Media Influences on Prosocial Behaviour

Prosocial influences of media are often overlooked, as it does not engender moral panics. The research found has looked at how media has influences on altruism (helping someone else at the cost of the helper), empathy and the reversal of stereotypes.

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Exposure to Prosocial Behaviour

It is commonly reported that there is a lot of violence shown on television.

~ In one content analysis, 2/3 of the children's programmes sampled contained at least one act of violence (Kunkel et al, 1996)

~ However, there is clear evidence of comparable social content. Greenberg (1980) analysed popular US children's programmes and found equivalent amounts of pro/antisocial acts in any hour.

Self-control (e.g. resistance to temptation)

Mares found that when exposed to a TV model demonstrating self-control, children showed higher levels of self-control in their own behaviour.

~ Freiderich and Stein (1973) found that four year olds after watching 'Mister Rogers' Neighbourhood' for four weeks subsequently showed more task persistence/obedience than those watching a violent programme such as 'Batman'.

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AO2; Are children exposed?

I- An issue with the explanation is that children are not necessarily exposed to prosocial behaviour through television programmes.

E- Woodard conducted a survey and found that 77% of US preschool programmes contained at least one prosocial lesson, however, only 4 out of the top 20 under 17's programmes contained a prosocial lesson.

J- This suggests that not all children are exposed to prosocial influences in TV.

A03; Effects of other media

I- Another issue with the research for media influences on prosocial behaviour is that it only focuses on television as a media source.

E- This is an issue as other media sources such as stories are rich in prosocial content, and children like to read these over and over again.

J- This therefore limits the explanation as it doesn't take into account other factors

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Acquisition of Prosocial Norms

The major claim of SLT (Bandura) is that we learn by observation how to do things and when it is acceptable to do them. We may then imitate these behaviours, and the consequence will determine the likelihood of its repetition.

Unlike the depiction of antisocial acts on TV (e.g. fighting and murder), prosocial acts reflect society's social norms (e.g. helping others). They are most likely to reinforce social norms than contrast with them, and are likely to be rewarded.

Altruism (e.g. sharing, offering help)

Studies of TV effects on altruism focus on explicit modelling of specific behaviours.

Poulos et al (1975) showed that young children who watched an episode of Lassie where a child rescued a dog were more likely to help puppies than those who watched a neutral programme.

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A02; Always possible to acquire?

I- An issue with the explanation is that it is not always possible to acquire prosocial messages.

E- Unless viewing is followed up by discussion, it is often difficult to work out what the prosocial lesson is, and so cannot always be encoded unless it is discussed.

J- However, Rubenstein and Sprafkin (1982) suggest this is not always the case, as in a study of adolescents in a psychiatric ward, follow up discussion led to decreased altruism. This suggests that there is no strong evidence as to how prosocial norms are acquired from media.

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Developmental Factors

Research suggests that many of the skills synonymous with prosocial behaviour (e.g. empathy) develop from childhood and into adolescence (Einsberg, 1990)

Consequently, we may expect a difference in when children are influenced by prosocial media.

This suggests that younger children may be less affected by prosocial portrayals in the media than older children.

Anti-stereotyping (e.g. counter stereotypes of gender)

Johnston and Etterna (1982) conducted a large-scale study involving thousands of 9-12 year olds.

The children watched the TV series 'Freestyle', created to reduce stereotypes once a week for 13 weeks.

Overall there was a positive effect with children becoming less prejudice.

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AO2; Contradictory evidence

I- Although it is believed that younger children would be least affected by prosocial programming, evidence contradicts this.

E- In a meta-analysis by Mares (1996), it was found that the weakest effect was for adolescents and the strongest for primary school children. Effects for pre-school children were intermediate.

J- This suggests that developmental factors are present, however it is uncertain exactly how age affects learning of prosocial behaviours.

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Parental Mediation

Although an increasing number of children are watching television on their own, for many the effect of television is mediated by parents.

Austin (1993) argued that effective mediation involves the parent discussing the programme with the child, explaining any ambiguous material.

Rosenkotter (1999) suggested that with parental mediation, children as young as seven could understand complex messages in sitcoms,

Positive Interaction (e.g. friendly interactions)

In a study by Frederick and Stein, observers watched children at play and counted the number of aggressive/friendly acts. Those who had watched the prosocial programmes behaved more positively towards each other.

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AO2; How to mediate?

I- It is shown parental mediation is only effective in certain circumstances.

E- Valkenburg et al (1999) suggests that parents sitting with the child but not discussing the programme is ineffective. Only when discussion and explanation occurs can there be effective mediation.

J- This shows mediation is successful, as long as it is conducted in a certain way.

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