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Often, the media may help us to learn how we may regulate our emotions, especially today with both a more explicit focus on emotions in graphically rich media environments e. As Buck asserted, the media may play a significant role in acquiring emotional competence. If true, this is especially important as research has demonstrated that people higher in emotional intelligence are more capable of learning from emotional setbacks and bounce back more quickly from negative events Salovey et al.

Thus, media may serve as a learning experience Steen and Owens Entertainment media in particular offer an opportunity to safely engage in emotionally loaded situations — both positive and negative — which might well make us better, or at least think we are better, at coping with the real thing cf. How people acquire emotional competence and emotion regulation skills from media is largely underexplored. A counter intuitive idea in current theorizing on emotion regulation is the idea that emotion regulation can happen automatically.

Usually, we think of emotions as being automatic and regulation to be a conscious effort, but research has demonstrated that emotion regulation can be primed Mauss, Cook, and Gross An experiment that lent further support to this idea was an individual difference study. Participants that implicitly had a positive association with regulation became less angry when provoked, and they exhibited a more adaptive challenge response Maus et al.

This is also significant for media use, because it means that regulation can unconsciously be influenced with people just taking their emotion regulation cues from their media environment. Although ego depletion is about self-regulation, which is not emotion regulation, the two concepts have some overlap. Baumeister et al. Therefore, ego depletion may also play a role in emotion regulation related to media, which has already been shown in case of impulse buying Vohs and Faber , yet may also apply to other areas.


As said, emotion regulation generally pushes us away from negative emotions and toward positive emotions. Interestingly, research into positive emotions more or less matched the increased attention for emotion regulation. The urge for human beings to feel good i. Traditional psychology — as well as many studies in mass media — mainly focused on negative emotions such as anger, sadness, and fear rather than on positive emotions, such as happiness, delight, and love Fredrickson Among various reasons, a significant one is that psychology has largely focused on solving problems and positive emotions are rarely a problem.

Furthermore, Fredrickson and Branigan argue that it was hard for psychologists to figure out what has been the purpose or function of positive emotions. Negative emotions could be understood as they focused the mind on something usually some obstacle to be removed. Positive emotions, on the other hand, seem to do no such thing, which is not too surprising since positive emotions are largely there to tell us that nothing is thwarting our goals note that emotions are seen as motivating goal-driven behavior. Instead they seem to imply the opposite; namely, that goals have been achieved, perhaps even earlier than expected, or there are rewards to gain.

As said, positive emotions were largely relegated to the sidelines until recently.

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However, circumstances have changed. Positive psychology is the study of optimal human functioning. Likewise, Fredrickson came up with a new interpretation of positive emotions, suggesting that since positive emotions seem to be provoked by the opposite of what provokes negative emotions, perhaps they also do the opposite. Where negative emotions narrow attention down to one specific problem, positive emotions might instead broaden our attention to take in more of the world around us Fredrickson People have demonstrated greater creative thinking, better trouble solving abilities, more thoroughness in decision making, and improved critical thinking for review see Isen The question remained, however, what might positive emotions be good for?

And what is their evolutionary basis? Fredrickson reasoned that positive emotions may serve to let us build up reserves — or a buffer — for when times become rough. This should work in three ways. First, it allows people to build up the physical resources they might need in times of strain.

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Second, positive emotions might allow us to cultivate the social connections to give us the necessary help when times turn bad. And third, it might actually help us mentally, with research having demonstrated that more resilient people use positive emotions to bounce back from negative experiences e. Many people may use media to rebound from negative emotions more quickly, as well as help them build up a buffer to guard them when stress once again rises. As such, we may enrich our theorizing on media enjoyment — we do not just enjoy media for leisure and being entertained as such, but rather we are engaged in serious efforts to restore our resources cf.

Nabi et al. Yet, how can we restore our resources while confronting ourselves with the suffering of others?

Text Messaging-Based Interventions for Smoking Cessation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Social comparison theory Suls and Wheeler suggests that the suffering of others might actually make us feel good in comparison, since it makes our own lives appear better. Van Dijk et al. However, whether they subsequently restored their resources is not yet known. The idea that positive emotions help people to think more globally, retain more general information, and engage more actively with their environment provokes some interesting ideas about how to effectively spread certain messages.

