Describe and Evaluate two or more explanations of the pro-social effects of the media (24)
One explanation of the pro-social effects of the media on behaviour comes from Bandura’s Social Learning Theory.
Bandura’s research suggests that children learn through observing a behaviour, then later imitating it if the expectation of
reward is high. For example the child needs to pay attention to a role model for example seeing a super hero, then there
needs to be retention of the information into the LTM, reproduction, so the child imitates the same type of behaviour such
as helping others, and finally the child needs to be motivated to imitate the behaviour such as, being the same gender.
The process of social learning works in the same way for learning pro-social acts as seen on television as it does for
learning anti-social acts (vicarious reinforcement). Unlike the depiction of anti-social acts, however, the depiction of pro-
social acts (such as generosity or helping) is likely to be in accord with established social norms (e.g., the need to be
helpful and generous to others). Assuming that these social norms have been internalised by the viewer, the imitation of
these acts, therefore, is likely to be associated with the expectation of social reinforcement, and so the child is motivated
to repeat these actions in their own life. Furthermore, Bandura would also suggest that the pro-social effects of the
media derives from reciprocal determinism whereby people who watch programmes about helping people will make
friends with people who watch similar TV programmes.
A second explanation of how the media influences pro-social behaviour comes from research into developmental trends.
Pro social behaviours have been shown to be contingent on the development of pro social skills, such as perspective
taking, empathy and a high level or moral reasoning which continue to develop through adolescence, which increase
with age (Eisenberg, 1990). E.g., research has shown that young children are less able to recognise the emotional state
of others and are less sure of how to help. It has also been found that children have difficulty recognising and
understanding pro-social messages, and may be less affected by pro social messages if these portrayals are more
complex than the simple modelling of specific behaviour (Mares, 1996).
One strength of media influences on pro social behaviour comes from further empirical support from Woodward (1999).
In their study they found that US programmes for pre-school children had high levels of pro-social content: 77% of
programmes surveyed contained at least one pro social lesson. This suggests that there is wider academic credibility for
the influence media has on pro-social behaviour. A further strength of LST comes from further empirical support
provided by Mares and Woodward (2001). They found from their research that children are most affected when they are
able to see exact steps for positive behaviour, such as when someone donates tokens. This could be because they can
remember concrete acts better than abstract ones. This suggests that there is wider academic credibility for the idea of
imitating pro-social behaviour. Furthermore, the explanations into the media effects on pro-social behaviour is that there
are practical applications. For example, Johnston et al. Found that learning pro social behaviour was best when there
were follow up discussions. For example, when Johnson showed students a TV programme in a classroom and
accompanied by teacher-led discussions students were more willing to help. This suggests that using SLT of media can
improve the quality of people’s lives who are anti-social. Finally, the research into media effects on pro-social behaviour
is that it has high reliability. The reason for this is because the research is carried out in a laboratory study, where there
is control over the IV and DV and most extraneous variables are reduced. This suggests that if the research was tested
and re-tested then the same results would be achieved.
However, one weakness of the SLT is that because the theory is based in research from the laboratory is it lacks
ecological validity. Huston (1983) argues that some programmes foster only limited types of pro-social behaviour that do
not really apply in real life. For the best effect stories need to depict ordinary everyday kindness and helping and, after
the programme adults in the children’s life need to discuss the programme content with them and role model pro-social
behaviour in the course of play. This suggests that the findings from this research could not be applied to real life
situations. Another weakness of Johnston’s research is that there is contradictory evidence provided by Rubenstein et
al. (1982). They found that in a study of adolescents hospitalised for psychiatric problems, found that post-viewing
discussion led to decreased altruism, possibly because the adolescents wanted to take up a view that was contrary to
that held by adults. Moreover, the effects of media on pro-social behaviour is that it is reductionist. The reason for this is
because other factors need to be involved, for example personality and temperament of the child and parents. This
suggests that the research is oversimplistic when explaining helping behaviour. A final weakness is that the research is
culturally specific. The reason for this because the majority of the research has been carried out in the USA and
therefore the criteria of pro-social behaviour may be different to non-western societies. This suggests that the research
cannot be generalised to the whole population.
Describe and Evaluate research studies into the pro-social effects of the media (24)
One piece of research into the effects of pro-social behaviour comes from Lovelace and Huston (1983) who have
identified three modelling strategies used by researchers for the transmission of pro-social messages: Pro-social only:
Only pro-social behaviours are modelled; Pro-social conflict resolution: Pro-social behaviours are presented alongside
anti-social behaviours; Conflict without resolution: Problems are presented that suggest pro-social solutions.
