It all started in graduate school. My myths were busted my first term at Cornell when my professors destroyed our stereotypes of mass media influences.
Like my classmates, I was convinced that images on television and cinema became branded in our psyches, and that media were mightily persuasive. As is turns out, sometimes media matter, sometimes they don’t.
At Cornell I studied media effects, specifically how communication (both media and conversation) affected judgments of risk and health.
We discovered that peoples’ beliefs about some issues are cemented, while other beliefs seem to be more flexible and thus subject to influence. One thing was clear: folks think that other people are much more susceptible to influences than they are personally, whether the influence is about risky behaviors or advertisements.
So I made a promise to examine one day how the construction of messages impacts our judgments. To accomplish this, you need to be able to trace the creation of an issue that forges beliefs and then trace its impact on opinion.
Most studies investigate only one side of the equation: how messages are constructed on the one hand, or studies that examine peoples’ beliefs, on the other hand. Rarely do researchers attempt both.
It’s tricky to track how beliefs are formed from mass media except in a laboratory setting, which scientists acknowledge is too artificial. But when you examine opinion outside the lab, how do you know that mass media and not something else is the influencing agent?
I’ve been studying how a recent controversy in the Pacific Northwest affects public sentiment about American Indians, so I’m about to embark on a promise to study both messages and their effects.
I’ll keep you posted.