Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
Media psychology emerged as an applied psychological discipline concurrently with the rise in popularity of such talk shows as Donahue on television and radio in the 1970’s. Mental health professionals have contributed their expertise and information to a variety of media, including newspapers, magazines, television, movies, radio, telecommunications, multimedia, and the Internet. Technology advancements have expanded the influence of psychology to more people globally.
Some psychologists serve as media consultants, preparing specific programming or articles about significant issues, such as depression, or topics suddenly newsworthy, such as school violence. Many host or appear on television and radio programs to discuss mental health issues and advise listeners. Other mental health professionals concentrate on media-oriented careers, writing self-help books and screenplays or serving as columnists for national, regional, or local publications. Scholars analyze how the media depict psychological issues, such as mental illness, and influence people’s perceptions of themselves and others.
Mental health professionals are concerned with how psychological issues are portrayed in the media. Beginning in the 1950’s, newspaper advice columnists such as Dear Abby and Ann Landers assumed the role of amateur mental health authorities, and they have been followed by many others. Culturally, people tend to find such...
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Professionalism (Psychology and Mental Health)
The Association for Media Psychology (AMP) was organized in 1982 and issued guidelines to regulate professional conduct. Five years later, the APA established Division 46 to focus on media psychology issues. Media psychology has many facets. Primarily, the field investigates how media influences human behavior. Division 46’s purpose is also to assist mental health professionals and journalists to provide the public with timely, useful, and accessible psychological information that addresses concerns and crises through the mass media.
The division’s Web site (http://www.apa.org/di visions/div46), quarterly newsletter The Amplifier, and listserv provide forums for professionals to discuss their ideas, research, and concerns regarding media representations of psychology. Those electronic resources also provide contacts for media to consult experts. Two professional periodicals, Media Psychology and the on-line Journal of Media Psychology, address issues specific to media psychology.
Division 46’s goal is to communicate essential information about psychology based on members’ experiences in their practices and research. Professionals are urged to use media to educate people about psychology. Collaboration with communication experts is encouraged to enhance the delivery techniques of ideas to audiences. Both psychologists and journalists strive to devise informative, accurate,...
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Ethics (Psychology and Mental Health)
Radio and television psychology have become subdisciplines of psychology. Audiences seek to be entertained and to acquire advice and information. Many mental health professionals support and encourage this form of media psychology but insist that radio and television psychiatrists should strive to be broadcast educators instead of psychotherapists. They can advise listeners but not diagnose them. The AMP developed ethical guidelines relevant to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules for mental health professionals. Prior to a media appearance, professionals should watch or listen to a broadcast to determine what their roles as guests will be and if the show is professionally appropriate and not exploitative and sensationalized. If a professional declines an invitation, he or she should explain to the show’s producers what is ethically problematic. Above all else, media psychologists should retain their integrity and standards.
Because media psychology is constantly evolving and expanding in response to new technology and formats, peer discussion is crucial to maintain ethical standards. Some State Boards of Examiners in Psychology, such as the one in Louisiana, issue opinions that restrict state mental health professionals’ participation in media activities to prevent harming the public. State regulations usually require that media psychology professionals base their comments on accurate psychological resources, do not...
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Psychology Via Media (Psychology and Mental Health)
Media psychologists strive to tell audiences about psychological topics in concise passages without using complicated jargon. Mental health professionals provide essential psychological assistance during times of crisis, such as after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Media psychologists volunteered with the APA/American Red Cross Disaster Response Network. These professionals helped comfort audiences, especially children, counseled survivors, and suggested how to cope with emotional shocks, tragedies, and trauma. Publicity also addressed people’s fear of flying after the hijackings. Media professionals also try to explain the psychological aspects of unbelievable violent actions such as murders and school shootings. Their knowledge can also be used to develop violence intervention and prevention programs for public presentation.
Media used to distribute psychology information range from local to international forums. Information tends to address issues relevant to a broad audience and is often created to be appealing and familiar, such as publicizing the therapeutic role of pets in people’s lives. Print is a popular medium, whether in the form of books, pamphlets, or articles appearing in newspapers, magazines, newsletters, or mass mailings. Media psychologists deliver public lectures and perform demonstrations of methods. Often such presentations are recorded on audio or video tapes or broadcast on radio...