Research studies into pro-social behaviour comes from Sprafkin et al. (1979) found a correlation between viewing
habits and behaviour. Children who watched more pro-social programmes were rated as more pro-social at school.
Baron (1979) showed a group of children an episode of ‘The Waltons’ that featured a prominent storyline about helping
others. Compared to a control group, those who had watched the programme were more likely to help others when
given the opportunity to do so. Forge and Phemister (1987) found that nursery-age children exposed to pro-social
programmes such as ‘Sesame Street’ were more likely than a comparison group to behave in altruistic and pro-social
Research into pro-social conflict resolution comes from Paulson (1974) investigated the effects of modelling pro-social
alongside anti-social behaviour. This was part of a Sesame Street programme designed to teach co-operation.
Findings of this study, which took place over a six month period, indicate that children who saw the programmes
recognised co-operation when they saw it and subsequently scored higher on measures of co-operation compared to
children who had not seen the programmes. Stein and Friedrich (1972) showed groups of children either aggressive,
neutral or pro-social TV programmes over a period of 4 weeks. The pro-social groups later showed higher levels of
helpfulness, co-operation and affection.
Hearold (1986) carried out a meta-analysis of 230 studies of the effects of TV and found the effects of pro-social
behaviour is consistent among experimental conditions and for boys and girls. Mares looked at four different
categories from her studies: positive interaction: this included friendly interactions. Those children who viewed positive
interactions with others, compared to those who viewed neutral or anti-social content; altruism: sharing, donating and
offering help comforting. Children who viewed explicitly modelled altruistic behaviours tended to behave more
altruistically than those who viewed neutral or anti-social content; self-control: ability to work independently and
persistence on task. Children who viewed models exercising self-control tended to show more self control in their
behaviour, compared to those who had modelled anti-social behaviour.
One strength of Mares’ meta analysis is that there is high ecological validity. The reason for this is because he used
real TV shows rather than especially made up ones, which are generally used in the laboratory. This suggests that
Mare’s research can be applied to real life situations.
However, One weakness of the research studies into media influences on pro-social behaviour comes from
contradictory evidence from Comstock (1989). He found that many of the studies found a strong positive effect
because the programmes were specifically designed to be pro-social. This suggests that there is refuting evidence
from some of the studies into pro-social behaviour. Another weakness into the research studies is that they have low
ecological validity. The reason for this is because the most of these studies is that they measured short term effects
rather than enduring long term effects. E.g., Friedrich and Stein found that the positive effects of exposure to pro-
social TV tapered after two weeks. This suggests that the research cannot be applied to all situations. A further
weakness of the research studies into media on pro social behaviour is that is has low population validity. The reason
for this is because in the Friedrich and Stein study the effects were stronger for children from lower socio-economic
backgrounds compared to children from higher socio-economic backgrounds. This suggests that the research cannot
be applied universally. A fourth weakness comes from contradictory evidence from Pingree (1978). They found that
stereotyping was reduced when children were shown commercials with women in non-traditional roles. Pre-
adolescent boys however, displayed a counter reaction, showing stronger stereotypes after exposure to the non-
traditional models. This suggests that there is refuting evidence for the influence of anti-stereotyping.
In contrast, research studies into anti social behaviour reject that the media can create pro-social behaviour and
instead favours the idea that it causes aggressive behaviour. Research from…
Describe and Evaluate two or more explanations of the anti-social effects of the media (24)
One explanation of the effects of media on anti-social behaviour comes from the social learning theory. Bandura found
that if children observe the actions of media models and may later imitate these behaviours, especially when the child
admires and identifies with the model. TV may also inform viewers of the positive and negative consequences of
negative behaviour. Children can be expected to imitate violent behaviour that is successful in gaining the model’s
objectives. The more real that children perceive violent scenes to be and the more they believe that characters are like
them, the more likely they will be to try out the behaviour they have learned. SLT leads us to consider the various ways
in which children might be exposed to aggressive models. TV has been examined as a powerful source of imitative
learning. Huesmann suggested that children may use television models as a source of ‘scripts’ that act as a guide for
their own behaviour. For example, if they see a movie hero beat up the bad guys that get in his way, this may become a
script for any situation in which it might be deemed appropriate. These scripts are stored in memory, and are
strengthened and elaborated through rehearsal. The relationship between observation of aggression in the media and
subsequent aggressive behaviour is a complex one. It appears to be influenced by several variables including: If the
observed violence is thought to be real behaviour compared to if it was considered fictional or fantasy violence; If viewers
identify with the aggressor in some way, they are subsequently more aggressive than if they do not identify with the
aggressive model. Heroes are therefore more powerful models than villains and Observing unsuccessful aggression, in
which the aggressor is punished tends to inhibit aggressive behaviour in the observer.
