Media Influence on prosocial behaviour

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  • Created by: caitlin
  • Created on: 01-06-14 17:29

Factors that affect the influence of the media on

Parental Mediation

Research by Rice (1990) found that the pro-social messages broadcast by Sesame Street had greater influence if a child watched the programme with a parent, and then talked about it afterwards. Rosenkoetter said this is because the child won’t necessarily understand the pro-social message if the parent doesn’t explain it.

Developmental factors

Age has a big effect on how much influence the media has on pro-social behaviour. Eisenberg said we learn the skills needed to carry out pro-social behaviour throughout childhood and adolescence, however older children develop these skills to a greater extent, so older children might be more affected by pro-social portrayals than younger children.

However, Mares (1996) found that the media has a greater effect on younger children than adolescents, this could be because adolescents already have set ideas about topics that the television talks about, so the pro-social messages might not change these set ideas and beliefs.

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What sort of pro-social behaviour does the media t

Mares (1996) carried out a meta-analysis of a wide variety of research looking into the pro-social effects of the media and found television can teach pro-social behaviour in 4 ways; positive interaction, altruism, self-control, and anti-stereotyping.

Positive interaction
Frederick and Stein found that children who had watched a pro-social programme behaviour more positively towards each other than those who had watched a neutral programme, suggesting that pro-social television can increase positive interactions amongst children.

Altruism is the act of doing something good for the sake of it, not necessarily for a reward. Poulos et al. found that children who watched a television programme where a child rescues a dog were more likely to help a distressed dog than those who watched a neutral or anti-social programme. This suggests that television can increase altruism.

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What sort of pro-social behaviour does the media t

Self control 

Friedrich and Stein found that, after watching Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood for 4 weeks, 4 year olds showed a better level of persistence and resistance to temptation than those who watched aggressive cartoons such as Batman.


Johnston and Ettema conducted a study with several thousand 9-12 year olds who were asked to watch Freestyle, a show which aims to reduce gender-role stereotyping, over a 13 week period. There were moderate improvements in anti-stereotyping, with most children making less stereotypes about gender roles.

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Pro-social versus anti-social effects of televisio

It is clear that pro-social television can have a positive effect, increasing pro-social behaviour and reducing anti-social behaviour. However, this research assumes that children watch only pro-social television, but of course this isn’t true. At the very minimum there is the same level of anti-social television broadcast, if not more. Many psychologists believe that this means that overall any pro-social behaviour learnt will be nullified by the anti-social behaviour learnt from other programmes.

However, Lovelace and Huston (1983) suggest that this can be overcome if the anti-social acts are set against the pro-social goals in the same programme. For example, if the evil character acts anti-socially, but eventually loses to the good, pro-social character then children are going to learn pro-social behaviour more than anti-social.

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Media influences on anti-social behaviour

Anti-social behaviour is any behaviour that is detrimental to society; the media can influence people in negative ways, causing ant-social behaviour. Huesmann and Moise identified 5 ways in which the media could lead to aggression in children. 

1. Cognitive Priming
This is explanation says that children take the violence they see on the television, and are primed with that response to a certain situation; this is known as a ‘script’. This means that when they are faced with a similar situation to that they saw on TV they will respond in a similar, violent way.

In normal situations we are innately anxious about violence. However, if a child watches a lot of violent television they can become used to it, and it isn’t as shocking, this is known as desensitisation. So, after watching a lot of violent television we can become less sensitive to violence, and it becomes normal to act violently. Cumberbatch disagrees with the idea of desensitisation. He said that television violence is more likely to lead to children being scared of violence rather than desensitised to it.

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Media influences on anti-social behaviour cont

3. Lowered physiological arousal
 Huesmann and Moise believe that there is a physiological reason for this sensitisation. As children watch more violent television their bodies are less and less stimulated with lower physiological arousal. This means they are less aroused by violence, which can explain why they become desensitised to it. However, some psychologists argue that watching violence actually leads increased physiological arousal. But similarly to the theory about lowered arousal, this change still leads to higher aggression as violence is closely linked to high arousal.

4. Observational learning
Children learn by imitating those around them and the things they see. Children can imitate what they see on television, and if this is anti-social behaviour then they could soon learn negative behaviour. Bandura’s research supports this view. (Bobo Doll) 

Violent behaviour on television may provide a justification for a child’s own violent behaviour. A child might think that their violent behaviour isn’t right, but when they see it happening on television they change their mind, and suddenly it’s acceptable. This means the child won’t stop acting violently or anti-socially because the television is telling them it is fine.

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Pro-social versus anti-social effects of televisio

The first thing to identify when studying the positive effects of television, is how frequently is pro-social behaviour shown. Greenberg (1980) found an equal amount of pro-social behaviour to anti-social behaviour. This shows that pro-social behaviour is commonly shown on children’s television, so children are exposed to it.

 Most psychologists agree that the most valid explanation of how children acquire pro-social behaviour is Bandura’s ‘social learning theory’. This theory says that children learn through watching things around them, and then copying that behaviour. So a child could watch pro-social behaviour on television and then copy this in real life. This theory could also work in conjunction with the theory of operant condition. This theory suggests that we learn through reward and punishment, so if a child watches a pro-social behaviour on the television and sees that the character is rewarded then operant conditioning would reinforce the learning of pro-social behaviour.

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