Archive for September, 2009

Kif Richmann

Topics of Mass Communication

Tues, Thurs, 4:30-5:45


The Informed Citizen: As American as Cowboy Boots 

The importance of an informed public is one of the longest standing debates in a democratic society.  Virtually as old as democracy itself; the thought that an informed public is the backbone of a strong democracy has been volleyed back and forth among scholars, philosophers and the general citizenry alike. 

In the first chapter of What Americans Know about Politics and Why it Matters, Michael X. Delli Carpini and Scott Keeter outline the basic philosophical elements leading up to the great democratic experiment known as the United States of America.  Many thinkers came into play in the build up to the U.S., going all the way back to the great Greek philosophers such as Aristotle, Socrates and Plato, each of which had a unique perspective on democracy.  Plato, for instance, felt that a hierarchy was inevitable in society and “a system in which citizens found their proper niche,” (Carpini and Ketter, p. 26) was necessary. This hierarchy would naturally lead the best and wisest to ruling status, and leave the uneducated masses out of the political realm; a realm which Plato felt belonged to only the ones qualified to rule. “Rule of the best” is what this is commonly called, also known as an Oligarchy. Aristotle, however, “concluded that the ultimate political authority rested with the general citizenry” (Carpini and Keeter, p. 26)  In other words, Aristotle had a stronger faith in the ability of farmers, shepherds, potters, and so forth, (as well as electricians, truck drivers, and IT workers, if he lived today) to make wise governmental decisions than Plato. Aristotle argued for “rule of the many”, or a democracy. This is just two of the many philosophical foundations leading up to democratic America.

What lies at the heart of both Plato and Aristotle’s argument is the issue of an informed citizenry.  Aristotle, arguing that the masses (the many) would make better governmental decisions, would most likely argue that the citizenry is and should be well informed. Plato would say that the citizenry would not go to the length to be informed, and if they tried, they would lack the cognitive capacity to fully understand the issues.  The basic foundation for the differences in arguments is the disagreement on the general citizenry. 

Eventually, Aristotle’s argument won; at least where the U.S. is concerned.  Although America as a culture is relatively young, (233 years compared to a couple thousand in Europe, and even more in Africa, Asia and the Middle East) we still boast one of the most revolutionary, and imitated system in the world.  Many countries have voluntarily implemented an American style Democratic Republic, including France, Japan, and Mexico.  This I feel shows the legitimacy of an informed public as a central factor to maintaining a strong democracy. Few countries still have an oligarchy, where only land owners or elite classes can vote. (Some might argue that the U.S. still practices an oligarchy, because there are a few citizens, such as convicted felons, who can’t vote.)  

But what hard evidence is there that the American society is informed?  Does the fact that most people know who Barak Obama is confirm the theory of an informed public? 

From the studies I’ve found, most of the arguments that say the general citizenry is uninformed is basing their argument on the citizenry’s lack of general knowledge in the petty details of the governmental process.  If people don’t know who the Secretary of Agriculture is, it won’t hurt society.  Arguing that if people don’t know exactly how many electoral votes go to Texas means the citizenry is ignorant, is not only ignorant in itself, but out of touch with common society.  Most people have too much on their plate to worry about the minor intricacies and workings of government, which is why we elect people as representatives.  This does not mean we are uninformed, it means we are too busy to listen to every town hall, state and legislative meeting.  I would argue that if we tried to have absolute knowledge about every little detail, American society would shut down.  We wouldn’t go to work or school becasue we would be too busy trying to obtain absolute enlightenment; then American society would suffer.  The issues that people should be informed about are the issues that they are informed about.   “Who represents my concerns the best?”, is far more important than minor governmental trivia.


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Cultivation Theory observes viewers as time goes on, to see how much viewing time has affected their reactions to certain subjects. The more time you spend watching television the greater chance you have of creating confusion between what is real and fake. Government is affected by cultivation when it comes to elections. The more television viewers watch certain news broadcasts that may support one candidate more than the other the greater chance they have at altering their views to vote for that candidate. Television news networks are reliable ate giving facts and detail on who is running but may embellish the truth to give a candidate a step up from the other. Signorielle stated in his article that heavy television viewers in contrast to light viewers tend to consider themselves moderate, but seem to become conservative. Liberal views decrease the most among heavy viewers. 