A second explanation of the effects of media on anti social behaviour comes from the desensitization model. This
argument assumes that, under normal conditions, anxiety about violence inhibits its use. Media violence, may however,
stimulate aggressive behaviour by desensitizing children to the effects of violence. The more televised violence a child
watches, the more acceptable aggressive behaviour becomes for that child. Frequent viewing of television violence may
cause children to be less anxious about the violence. Therefore, those who become desensitized to violence may
perceive it as ‘normal’ and be more likely to engage in violence themselves.
A third explanation comes from lowered physiological arousal. In a related aspect of desensitization, boys who are
heavy television watchers show lower than normal physiological arousal in the response to violent scenes. The arousal
from viewing violence is unpleasant at first, but children who constantly watch violent TV become used to it, and their
emotional and physiological arousal declines. As a result they do not respond to violent behaviour and are less inhibited
to use it.
A final explanation comes from cognitive priming. Aggressive ideas shown in the media can spark off other aggressive
thoughts in shared memory pathways (Berkowitz, 1984). After viewing a violent film the viewer is ‘primed’ to respond
aggressively because the memory network involving aggression is activated. Huesmann (1982) also proposed that
children may learn problem-solving scripts through observation and that aggressive scripts may be learned through
observation of violent scenes. If the children find themselves in a similar situation in real life they may recall aspects of
the violent script as a solution.
One strength of observational learning is that there is further empirical support provided by Bandura’s Bobo doll
research. Bandura divided 66 nursery school children into three groups. All three groups watched a film where an adult
model kicked and punched the Bobo doll. There were three different conditions: Condition1: Children saw the adult
model being rewarded by a second adult. Condition 2: Children saw a second adult telling off the adult model for the
aggressive behaviour. Condition 3: The adult model was neither rewarded or punished. The children were then allowed
to play in the room with the Bobo doll whilst experimenters watched through a one-way mirror. They found that in
condition 1: Children behaved the most aggressively and in condition 2: Children behave least aggressively. However, a
distinction needs to be made between learning and performance. All the children learnt how to behave aggressively, but
those in condition two did not perform as many aggressive acts until later, when they were offered rewards to do so.
When this happened, they quickly showed that they had learned as many aggressive acts as the children in condition 1.
This suggests that there is wider academic credibility for the idea of aggressive behaviour being caused by SLT. A
strength of the research into cognitivie priming is that there is further empirical support provided by Josephson (1987).
He got junior ice-hockey players who were deliberately frustrated and then shown a violent or non-violent film where an
actor held a walkie-talkie. In a subsequent hockey game, the boys behaved more aggressively if they had seen the
violent film and the referee in their game was holding a walkie-talkie, which acted as a cue. This suggest that there is
further empirical support for the idea of aggression being sparked off by media influences.
However, One weakness of observational learning is that there is contradictory evidence by Cumberbatch (2001). He
claimed that such imitation that Bandura found is rare. For example, he two boys who murdered Jamie Bulger were said
to be inspired by the video Child’s Play, however, no such link has ever been found. This suggests that there is refuting
evidence of the observational learning theory. A weakness of the desensitization model is that there is contradictory
evidence by Cumberbatch (2001) who argues that people might get ‘used’ to screen violence but this does not mean
they will also get used to violence in the real world. Screen violence is more likely to make children ‘frightened’ and
‘frightening’. In contrast to the desensitization model, watching violence may lead to increased (rather than decreased)
arousal and thus more aggression. The excitation transfer model suggests that arousal creates a readiness to aggress if
there are appropriate circumstances (Zillmann, 1988). Furthermore, soem people believe that watching violence has
beneficial, cathartic effects – releasing pent up aggression. This suggests that there is refuting evidence for the
desensitization model. Another weakness of the effects of media on anti-social behaviour is that it is reductionist. The
reason for this is because other factors need to be involved, for example personality and temperament of the child and
parents. This suggests that the research oversimplistic when explaining helping behaviour. Another weakness of
research into media and aggression is that there is more contradictory evidence by Belson (1978). He interviewed 1500
adolescent boys, and found that those who watched least TV when they were younger were least aggressive in
adolescence but boys who watched most TV were less aggressive (by about 50%) than boys who watched moderate
amounts. This suggests that there is refuting evidence between the link between watching TV and aggression. Another
weakness is ethnocentric. Most of the research was carried out on the US/UK. Eron (1986) carried out research into
children who lived in Finland, Israel, Poland and Australia. The first three countries had higher levels of aggression,
however, the levels of aggression were not found in Australia. This suggests that the research cannot be applied
Describe and Evaluate research studies into the anti-social effects of the media (24)
Berkowitz (1969) Aim: to show that violent films can lead to violent behaviour in already-aroused pps. Sample: university
students. Design: lab experiment with 2 independent measures.; Method: pps divided into 2 groups. Half given 1 electric
shock, half given 7 shocks by a confederate (IV1=non-angry/angry). Groups then subdivided. Half watched a violent film,
half watched an exciting non-violent film (IV2 = violent/non-violent film). Pps then given the opportunity to give shocks to
the confederate (DV=number of shocks given). Result: angered pps that watched violent film gave significantly more
shocks than other three groups. Conclusion: violent film cued aggression in pps already predisposed to act
One strength of Berkowitz’s research is that it has high reliability. The reason for this is because there was full control
over the IV (Electric shock or not or angry and non angry condition) and the DV (number of shocks given) and any
extraneous variables. This suggests that if this investigation was tested and re-tested then the same results would be
achieved. However, one weakness of the study is that it lacked ecological validity. Watching TV at home is a voluntary
activity, yet when the child is in a behavioural laboratory they are compelled to watched the TV. More importantly,
watching TV in a lab and watching TV at home will result in two different responses. Thus, the results cannot be
generalised to the real world. Another weakness of the research carried out in the lab is that it has low internal validity.
