychology uses psychology, which is the study of people of all ages, to explain whether technology is good or bad. This is necessary because media technology is everywhere and it is not going away.
Since media applications and information technology has infiltrated almost every aspect of everyday life and people are aware of this infiltration, it demands a new level of understanding. The goal of media psychologists is to answer people's questions by combining an understanding of human behavior, cognition and emotion, with an understanding of media technologies. There are arguments for reciprocity between individuals and the cultural environment, but few psychological or media theories focus on media as part of a dynamic interactive system. Media psychology, unlike some kinds of media studies, does not focus only on content.
Media psychology looks at the whole system. The system is a continual loop which includes the technology developer, content producer, content perceptions and user response. They all coexist and co-evolve with each other and media psychology evaluates this interactive process of the system. Academicians and practitioners have not reached a consensus as to the definition or scope of psychology, because the field is constantly changing and it must be representative of the present and the future.
There are various misconceptions about media and psychology that also contribute to the confusion surrounding the definition of media psychology. Many people often associate media only with mass media and it is not clear if media refer to television or also includes computer interfaces that facilitate information management and distribution. In addition, the popular perception of psychology is often narrowed to clinical applications. As a result, media psychology is sometimes perceived as a psychologist appearing in the media.
The cross-disciplinary aspects of the field are another cause of confusion. Much of the early work in media psychology came from marketing and advertising, while the bulk of the research in the field has been published in academic and applied disciplines. These disciplines include sociology; communication and media studies; education; computer and information sciences; and business management and marketing. Media psychology brings all these approaches and vocabularies together with the recognition that communication, emotions and cognition are fundamental to human experience, which by definition have foundations in psychological thought.
Media psychologists can help people adjust to the rapid pace of progress in media technologies and can add value by reading new research reports and holding authors and journalists accountable to professional standards when such reports make headlines. Media psychologists can also explain the difference between correlation and casualty, as well as remind people that the experience of media technology is different for people because of their culture, context and their goals, while also helping them not to panic amid the boom of technologies.
Media psychology is the response to people's need to change their view of the word because of the changes caused by technology. This relatively new field seeks to understand the interacting among individuals, groups, society and technology. As sense is made out of this interaction people will be able to make decisions and go about their lives in the most positive and productive way possible. Much of the research related to this field has been driven by the collective anxiety over the way media affects individuals and society, such as the portrayals of violence and consumer manipulation, or information overload. Meanwhile, research on the positive uses of technology is scarce.
Media psychology seeks to help people better understand some of the implications of technology change and ease fears about the new media world. It will also need to train the next generation to engage positively and productively with media. Media psychology is much more complex than focusing on media as a reflection of culture. It encompasses the integration of media technologies into life in numerous ways.
A media psychologist needs to know the way in which media technologies work and how they are developed, produced and consumed on the one hand, while on the other hand, knowing psychology in order to apply it to issues of effectiveness, usability and impact. A broad definition of media psychology describes it as the applied study of what happens in the process of interaction between people, as producers, distributors and consumers, with media, through the lens of psychology.