            Along with political influence television a tremendous amount of violence. In a poll created by CNN/USA Today/ Gallop in 1999 displayed the following views on violence in the media. 65% responded saying the Federal Government needs to do more to regulate violence on the internet, 12% said the government should do less to regulate it, and 17% thought the government was doing the right amount of regulation. In the same poll violence in music, movies, and television was also questioned. The response to music was 48% agreed more regulations needed to be created. As for movies and television less than a third, 31% blamed them for a lot of the teenage crimes committed, while 34% thought that only some of the teenage crime rates came from movies and television shows. The poll broke down the categories and asked 1,014 adults if more, less, or about the same should be done to regulate internet, music, television, and movies. The response for internet was; 65% more, 12% less, 17% same; Television- 56% more, 15% less, 28% same; Video games- 58% more, 15% les, 22% same; Movies- 49% more, 15% less, 34% same; Music- 48% more, 17% less, 31% same. Internet got the greatest demand for more regulations. This perhaps could have to do with the never ending conflicts with online predators, the growth of internet chat spaces, and the greater amount of usage by children. Video games fall next to internet with only a 13% difference. Once again video games continue to create more enhancements which continue to intrigue teenagers. The violence displayed in video games has become very realistic to the point where cultivation has begun to take over.

            The 1999 Columbine school shooting in Colorado was traced back to a video game the two hit men always played. During an investigation police found a video tape that had one of the killers with a sawed off shot gun calling himself “Arlene,” a character from the video game Doom. Doom  is a very violent game were shooting, blood, and massacring are very graphic. With one of the hit men claiming to be “Arlene,” people began to connect the game the events that had just occurred at Columbine high school. A law suit was filed blaming Doom for giving Eric Harrison and Dylan Klebold the ammunition to shoot down the school. There were also two other video games involved, “Quake,” and “Redneck Rampage,” along with also blaming the internet because the boys had frequently visited two different websites who displayed sexual and violent material. Looking at the cultivation theory could the boys have been so absorbed in the fantasy world of Doom that their real lives became a blur? With extensive viewing of violence Harrison and Klebold may have begun to think that the world was a very violent place and decided to take action against it. Violence overcame their lives and they took it to the extent of killing people. Others argue that common sense would tell you video games are not real and you should not reenact them, but could the media world that strong of a hold on you to alter your understanding?

Mean world syndrome is implication that all of the violence viewed in movies, television, and video games creates an understanding that the world is a very violent place. George Gerbner believed that heavy viewers of television began to get the impression that violence was corrupting the world. The viewers became very afraid that they might become victims. Did the mean world syndrome occur in the minds of Eric Harrison and Dylan Klebold?

Sex has become cultivated in the media world. Every day we are bombarded with commercials, television series, and magazines who explicitly talk about sex. Protected sex is never displayed in the commercials, television series, or magazines making the viewers feel it is not needed. Unprotected sex can lead to pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other complications. Without displaying the message of safe sex and only seeing sex as a fun thing to do viewers may begin to confuse real life with media life.  

Cultivation theory explains the need to limit your television and media viewing hours. Overexposing yourself may over time harm you. Television is a very influential media source. Many channels are bias and may alter your views. Video games may reveal a very violent aspect of society. Violence and sex are continually displayed in the media not always giving you the necessary information to teach you right from wrong. The power of the media will always have a force on all of us, understanding the television world and the real world are the viewers job.

