Mass Media & Socialization
The mass media is considered to be one of many factors that influence the population. Sociologists believe that the media has the power to dictate how we learn about what is going on in the world, as well as how to appropriately interact with one another. Many researchers have started to conduct studies to determine exactly how children interpret media messages and incorporate them into their daily lives and peer groups. One such study examined how Taiwanese children in kindergarten and first grade classrooms incorporated media into their daily routines as they engaged with the central Confucian values of their culture. In addition, other researchers have examined how the mass media affects sense of anticipatory socialization.
Keywords Anticipatory Socialization; Ethnography; Internet; Mass Media; Social Learning; Socialization
The Mass Media
Socialization can be defined as the type of social learning that occurs when a person interacts with other individuals. While some believe that this process is limited to the childhood years, others argue that socialization is a continuous process that stretches over a person's lifetime.
Psychologists, sociologists, and other researchers have studied socialization and social development over the past one hundred years. As a result of their work, practitioners have been able to guide people through the socialization process. Social learning theory has been found to be especially helpful in understanding socialization and the most appropriate ways to guide a person through the process.
The socialization process enables one to develop a sense of self and of how to relate to society at large. This connection is secured via the internalization of the values, beliefs, and norms of one's environment and culture. Socialization plays a major role in identity formation and social functioning. Through it, people learn the behaviors appropriate to their cultures as well as how to interact with other people within their cultures.
People spend substantial time viewing mediated sources. In fact, the average American high school student spends more time watching TV than he or she did sitting in classrooms (Graber 1980). However, until recent years, there was a dearth of research on the influence of the mass media on socialization. As late as 1966, Gerson reported that nearly all of the research that had been conducted on mass media had been only indirectly concerned with socialization. Rather, the majority of studies had concentrated on understanding how "persons with different statuses and in different social structures use the media and…the resulting gratifications and consequences" (Gerson, 1966, p. 41). Thus, these early efforts had focused on how media exposure affects the "interpersonal environment" rather than the individual (Gerson, 1966, p. 40).
At the time of Gerson's (1966) report, researchers were just beginning to propose that the mass media carried out many functions, of which socialization was just one. Perceiving the scarcity of research, Gerson carried out his research on the assumptions that the mass media contributes to socialization
• "by reinforcing existing values and attitudes, and
• by serving as a source of norms and values which offer solutions to personal problems" (1966, p. 41)
Since Gersons' time, sociologists have come to see the mass media as a powerful agent of socialization. It has the power to dictate how we learn about what is going on in the world, as well as how to appropriately interact with one another. It connects people to various social institutions. Furthermore, most of the information people believe is now based on what they see and read in the media, rather than on personal experience.
For example, during election years the media provides full coverage of the debates in addition to presenting expert analysis of these debates. As a result, voters may be more powerfully swayed by what they see and hear in the media than by what they learn about the candidates through attending town hall meetings or reading their campaign literature. The process is similar with other mediated events such as professional sports—commentary and analysis goes hand in hand with the actual event. In summary, one could argue that the media helps shape human interaction.
To date, most research has studied the effects of visual, audio, and print media like television, radio, newspapers, and magazines. However, another medium that has the potential to simultaneously reach and influence many cultures has been added to this list. The Internet has become an incredibly accessible medium that enables individuals to exchange information and opinions via constant visual and audio streams. Still, despite the Internet's popularity, television continues to be a powerful medium, as well. Those who work in the television industry are very skilled at determining what will appeal to the mass market and manipulating messages to encourage consumers to buy into ideas and products. For example, although in previous decades most people got along fine without cell phones, today many youth believe that they are a necessity. Sociologists who adopt Marxist perspectives often cite the mass media as a powerful agent in the maintenance of capitalist societies.
Parents, educators, and sociologists have all argued that uncritical media consumption can be harmful to children (Hadley & Nenga, 2004). Uncritical consumption, these groups say, can "socialize children into an adult culture that consists of sexist and racist stereotypes, sexuality, violence, and commercialism" (Hadley & Nenga, 2004, p. 515). Their research has largely consisted of content analyses and effect studies. Researchers employing content analysis have shown that media content targeting children is often of a violent or sexist nature. Effect studies have found that as children are exposed to greater amounts of media, they become more likely to develop stereotypical beliefs about race and gender roles, be aggressive, and gain adult knowledge about sex.
However, both of these approaches are based on the premise that children only consume media passively, and never actively. Corsaro (1997) explains that "both content analyses and effect studies have focused on the deterministic model of socialization…in which children passively internalize and then re-enact sexist, racist, and violent mass media messages from the adult world" (Hadley & Nenga, 2004, p. 516). In recent years, researchers have challenged this assumption by studying how children interpret media messages and incorporate media into their daily lives. Hadley and Nenga (2004)...
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