Research and Theory in Mass
Communication: How We
Study Media Scientifically
Q: What was John Hinckley's stated reason for attempting to assassinate U. S. President Ronald Reagan in 1981?
A: He thought that act would cement his relationship with actress Jodie Foster, with whom he was obsessed, although they had never met. (Note: Hinckley's trial found him not guilty by reason of insanity and ordered him to a psychiatric facility. )
Q: The American public believes what percentage of felony defendants uses the insanity plea? How many actually do?
A: The public believes that 37%of defendants plead insanity, while in reality only 0.9%do, most of which are not successful (“Numbers, ” 1998, January 19).
Q: Why did several people around the country receive hundreds of phone calls each asking to speak with “God” during the summer of 2003?
A: In the movie Bruce Almighty, Bruce Nolan (played by Jim Carrey) is contacted by “God” on his cell phone. A particular number is shown, though no area code is given. Hundreds of people around the country called this number locally and asked to speak with “God. ” In this case, the filmmaker did not follow the usual practice of using 555-prefix phone numbers (which do not exist as real phone numbers).
In some sense everyone is a media critic. Far fewer, however, have real answers to the questions and concerns that are so easy to raise. The answers to many questions about the media come from scientific research. The results from such research are cited throughout this book, but in this chapter we look at some of the theoretical frameworks and constructs behind such research. It is easy to raise concerns about violence in the media; it is more difficult to precisely assess the effects of viewing that violence.