You and I, whether we like it or not, consume media constantly. Driving past a billboard, scrolling through Instagram, reading the news online. As we fill ourselves with content, we must wonder… is this good for us? Do we want to be subject to so many different messages? In an era where mental health is finally being upheld as being crucial to our wellbeing, we cannot count out the effect media has on us.
We consume an average of 7.5 hours of media every day, according to Statista. Of that media, the majority is consumed digitally, unsurprisingly.
L.J. Shrum of UTSA in her chapter titled “Media Consumption and Perceptions of Social Reality”, describes the unwanted effects of media consumption: “increased materialism, less trust, [and] inaccurate perceptions of society. Because we have access to such a large variety of media, we turn to the information most accessible to make judgments. This includes judgments primarily about people, attitudes, beliefs, set-size (the amount or percentage of an occurrence), and probability (likelihood of an occurrence).
Shrum references a study in which “participants who viewed portrayals of explicit sex scenes gave higher estimates of the prevalence of unusual sex practices among the general population, were less likely to object to public display of pornography, and recommended shorter jail sentences for a convicted rapist than did participants who viewed films that were not sexually explicit”.
We are subtly persuaded by the media we consume that what we see is normal, common, and socially acceptable. We see this in media portrayals of pornography/aggression/substance use/etc., or on the other hand media portrayals of ideal bodies/lifestyles/relationships/etc.. At the end of the day, we’re all human. Our brains are wired to use the information readily available when making judgments and decisions. Unfortunately, media makers know this and take advantage.
This brings us right back to where we started.
In a way, media is not good for us. But, we live in an ocean of it. Media provides us with information, messages, and fosters social connection and disconnection. As media makers ourselves, it is our responsibility to make sure what we put out is positive and worthwhile. While we strive to hold this promise on our end, there are actions you can take as well to protect yourself from potentially harmful media.
Shrum recommends media literacy programs, which “not only need to teach viewers to ‘read the media,’ they also need to teach viewers to ‘read the judgment’ by educating viewers as to the types of judgments that are often affected by television viewing and how to devise (different) strategies based on the different underlying processes”.
Media literacy “promotes adaptive behavior by teaching individuals, often children, to evaluate media critically and, consequently, to reduce the credibility and persuasive influence of media message” (Irving and Berel). In a study that utilized media literacy programs to strengthen college women’s resistance to media, researchers concluded that “even a simple media literacy intervention can be effective in helping women think more critically about media”, as their programs increased participants’ media skepticism and reduced body dissatisfaction pertaining to media that presented thin ideals.
There is too much potential for the media to tear us apart and away from each other. It can be used for good, and we urge those in control of any type of media to consider its reach. In the meantime, let’s make media literacy programs more common. We need the skills to think critically about the media we’re exposed to, so we can embrace positive messages, and shun the negative.
By: Paige Tangney
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