The laboratory study may provide clues as to how participants are expected to behave. Compliance is also likely since
the researcher is likely to appear an influential authority figure, and the participants are more likely to present themselves
in a psychologically healthy light (Rosenberg, 1969). This suggests that the results achieved by Berkowitz may not be
due to the IV but instead my be due to demand characteristics.
Parke et al (1977) Aim: to show increased aggression as a result of exposure to violent TV programmes. Sample: young
offenders living in different cottages in an institution.; Design: field experiment with independent measures. Method:
normal TV service was discontinued. Pps in one cottage saw only programmes with violent content (e.g. ‘Batman’, ‘The
Untouchables’). Pps in other cottage saw only non-violent programmes (IV=violent/non-violent programming). Institution
staff observed and recorded behaviour of the pps (DV=observer ratings of aggression).; Result: an increase in
aggression was observed in the ‘violent programmes’ group. Conclusion: exposure to violent programmes led to
increased aggression levels.
A strength of Parke’s research is that it has high internal validity. Since the participants are often unaware of taking part
in a field study. Therefore, compliance is less likely since the researcher is less likely to appear as an influential authority
figure, and the participants are less likely to present themselves in a psychologically healthy light (Rosenberg, 1969).
This suggests that the participants are not responding to demand characteristics, but the influence of the IV (Violent/non-
violent programme). However, one weakness of Parke’s research is that it has Low population validity. The reason for
this is because he only used a small sample of people and more importantly the sample were young offenders, who may
be moe aggressive than the general public. This suggests that the results gained from Parke’s research cannot be
applied universally. A final weakness comes from contradictory evidence from Wood et al. (1991). He found conflicting
results. In 16 studies participants acted more aggressively after watching a violent film, but in 5 studies there was no
difference between the control and experimental conditions. This suggests that there is refuting evidence for Parke’s
Charlton et al (1999) Aim: to assess the impact of TV introduction on a remote community. Sample: 859 School-age
children on St.Helena, a small island in the Atlantic. Design: natural experiment with repeated measures. Method:
Children’s behaviour was assessed before and after the introduction of TV for the first time (IV=before/after TV).
Aggression was measured thru’ peer and teacher ratings. Results: There was no increase in aggression following the
introduction of TV. Contributed by Aidan Sammons Conclusion: TV violence did not affect children’s behaviour.
One strength of Charlton’s research is that it has high levels of ecological validity. The reason for this is because the
research was carried out in a real life situation and not an artificial laboratory setting. This suggests that the results
gained can be applied to real life situations. However, one weakness of the results is that there are issues with Cause &
effect. Does violent TV make people more aggressive, or do aggressive people watch more violent TV? Affected by third
variables e.g. more TV may be watched in low-income households; low TV viewing may be associated e.g. with strong
religious beliefs. A further weakness of the research is that it has low Population validity. It involved one-off situations
that are not typical and therefore difficult to generalise from. The St Helena study involves an isolated, close-knit
community where anti-social behaviour is difficult because ‘everyone knows an watches you’. In a different situation, the
introduction of television may have had a different effect. Finally, all of the research is reductionist. The reason being is
that they often fail to consider a range of variables such as age, gender, class and ethnicity. When these variables are
taken into account, they usually have a stronger relationship to aggressive behaviour than viewing habits (Newburn &
Hagell, 1995). This suggests that all the research is oversimplistic when looking at the media effects on anti social
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