Mass Media Influences
It has long been known that the media has a strong influence on the public, and when television and other media presents strong messages on any particular topic, like smoking for example, society is impacted. This paper presents quality references in order to cover important aspects of the media, the issues it promotes, its history, it tactics, and its impacts.
Technological Transitions and Digital Technologies Influence Society
Author Paul Boyer explains that through "mediated communicative processes" individuals help to shape society. In those communicative processes there are to be found "complex interactions of human agency, social institutions," along with the various media-driven communicative processes that are the foundations of society (Boyer, 2012). The media that people use -- including today's Internet, television, print media, and radio -- shape both "national political conversations" and a number of aspects of social relationships (Boyer, 213).
And since the emergence of multiple cable channels on television, and the 24-hour news cycle on CNN and other cable systems, a wide variety of socially relevant information and what some would consider propaganda have proliferated in the United States. Included in the socially relevant messages beamed into homes on television are commercials and public service announcements attempting to change or at least impact certain behaviors that relate to public health issues.
Media Influence on Youth in the U.S. -- Smoking
When it comes to the issue of adolescent smoking, an article in the peer-reviewed Journal of Consumer Affairs, points out that there have been decades of antismoking campaigns presented in the media. Also, even though the federal government (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - HHS) had hoped to reduce the percentage of adolescent smokers to 16% by 2010, the percentage of adolescent smokers in 2010 remained at 20% (Paek, et al., 2011).
That having been reported, an updated statistic, available from the Office of Adolescent Health (HHS), shows that "…nearly one in fifteen high school seniors" (just 7%) was a daily smoker in 2014 (HHS, 2015). That in fact is a substantial reduction from 2010, although the HHS reporting relates to high school seniors not all adolescents per se. The statistic for all high school students (not just seniors), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was 9.2% in 2014. That is well down from the 2010 data, and clearly the antismoking messages through various media are having a positive effect.
Meanwhile this article by Paek, et al., focuses on how adolescents perceive the effects of media on their peers. "Adolescents are known to be particularly susceptible to peer perceptions," and this is true because adolescents are acutely concerned about the impressions they make on others in their peer group (Paek, 124). Moreover, studies show that perceptions often determine the influence peers have over each other more so that peer behaviors do. The model known as "influence of presumed influence" (IPI) holds that people (in this case, youth) perceive "some influence of a communication on others," and resulting from that perception, people can change their own attitudes or behaviors (Paek, 124).
In other words, what an adolescent perceives when it comes to a friend (or a member of a peer group) who is responding to a media message (on smoking, for example), impacts how that first adolescent may change his or her attitude and behavior towards antismoking messages. On page 127 the authors break the IPI concept down into three components, which help a reader to understand how and why it is that an adolescent's perception of how a friend responds to antismoking public service announcements is important.
The first IPI component, "perceived exposure" alludes to the assumption that adolescents make judgments about the exposure of their peers to media messages based on their own exposure to the same public service announcement (Paek, 127). According to researchers Gunther & colleagues (2006), referenced by Paek, adolescent exposure to antismoking...
And the third part of the IPI model shows that even more than adults do, adolescents form, develop, and even alter their attitudes and their behaviors about an issue (smoking) in response to their judgments as to what other adolescents think and believe about the same message from the media, in this case, about smoking.
Is Smoking Viewed as Filthy or Fashionable by Youth?
An article published twelve years ago by the scholarly Health Education Research publication is very different in scope and theme to the previous article published in 2011. The 2003 article discusses how the youth culture is influenced by smoking as it is portrayed in the media. The article's writers conducted focus groups using 117 students, and those participating were asked to rate certain images of smoking from print and audio-visual sources. Notwithstanding that the young people were fully aware of the "harmful health effects" of cigarette smoking, the participants perceived the act of smoking cigarettes in the clips that were presented to be "cool," "normal," and "acceptable" (Watson, et al., 2003).
The upshot of this research is that images in movies and on television of people smoking have "the potential" to minimize the actually health risks associated with smoking cigarettes; the research also showed that a more "tolerant" attitude towards smoking among young people -- based on images in the media -- might counteract the public service announcements urging adolescents not to smoke (Watson, 554).
The authors note that in the early 2000s, the tobacco industry was cozying up to the fashion and movie industries in order to "seek influence," i.e., have an impact on decisions in film and fashion vis-a-vis cigarette smoking (Watson, 554). This was especially true in Australia, the authors report, but one can easily assume the tobacco industry also has (or is working to have) close ties with Hollywood and the fashion industry in the United States.
The authors assume -- and it is conceivable that their assumption is incorrect -- that adolescents are "more likely to learn and imitate behaviors" when their role models behave certain ways; this is especially true if a "role model" (an actor, for example) is linked to a scene or situation in which a "positive outcome" is forthcoming (Watson, 555).
[It should be pointed out that male adolescent role models in 2015 are more likely to be pro-athletes or musical stars than actors, hence, it is out of the question to imagine an NFL players smoking cigarettes or a hip-hop artist doing a commercial for Camels or Marlboro.]
In any event, the authors performed a study of youthful perceptions of smoking on TV, in movies and magazines / newspapers in Western Australia. The upshot of that research is that 78% of the participants (ages 13 to 16) commented on smoking images in the media they were shown "…when unprompted by the facilitator" (Watson, 558). Those participants that responded positively to smokers in media clips were responding because the smokers represented "…success, sociability, coolness, popularity and reward" (Watson, 558).
What most respondents saw as "cool" were "attractive and fashionable people" and those actors who appeared in "exciting movie scenes" (Watson, 560). The reality for some 16-year-olds was that if a female was attractive and relaxed, smoking didn't seem to be doing any damage, so it was cool. But if a male or female seemed stressed out, or was in a bad mood, the smoking was considered not cool. The authors concluded that when films and television make smoking look "normal," those adolescents who are smoking would be apt to continue smoking, and to ignore criticism from health campaigns (Watson, 566).
Quantifying Pro-Smoking Media Effects on College Students
A 2013 article in the Journal of Adolescent Health used 134 college students (ages 18 to 24) as part of a study of pro-smoking media. The students carried "data collection devices" for three weeks, and reported their exposure to media that promoted smoking (Setodji, et al., 2013). The research asked each student to carry a Palm device so that they could indicate their response after each exposure to a pro-smoking media. Did they seem more likely to want to smoke after each prompt? Or did they respond negatively and take a stance against smoking? During the 21-day period, the 128 participants that were left in the survey had an average of 8.60 exposures to pro-smoking media, and they (using the Palm device) averaged making a response within 2 minutes of seeing the pro-smoking media event (Setodji)
Interestingly, when a pro-smoking exposure happened within a day of the preceding exposure, the risk in terms of tempting that person to smoke went up; but the temptation to smoke actually went down a few notches when there were four or more days between exposures.
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