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Experts Versus Amateurs (Psychology and Mental Health)
Talk shows need psychology professionals to legitimize programs. Media psychologists often encounter disrespect for their expertise, especially on shows such as Jerry Springer and Maury, which encourage tabloid techniques such as ambushes, revenge-seeking, hostility, and exhibitionism. Audiences often prefer receiving psychological advice from flashy, entertaining people who lack academic credentials but offer easy answers and quick fixes. The sensationalism inherent in many public talk show forums encourages an adversarial relationship with mental health professionals. Fischoff, who frequently appeared as an authority on major talk shows, exposed their exploitative and damaging nature. Fischoff noted that most shows were manipulated to present a biased message that would attract large audiences and that producers expected invited authorities to approve this spin publicly even if it was contrary to their research and beliefs.
According to Fischoff, most talk show formats impede mental health goals. Invited experts are expected to perform by providing entertaining comments in brief, simple sound bites and to summarize complex situations in short time periods averaging thirty seconds. Usually, they can only make general remarks and are often interrupted by hosts or audience members who want to promote their views. Media psychologists only briefly encounter guests and do not develop a therapist-patient...
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Media Impact and Depictions (Psychology and Mental Health)
Media psychologists research how media impact individuals and society. The role of the media in possibly provoking violence is a controversial topic. Most researchers agree that data analyzed according to accepted methodology reveal that media in the form of television, movies, video games, music, and other modes do not cause people to become violent. Instead, violence is triggered by other factors, mainly environmental, such as peer group pressure. Other media psychologists insist that violence and media are connected and testify to legislative bodies about controlling children’s access to violent forms of entertainment. Many journalists ignore the scientific findings and experts’ testimony that argue against a media link to causing violence and instead emphasize accounts that suggest that media provokes violence. Other research topics include how stereotypes and clichés in media influence cultural attitudes toward groups such as women and foreigners and processes such as aging.
Media psychology is concerned with how mental health professionals are depicted by popular culture. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists have been characters in television programs such as The Bob Newhart Show and Frasier and films including Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Analyze This (1999). Soap operas often have a psychiatrist character, Dr. Marlena Evans on Days of Our Lives,...
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Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Crigler, Ann N., ed. The Psychology of Political Communication. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998. Analyzes how media can be manipulated to alter voters’ psychological perceptions of candidates and issues.
Fischoff, Stuart. “Confessions of a TV Talk Show Shrink.” Psychology Today 28, no. 5 (September/October, 1995): 38-45. A candid account of a media psychology pioneer’s dissatisfaction with his experiences on several major national talk shows and his remarks on how the shows are irresponsible, exploitative, and sensationalized.
Fox, Ronald E. “The Rape of Psychotherapy.” Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 26, no. 2 (April, 1995): 147-155. Former APA president criticizes the press for concentrating on dubious practitioners and inaccurately portraying such mental health issues as false memory syndrome.
Henricks, William H., and William B. Stiles. “Verbal Processes on Psychological Radio Call-in Programs: Comparisons with Other Help-Intended Interactions.” Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 20, no. 5 (October, 1989): 315-321. Through analysis of verbal responses on a variety of programs, compares the verbal behavior of hosts and callers with psychologists and clients participating in cognitive behavioral therapy which poses ethical concerns.
Kirschner, Sam, and Diane Kirschner, eds. Perspectives on...
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Media Psychology (Encyclopedia of Psychology)
Area of psychology that researches the complex ways in which media influence attitudes, behavior, and feelings.
According to reports the average American household has the television on for about seven hours a day. It is also reported that young people are increasingly turning to the Internet as a form of escape and information-gathering. The movie industry spends billions of dollars on new films every year. Advertising currently has more outlets, like television, billborads, magazines, radio, the Internet, and even movies, than it has ever had in history. And while reading is taking a backseat to newer technological forms of media, newspapers are still a primary source for news about the world. On a planet filled with information and entertainment, in a time when our social evolution seems bound to media, it is more important than ever to study its effects.
What does psychology have to do with media?
In academic discussions of mass media, psychology has long provided concepts, techniques, and theories of its function. All media can be described in simple terms, like someone saying a movie was funny or sad, or saying an article was very polished, or describing the Internet as chaotic. But when the theories of a discipline are added to an analysis of something, those theories give the subject matter a...
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