This finding compares to an older study: Isen et al. Therefore, the mood we were in when we stored information is stored together with the information and is thus more accessible when we are in a similar affective state. This suggests that media would do well to not just focus on what they are trying to tell, but also on what emotions they evoke while spreading a message.

This theory is named Terror Management Theory. Terror Management Theory TMT supposes that a large amount of human behavior is provoked by a paradox that each of us has to deal with every day for a review, see Pyszczynski et al. This paradox is the conflict between our love of life and our certainty that we will die. Pyszczynski et al. The way we manage this terror is by trying to become immortal, be it physically, spiritually or metaphorically.

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Or — more concretely — by living longer and having children; by following religious observations and cultural practices; or by leaving behind something that lives on in our stead, such as our work or our ideas. In this way our desire for immortality helps create modern society.

TMT has really come into its own since the start of the war on terror. For example, it caused a violent rejection and reaction toward out-groups, provoked shopping sprees, increased community cohesion and caused a huge upsurge in nationalism. Wal-Mart reportedly sold , flags on the day, while selling only 6, on that day a year earlier, which is almost a twenty-fold increase Huntington Ever since, many based their studies on TMT, also within a media context.

For example, TMT has been applied to consumer behavior showing that people become more materialistic when death-related thoughts are triggered by ads or commercials Arndt et al. Other TMT-related research has demonstrated that people primed with mortality reject abstract art that they feel has no meaning Landau et al.

It should be noted, however, that most studies thus far have used a priming paradigm and implicit association tests in experiments — thus we can only speculate about the long-term effects of media primes on mortality issues and TMT. Not all research agrees with the theory and people have suggested alternatives — such as coalition psychology, which tries to explain the same phenomenon as TMT, but from a more evolutionarily sound footing Kirkpatrick and Navarrete How then do we process media messages?

For a long time we could only guess at what was happening in the brain from the outside by studying behavior or after the fact by way of autopsy. One notable discovery has been that we do not have one pathway that processes information from the outside world, but two LeDoux The amygdala is part of the limbic system and is involved in the processing of emotions including fear and pleasure.

Interestingly, how the amygdala learns to recognize dangers resembles classical conditioning Pavlov While classical conditioning and stimulus—response models established that certain S—R effects occurred, the black box remained closed. Neuro-imaging research is able to open that box and show how certain effects occur, as well as how such connections are established in the brain LeDoux The main advantage of having a second pathway seems to be one of speed.

Mass Media Effects Research: Advances Through Meta-Analysis

The lower pathway is markedly faster than the higher pathway, allowing us to react before we have cognitively fully processed the information Damasio ; LeDoux , ; Panksepp ; Rolls This might offer real evolutionary advantages, as it means that we can react to a threat before we are consciously aware of it — a primitive knee-jerk response, if you will — to conditioned and evolutionarily determined dangers. Another use for the lower pathway is that it can prime the amygdala to possible dangers, without immediately directing awareness toward the potential threat.

In this way, the amygdala is alarmed, but we are not necessarily distracted from the task at hand. When a real threat suddenly shows up, then the amygdala can interrupt our current activity to focus our attention onto it when needed for a review, see LeDoux and Phelps So why bother with the higher pathway?

Quite simply, the lower path response is not enough on its own. Furthermore, though the amygdala triggers an immediate response, it is not the whole response.

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Instead, the higher path kicks in, moderating our behavior and guiding us down rehearsed or automatized danger-avoidance paths. In this way, the fear response can largely be controlled when necessary, for instance when we realize the snake has twigs and leaves. Thus, the higher path can help us to interrupt or unlearn fear reactions. All animals can unlearn fear responses through repeated exposure to the stimuli without the paired pain or danger event not to say that this is easy, but rather it is possible through the higher pathway.

Media Unit: Media Theories

Primates can also use the higher path, which allows them to unlearn a fear response by mentally controlling it. So, why not through repeated exposure to media fare, both learning and unlearning? Although media violence studies have met some resistance among several media and communications scholars, the idea that what happens with fear responses might also be possible with aggression as a learned response from media violence recently received increased attention.

With the popularity of video games, often with a violent nature, media violence research received a new impetus.