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Explanations of Media Influences on Pro-social Behaviour
Pro-social behaviour can be learnt through Social Learning Theory, which suggests that we
learn via vicarious reinforcement- observing the actions of others and their consequences
then either imitating or avoiding the same actions. Pro-social behaviours are more likely to
involve existing social norms, such as helping others, thereby enforcing them. The rewards
are also more likely, as they are more obvious, suggesting that SLT is more effective in
pro-social behaviour rather than anti-social.
Mares and Woodard considered studies of pro-social behaviour and found that children
were more likely to repeat pro-social behaviour when they were specifically shown steps for
it, and that they were better at remembering concrete acts rather than abstract ones. This
research suggests that SLT can explain learning pro-social behaviour through vicarious
learning, but especially when rewards are more obvious. If pro-social behaviour is shown in
the media, it is likely that children will learn from this vicariously, so pro-social media can have
a positive affect on behaviour.
Developmental factors also affect how effectively pro-social behaviour is learnt. Skills such
as empathy, moral reasoning and perspective taking develop naturally throughout childhood,
so the influences of pro-social content in the media, such as on TV, should differ between
different age groups. Younger children are less affected as they have not naturally reached
the stage of development where they can understand.
Mares conducted a meta-analysis and found that pro-social media influences had the
weakest effect on secondary school children, as they have already formed their own
opinion, and the strongest effect in primary school children. This research suggests that
developmental factors affect how much media is affected by SLT. However, other factors
such as home experiences may play a role in this too- if the messages on TV or other media
contrast with the messages the child had received from their parents, the media may not
have as great an affect.
Parental mediation also influences the effectiveness of SLT. It is suggested that parental
mediation enhances the effect when parents discuss programmes with their children to
promote understanding of the actions and the reasons behind them. A pro-social behaviour
(such as returning a wallet) differs from an underlying pro-social norm (such as honesty), and
parental mediation is needed for children to understand the norm.
Johnstone and Ettema found that children could form counter-stereotypical views, but
effects were greater when accompanied by an adult discussion after the programme. This
research suggests that SLT is effective, but more effective for pro-social norms when
accompanied by parental mediation. The role of pro-social media can only go so far in terms
of affecting the behaviour of children- real-life adult influence is also needed.
However, it is not only television media that can affect behaviour. More recently, media such
as facebook has become more commonly used and may also have unresearched effects on
both pro-social and anti-social behaviour. Individual differences also affect how effective SLT
is, as everybody learns differently. In addition, pro-social behaviour is imitated directly and is
less generalised, whereas anti-social behaviour and violence are generally imitated. This
suggests that it is specific pro-social behaviour that are learnt, not necessarily social norms.