Notebook, 1991-95


College of Communication Arts & Sciences (Michigan State University) - "The interdepartmental Mass Media Ph.D. Program is offered jointly by the Department of Advertising, the School of Journalism, and the Department of Telecommunication. The program prepares students to become active scholars, teachers and/or leaders in the communication industry. -- Media and Information at Michigan State University - "A member of the iSchools Consortium, the department offers an environment of engaged learning and scholarship in which we design, explore and study the next frontiers of media and information technology, content and applications." -- A View of Art Criticism

Communication / Social Impact


Mass Communication Trends. The following is from: Bomberger, Russell B. Assistant Prof. of English, US Naval Post Graduate School, Monterey, CA. "Mass Communications Trends." In Concern, a service of the General Board of Christian Social Concerns of the Methodist Church. Vol. 4, No. 8 April 15, 1962. Donald Kuhn, ed.

Communication Functions
Recent studies indicate these functions of mass communication:

Effects upon individuals. Psychological studies indicate that the individual sees in mass media what he wants to see, rearranging the information to suit his own mental and emotional sets. There is little evidence of long-term, sustained attitude-change wrought by mass media. There is more evidence of short term actions [such as product purchases] taken on the basis of media persuasion. The preponderance of evidence favors this belief: that the greatest psychological influence of mass communication is in triggering actions already contemplated by consumers of mass media.

Effects upon groups. The general result of studies of relationships between mass media and social groups is a belief that the groups act as mediators of communication, providing a frame of reference for the interpretation of information. Reference group members tend to be influenced much more by group leaders and group opinions than by the media of communications.

Effects upon societies. The present general consensus is that propaganda campaigns in the masss media have been overrated in effectiveness. The effect of the media upon public opinion seems to be one of "canalizing" existing opinions, rather than changing or revising such trends. In public controversies, the media can call attention to issues, provide relevant information, and call attention to alternative courses of action, but beyond this function of conducting surveillance of the existing environment, the media do not seem to be nearly so influential as they once were said to be.

In summary, research trends in mass communication indicate that the mass media serve two important functions in our society: 1] as agents of their user, they conduct constant surveillance of the environment, selecting data for reporting on the basis of their information concerning the needs of their users, acting as gatekeepers of information, canalizing opinions; and 2] as "reflectors" of society, they call attention to issues and alternatives, reinforce existing attitudes, and generally serve as standardizing and stabilizing agencies.

Three areas of trends in mass communication have been discussed here. Perhaps the most important trend concerning individuals is the increased desire on the parts of all agencies concerned with media content to gain knowledge of the desires of influential opinion leaders of reference groups, so that these desires may be more adequately reflected in the mass media of communication. Further development of the process of mass communication seems to depend upon adequate expression of the public will.

[Bomberger, Russell B. Assistant Prof. of English, US Naval Post Graduate School, Monterey, CA. "Mass Communications Trends." In Concern, a service of the General Board of Christian Social Concerns of the Methodist Church. Vol. 4, No. 8 April 15, 1962. Donald Kuhn, ed.]


The following is from Coon, Dennis. "
Conditioning and Learning" in Introduction to Psychology, Exploration and Application. St. Paul: West Publishing Company, 1989.

"TV observation can cause loss of sensitivity to human predicament -- disinherit, or lower inhibitions against hostile feelings, as well as serve as a model for positive and negative behaviors . . . . "


The following is from Caruso, Denise. "Digital Commerce, Linking Entertainment to Violence." In The New York Times [online], April 26, 1999.

By producing increasingly violent media, the entertainment industry has for decades engaged in a lucrative dance with the devil.

Over the years, parents and consumer groups have continued to sound alarms about the effects that violent films, television and ever-more-realistic video games are having on their children and society at large. The response -- from what may be the most influential industry in the world -- has consistently been a kind of indignant shock that anyone would think a silly old movie or game could have a measurable effect on anyone.

"Kids can tell the difference between fantasy and reality," these executives have repeatedly asserted. "Why can't you?"

But a growing body of evidence suggests it is the producers who may be having a hard time telling the difference between their apologist fantasy and grim reality.