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Cultivation theory is a theory founded by George Gerbner that explains whether or not the audience of a television program will be affected by watching it. Ways that the audience could be affected by television viewing are by becoming more violent, more sad, or happier after viewing. Television is the use of the study for cultivation because people tend to watch more television than listen to radio or read media sources. Also, television is used for the study because it is the most accessible and many people get the same perspective from a program that they are viewing rather than listening to radio or reading a news article. Most analysis’ deal with the immediate reaction of viewers after they complete watching a television program; cultivation theory is based on a long term basis that sets it apart from other theories according to Signorielli. “Cultivation implies that some viewers may develop new conceptions of social reality though viewing for others may result in the maintenance of existing conceptions of social reality” (1).
Cultivation does not only deal with the specific type of television genre viewers that are watching but it also deals with the amount of television people watch in a given day. There are a few different types of viewing habits. Viewers can either be classified as heavy television viewers, average viewers, or light viewers. Each one of the different categories is based on the amount of television that is watched per day by an individual. Two major theories have also been created from cultivation theory: mainstreaming and resonance. Signorielli explains mainstreaming as: “heavy viewing that may override differences in perspectives and behavior that typically result from numerous factors and influences” (1). Resonance is a term that suggests that people who have similar experiences as what they see on television will have more of an affect after viewing because the experience resonates with their previous experiences. One of Signorielli’s main arguments is that the amount of television one watches directly helps shape their answers to certain questions regarding class and politics. Signorielli writes, “Although television viewing tends to bring the views of conservatives, moderates, and liberals closer together, the liberal position diminishes most among heavy viewers” (3). It is clear from studies by Gerbner and other theorists that cultivation does happen but an argument against cultivation theory may be found in the limited effects theory.
Limited effects theory stems off of the War or the Worlds scandal on the radio. Orson Wells’ program is one main reason that theorists believe in the limited effects theory because not everyone who listened to that show had the same outcome or effect. In my opinion limited effects is a stronger theory to explain television viewing and its effects because not everyone, light or heavy viewer, will have the same outlook after watching something on television. Cultivation suggests that heavy viewers are more likely to be violent than light viewers and Signorielli suggests that political ties people have can be based off of the amount of television that is viewed. If this were the case I feel that many more college students would be more conservative in their political views according to Signorielli’s argument that heavy viewers are more conservative. In this situation I feel that viewing television strictly has limited effects on its viewers.
One way that cultivation could affect viewers is the amount of news that has come out about the swine flu or H1N1 virus strain. People who continue to watch the non-stop news channels may be affected by the amount of news about swine flu and may be more nervous about the situation because the news covers it non-stop. In a Gallup poll survey done in the spring of 2009 showed that one in three people out of 1,007 responses said that they or someone they know will pick up swine flu. That is roughly 330 people in this poll that believe they will have swine flu. A USA Today article explains the results and states that people have misperceptions of swine flu and how many people are actually susceptible to the flu. The other 600 people in this survey believe that it is unlikely that they or their family members will get sick. I believe that the people that think they will get the H1N1 virus look at the media and watch the television news a lot. The television news is based on money and ratings and if they have a good statistic that will tune people in and possibly scare them they will announce it at nauseam. This in-turn could produce more scared viewers through cultivation that believe they will catch the disease because of the odds of statistics. Cultivation theory fits into this scenario but limited effects theory is a more reliable theory for this poll. It clearly shows that 61% of people believe they will not get sick at all as well as their family members. The majority seem unaffected by the media when it comes to swine flu and that is what limited effects theory is based on.

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Steph Seidel
Mass Media and Public Opinion
Social Comparison Reaction Paper
The social comparison theory was developed by Leo Festinger in 1954, and supposes that human beings are innately driven to evaluate their opinions, abilities and overall self-worth. In order to evaluate themselves, individuals look towards other people they can identify with, and make comparisons between themselves and others. Festinger hypothesized that the need for social comparison increases the pressures towards group uniformity. People are also driven to improve themselves and their abilities, and this causes people to compare themselves with individuals they consider to be more capable or in some way superior to themselves. It has been traditionally thought that upward comparisons may result in low self esteem and that downward comparisons may increase feelings of self worth, but research has shown that both types of comparisons may disenchanting or inspiring. Upward comparisons may result in increased desire to succeed and improve one’s situation, while downward comparisons may lower the expectations of the individual and decrease their motivation to continue to grow.
Wood, Choi and Gauncher also discussed how individuals choose who they compare themselves to, and the most effective and meaningful comparisons result when individuals choose others who share similar attributes under the same dimension. For example, if an individual is comparing their cooking abilities to others, it would be most effective to compare themselves to someone who cooks the same types of food and has been cooking the same amount of time, rather than comparing themselves to a chef in a five star restaurant or to someone who has never cooked before. There are obviously many dimensions at which an individual can compare themselves to others, but it is more common for people to identify with others of the same sex, even if the dimension of comparison is not related to gender.
The social comparison theory is important in our society because people are constantly comparing themselves to others on many different dimensions, and these comparisons are powerful in shaping an individual’s identity, motivation to improve themselves, self-esteem and overall satisfaction with their life.
I think the social comparison is quite common, and that individuals compare various dimensions of themselves with others everyday. A prime example of the social comparison theory at work is the social situation at many high schools. During these formative and self conscious years, adolescents look towards other students they admire as a model for their looks and behavior. In my high school, there was plethora of thin girls with bleached blonde hair who tanned to the point of excess, and would only wear clothes from Abercrombie and Fitch or Hollister. This was the signature look of a girl considered attractive and worthwhile, and an important comparison dimension for many girls. The societal pressures to wear certain clothes and look a certain way did indeed increase the group uniformity at Eagan High School, which is one of Festinger’s hypotheses about the social comparison theory.
Another place the social comparison theory is quite apparent is in the popular Facebook application that allows you to rate your friends as most attractive, most successful , and most fun to go shopping with, along with many other comparison dimensions. This application is another way for people to see how they are viewed by their peers, and could have damaging effects on the self esteem of those who aren’t rated as the best in a particular category.
The poll I found that demonstrated the social comparison theory was conducted by Bianca Price of the University of South Africa. Through her research, she found that businesses who hire extremely attractive women may actually decrease their sales, because women ages 18-26 are less likely to purchase a product if they believe that the female staff member is more attractive than they are, even if the product in question has nothing to do with appearance. After polling women ages 18-26 on purchasing intention when presented with an unattractive staff member or an attractive staff member, Price found the majority of women are more likely to make purchases when they consider themselves to be more attractive than the female staff member. This is due to the social comparison theory, and the fact that women are biologically competitive. When women compare themselves with someone they believe is socially superior, they may often have reduced self esteem and feelings of inadequacy, and may find the other woman to be a threat. According to Price, these feelings can result in avoidance behaviors, and the retail world that means women won’t be purchasing, thus lowering profits for the retailer. In order to be successful retailers need to diversify their staff, as to not alienate less attractive customers.

