Thought and Action as Determinants of Media Exposure
Allan Fenigstein Kenyon College
Ronald G. Heyduk Hartwick College
Several years ago, one of us (R.G.H.) was asked by the parent-teachers organization at his daughter's elementary school to speak on the subject of television and children. The offer was accepted with mixed emotions. On the one hand, it was clear that the discipline of psychology had something of value to communicate on the subject and that the audience would be eager to hear it. On the other hand, previous experience had shown that nonpsychologists often have the uncanny and unnerving ability to identify what psychologists don't know about a topic.
The presentation attempted to survey and summarize what psychological research had uncovered about the varied influences of television, ranging from the early work on aggression to the more recent research on the cognitive development of children. The talk went very well, and the parents responded so enthusiastically during the subsequent discussion that the speaker's confidence had reached unrealistic heights by the time the inevitable question locating the soft spot in our understanding of the media was asked: "It's interesting to find out what TV can do to kids, but what is it about kids that makes them want to watch TV?"
The parent's question had drawn attention to a distinction between two sets of issues in the psychological study of the relationship between the media and behavior. One set of issues concerns the impact of the media -- that is, what effects television has on the viewer; the other set concerns attraction to the media -- that is, why viewers watch what they do. Table 6.1 presents selected topics in the psychology of media; for each topic, a sample impact question is paired with a related attraction question.