The evidence, say those who study violence in culture, is unassailable: Hundreds of studies in recent decades have revealed a direct correlation between exposure to media violence -- now including video games -- and increased aggression.

This is not because people cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy, but because ultra-violent media systematically employ the psychological techniques of desensitization, conditioning and vicarious learning.

Dave Grossman, a former Army officer and professor at West Point and the University of Arkansas, says these are the same techniques that were used to great effect during the Vietnam War to increase the "firing rate" -- that is, the percentage of soldiers who would actually fire a weapon during an encounter -- from the 15 to 20 percent range in World War II to as much as 95 percent in Vietnam.

Grossman has written "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society" (Little, Brown, 1995), in which he discusses how conditioning techniques were used to teach Vietnam-bound soldiers to kill automatically in battle encounters, yet respect authority and make split-second distinctions between friends and enemies.

The difference, he says, is that today these same techniques are not tempered by such respect or distinctions. What is worse, he adds, they teach us to associate violence with pleasure.

America's adolescents spend countless hours watching action or horror movies -- the exquisitely detailed suffering and killing of human beings -- on television and in movie theaters, places we associate with entertainment, pleasure, favorite foods and the intimacy of dating.

And interactive video games, Grossman asserts, are even more directly connected to behavior. Addictive, increasingly hyperreal in their effects and long since shed of the goofy monsters that were targets in the old days, contemporary video games often are what he calls "operant conditioning firing ranges with pop-up targets and immediate feedback, just like those used to train soldiers in modern armies."

As a result, Grossman wrote: "We are reaching that stage of desensitization at which the inflicting of pain and suffering has become a source of entertainment; vicarious pleasure rather than revulsion. We are learning to kill, and we are learning to like it."

The two boys apparently responsible for the massacre in Littleton, Colo., last week were, among many other things, accomplished players of the ultraviolent video game Doom. And Michael Carneal, the 14-year-old boy who opened fire on a prayer group in a Paducah, Ky., school foyer in 1997, was also known to be a video-game expert.

Michael Carneal had never fired a pistol before stealing the gun he used that day. But in the ensuing melee, he fired eight shots, hit eight people, and killed three of them.

The average law enforcement officer in the United States, at a distance of seven yards, hits fewer than one in five shots, Grossman asserted in a interview in the current issue of Adbusters magazine.

"When Michael Carneal was shooting, he fired one shot at each kid," Grossman said. "He simply fired one shot at everything that popped up on his screen."

Grossman's sentiments are echoed by Joel Federman, co-director of the Center for Communication and Social Policy at the University of California at Santa Barbara. In his former job as the research director of Mediascope, a nonprofit policy organization that promotes media responsibility, he published an annotated bibliography called "The Social Effects of Interactive Electronic Games."

Although he says that only seven or eight studies specifically focused on aggression in interactive games, the majority of them showed that aggressive games increased the likelihood of aggression just as certainly as violent television did. "In games," he said in an interview, "aggressive behavior is not only seen as appropriate, but you're rewarded for doing it well."

Federman drew a parallel between producers of violent media and the tobacco industry, which denied causality in the face of irrefutable evidence of a direct correlation between smoking and cancer. A study proving that TV or video games cause violence would mean that at least one study participant would be inspired to commit murder -- clearly an untenable ethical situation for the entertainment industry.

"Same as the tobacco industry, the evidence is there," Federman said. "These effects do exist, and everyone from the American Psychological Association to the Surgeon General has acknowledged them. But since not every kid experiences the extreme effects, people can continue to deny them."

What, then, to do? The industry's attempts at self-policing were never intended to stem the creation or distribution of ultraviolent games; in fact, despite their superficial intent to protect, every producer knows the best way to guarantee a best seller is to give a movie or video game a "restricted" rating.

Nor is censorship seen as a solution.

"There's a very legitimate First Amendment concern," Federman said. "And because of freedom of speech, because there's a value that we don't want to compromise, then it really comes down to the people creating these games. That's where the responsibility lies."

[Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company]

Related Sites:

"The Multiple Dimensions of Video Game Effects" - (Child Development Perspectives / Iowa State University)

Adbusters - Culture Jammer Headquarters



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