“Match-Up Revisited: The Effect of Staff Attractiveness on Purchase Intentions in Younger Adult Females: Social Comparative and Product Relevance Effects,” Journal of International Business and Economics, Bianca E. Price and Duncan W. Murray, vol. 9, no. 2, 2009, pp. 55-76.

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Alyssa Mattero
Mass Media and Public Opinion
Sept. 10th, 2009

Reaction Paper #1

I read two articles called, “Policymakers an the Third Person Effect” and “Broad Reach or Biased Source.” The first article explained Third Person Effect and the second article discussed Hostile Media Effects. Both of these concepts are important because they help people understand the relationship between the mass media, the public and public policy.
From my understanding, the Third Person Effect is the tendency for someone to believe that the mass media influences others more than him or herself. Some people think that commercials, newspapers, advertisements and such have no effect on the way they think about products, people or events. They believe they are the exception to the deceitful and bias ways of the mass media. But the Third Person Effect explains that by thinking you are an exception to the influence of the mass media, the media takes an alternate effect on you. It may be subconscious or subtle but through your actions, words or future thoughts, that media has influenced you in some way.
The Hostile Media Effect happens when a partisan views information from the mass media and sees it as favorable to the opposing side. For example, if a Democrat read an article, he or she is likely to believe that the article is favorable to the Republican party in some way. Despite the occurrence of this phenomenon, the mass media being criticized isn’t necessarily biased. For example, if a conservative and a liberal both read the same article from the New York Times they are both likely to believe that it was biased in a way favoring to each other. This phenomenon has been proven to be some sort of psychological bias in the reader or viewer that is most likely unfounded. The article described a study in which opposing partisans both read the same article written by a journalist and each side thought that it was written in favor of the other side. Then they read an essay by college student and neither side had any problem with the content. This shows that these judgments are premeditated and they arise simply because the content is coming from the mass media which holds a mass audience. This shows that many people have the idea that the mass media is biased and therefore, they criticize its content. The college student’s essay had a much smaller audience than the journalist’s and this fact may have contributed to the Hostile Media Effects presented.
I believe that the Third Person Effect exists but I also believe that those who demonstrate this effect often have a just reason. For example, as a journalism student I have taken many classes that analyze and interpret the mass media and advertisements over and over again. Because of this, I feel that I interpret the media a little differently than the average person. Therefore, some of the content may influence me in a different way than others. Sometimes the influence may be much less than others and sometimes it may be about equal. By believing this, I myself, am demonstrating the Third Person Effect. This is the conflict I find with this concept. Since I am a journalism student I am trained to look at the media critically and ask questions. I supposed to look for bias and unfairness. Therefore, I believe that I have good reason to be less effected by some of the content in the mass media than others. Although, after learning about this concept thoroughly I agree that I am still manipulated by all media content in some way. In general, I think that everyone, including myself, is influence by the mass media more that we think.
According to a poll on http://pollingreport.com, CNN and the Opinion Research Corporation surveyed adults nationwide about abortion. It said, “”The 1973 Roe versus Wade decision established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Would you like to see the Supreme Court completely overturn its Roe versus Wade decision, or not?” (CNN.com) Assuming this poll was published on CNN.com or covered on a CNN television show, this poll can relate to Hostile Media Effect. According to the Hostile Media Effect, if this poll were shown on CNN television to a Democrat and to a Republican, they would both agree that the poll was biased towards the other party. Their reasons could consist of word choice, word placement or bias in results. Despite their reasons or their accuracy, the hostility they display towards the mass media outlet, in this case, CNN, demonstrates this effect.
Overall, both of these articles are very interesting and informative. From these readings I learned about the media’s influence on people and how consumers’ reactions can influence public opinion and public policy. Both concepts are complex and require a lot of time and research. The information in these articles is very helpful to me as a journalism student and I hope that these concepts linger in my mind as I venture out into the real world.


