Theories of media processing and effects

This chapter talks about all the theories that deal primarily with the way people access and process media content and the ways contact with mass media sources influences those individuals. There are 3 major theoretical approaches:

1-    Social cognitive theory

2-    Uses and Gratifications theory

3-    Media systems dependency theory.

 Social Cognitive theory

Early psychologists in the behaviorist mode were concerned with the extent to which human action is a conditioned response to external stimuli. This behaviorist point of view presented by processes labeled as operant conditioning is an S-R model that suggests that human learn by being rewarded or punished when they respond to a particular stimulus.  The concept of learning through observation and imitation was first proposed in the psychological literature by N.E. Miller and Dollard. These researchers posited that if humans were motivated to learn a particular behavior, they would be able to learn by observing models and then be positively reinforced bye imitation those models. These ideas were the first version of social learning theory.

The key concept in social cognitive theory is the notion of observational learning. When there are models in an individual´s environment. Learning can occur through the observation of these models.

Reinforcement processes are also central to social learning processes. In social cognitive theory reinforcement works through the processes of inhibitory effects and disinhibitory effects. An inhibitory effect occurs when an individual sees a model being punished for a particular behavior. In contrast, a disinhibitory effect occurs when an individual sees a model being rewarded for a particular behavior. According to Bandura, vicarious reinforcement works because of the concepts of outcome expectations and outcome expectancies. Outcome expectations suggest that when we see models being rewarded and punished, we come to expect the same outcomes of we perform the same behavior.

Uses and Gratifications theory

This theory looks carefully at how and why members of media audiences use particular programming to satisfy a wide variety of needs. In the 1940´s researchers were beginning to ask questions about how the needs and desires of the audience might influence the effect of mass media programming. Swanson has noted three attributes of this research that were important in leading to the theoretical framework develop later. First, this research introduces the idea of an active audience, in which individuals have their own reasons for accessing the media. Second, this research began to conceive of these audience motives as gratifications that were obtain by individuals from the media. Third, research in this tradition highlighted the ability of audience members to provide useful information about their motives and desires with regard to the media.

The first formal statement of the uses and gratifications theory came from Katz, Blumler, and Gurevitch, who enumerated basic points of the framework:

1. The social and psychological origins of

2. Needs, which generate

3. Expectations of

4. The mass media or other sources, which lead to

5. Differential patterns of media exposure, resulting in

6. Need gratifications and

7. Other consequences, perhaps mostly unintended ones.


Haven´t you ever wondered which and how gratifications are sought and obtained from media?

Two theoretical developments are particularly noteworthy. First, some scholars have suggested that these lists of needs can be divided into fundamentally different types of gratifications. These distinctions have included content versus process gratifications, cognitive versus affective/imaginative gratifications, and instrumental versus ritual gratifications.

The follow are examples of four gratification categories:

  1. Information

a-      Finding out about relevant events and conditions in immediate surroundings, society and the world.

b-      Seeking advice on practical matters, or opinion and decision choices.

c-       Satisfying curiosity and general interest.

  1. Personal Identity

a-      Finding reinforcement for personal values.

b-      Finding models of behavior.

c-       Identifying with valued others in the media.

  1. Integration and social interaction

a-      Gaining insight into circumstances of other: social empathy.

b-      Identifying with others and gaining a sense of belonging.

c-       Finding a basis for conversation and social interaction.

  1. Entertainment

a-      Escaping, or being diverted from problems.

b-      Relaxing.

c-       Getting intrinsic cultural or aesthetic enjoyment.

Have you also wondered how is the media used in the gratification process?

Kim and Rubin summarize much of this research, noting three ways in which audience activity facilitates media contact and effects. The first of these is selectivity, in which individuals who seek particular gratifications will selectively expose themselves to particular media. The second process is attention, in which individuals will allocate cognitive effort to media consumption, depending on gratifications sought. Finally, the third process is involvement with the media, in which an audience member is often caught up in the message and may even develop a relationship with media characters.

Media systems dependency theory

First proposed by Ball-Rokeach and DeFleur, has at its heart a complex system in which the media, individuals, their interpersonal environment are seen to have dependency relationships with each other. In the words of Ball- Rokeach and DeFleur, dependency is a relationship in which the satisfaction of needs or the attainment of goals by one party is contingent upon the resources of another party.

MSD divides these systems components into three levels: the macro level of the social environment and media systems, the micro level of individual with particular goals and positions whiting the social environment, and the meso level of interpersonal relationships.

MSD theorists see media systems as taking on an increasingly important role as industrialization and urbanization have decreased the influence of interpersonal social networks.

MSD goes beyond individual media relationship to provide a more complex picture of the dependency relationship between individual needs and media use that includes both microscopic and macroscopic influences on dependencies.

MSD also expands on the concept of dependency relationship by specifying antecedent conditions and consequences related to these relationships.

  1. MSD has a role both in understanding and explaining media relationships and in encouraging social actions to change media policy and individual behavior.    



By reading this chapter I have a clearer idea of how the media and society react in certain ares. First of all, by seeing that the social cognitive theory considers that the importance of an observer´s ability is to perform a particular behavior and the confidence the individual has in performing the behavior. I think it interesting the way the behaviors mean a great deal in communication. The way people see, talk, look, react in certain events or questions. Its very interesting how people can express more physically than by their words.  

Bibliography : Miller, Theories of media processing and effects, chapter 14



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