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Brendan Ferguson
Reading Reaction Paper #1

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann states that the spiral of silence theory is predicated on the individuals’ surroundings and going against the mass majority can make an individual be afraid to speak out against it. The best way to study public opinion in regards to the spiral of silence theory is to look at the theory in two different categories: mass media and interpersonal communication. Ferdinand Tonnies best describes the spiral of silence theory as: “Public opinion always claims to be authoritative . It demands consent or at least compels silence, or abstention from the contradiction” (147). Mass media can very easily make someone feel that their contradictions to a major issue are not welcomed and thus be afraid to speak out. The vast amount of mass media that an individual deals with every day feeds largely the same information on issues and politics. Noelle-Nuemann states that most media is consonant and that even though there are different sources of news through the mass media, most of the news is very similar and makes most people form the same opinion on an issue.
Noelle-Nuemann’s second major category of the “spiral of silence theory” is based on an individual, interpersonal, level of communication. She states, “individuals tend to have a virtually innate fear of social isolation. To be alone, apart from, or at odds with a crowd is more than most individuals can indure” (148). In most situations individuals are left articulating their arguments to friends or the public and the spiral of silence makes someone who is uncomfortable with stating a controversial opinion share what they really think. The fear of social isolation is something that everyone is worried about, not only with the spiral of silence theory but also social situations as well. No one wants to be disliked and stating the opinion that is the norm can make people feel more comfortable.
The spiral of silence theory is more applicable in a political system that is of totalitarian rule because the government has control of what they want the media to cover. A good example of the spiral of silence theory was in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. People were too nervous and scared to speak out against what was happening in the country and this led most into silence for fear of being harmed by the government. The spiral of silence theory is prevalent in the United States as well because of public opinion polls and differing political opinions but not as prevalent. My main thought is that the basis of spiral of silence in this country is due to the fact that people do not like to be left out of the social circle. Spiral of silence is solely based on people not wanting to be alienated from their peers. In my opinion, people do not readily speak out against issues when in a public setting because they are afraid that they will no longer be accepted with their social setting. The media does show a form of alienation when they set agendas and frame their stories. But I think that public opinion in social settings brings out more silence from individuals because no one wants to be alienated from the group.
An example of a poll dealing with the spiral of silence is one found in the New York Times from June 11, 2009. The poll is based upon the allegiances of fans for the two New York baseball teams. The poll found that more people in New York are fans of the Yankees over the Mets. 34 percent of New York cheers for the Yankees while 25 percent of New York are Mets fans. The other 41 percent of the New York City are either undecided or cheer for both teams. Spiral of silence theory can come into effect in this example because the people that state that they have an allegiance for both teams may not say that they cheer for both teams when put into a situation where they are surrounded by one teams’ fans. It may be true that many fans of baseball enjoy both the Mets and Yankees but if you put them in a social situation there is a good chance that they will lean whatever way the rest of the group is leaning instead of stating that they root for both teams in fear of alienation from one group of fans. Even though this poll is only about baseball allegiances, it does have an impact on the spiral of silence because sports are one of the United States’ biggest areas of debate. It shows that people can have allegiances towards teams but also fear being unaccepted by their fellow fans.

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