Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Social psychology: Altruism · Attribution · Attitudes · Conformity · Discrimination · Groups · Interpersonal relations · Obedience · Prejudice · Norms · Perception · Index · Outline

The social aspects of television are the influences media has had on society since its inception. The belief that this impact has been dramatic has been largely unchallenged in media theory since its inception. However, there is much dispute as to what those effects are, how serious the ramifications are and if these effects are more or less evolutionary with human communication.

Positive effects[]

Although much of the discussion around television's impact on society has been negative, media theorist Joshua Meyrowitz argues that the medium has less of a stranglehold pushing its viewers and more of a handhold, guiding its views to areas and subjects to which they were previously denied access.

Gender and television[]

The walls between male and female are eroded as television allows each gender a glimpse into the other’s doings. While women, who were “traditionally more isolated than men” were given equal opportunity to consume shows about more “manly” endeavors, men’s feminine sides are tapped by the emotionally invocative nature of many television programs.[1]

Television played a significant role in the feminist movement. Although most of the women portrayed on television conformed to stereotypes, television also showed the lives of men as well as news and current affairs. These "other lives" portrayed on television left many women unsatisfied with their current socialisation. This opened up a lot of discussions and arguments about the roles of women in a society that they now knew about in greater depth.

The representation of males and females on the television screen has been a subject of much discussion since the television became commercially available in the late 1930s. In 1964 Betty Friedan claimed that “television has represented the American Woman as a “stupid, unattractive, insecure little household drudge who spends her martyred mindless, boring days dreaming of love—and plotting nasty revenge against her husband.” Television, it is true, suggested to women how society thought they should behave. As women started to revolt and protest to become equals in society in the 1960s and 1970s, their portrayal on the television was an issue that they addressed. As the television became a bigger and more significant part of everyday life the television networks portrayed women in a certain light. Journalist Susan Faludi suggested, “The practices and programming of network television in the 1980s were an attempt to get back to those earlier stereotypes of women.” It is possible that females were represented in this way because that was their perceived role in society. Through television, even the most homebound women can experinece parts of our culture once considered primarily male- sports, war, business, medicine, law and politics.

This is not to say that men were not represented in a stereotypical way also. Although the traits that most male characters on television embodied were, courage, stoicism and rationality, all which were valued by society. Television has helped men to become more aware of their feelings and the fact that emotions cannot be completely buried. The inherent intimacy of television makes it one of the few public arenas in our society where men routinely wear makeup and are judged as much on their personal appearance and their "style" as on their "accomplishments."

From 1930 to 2007 daytime television hasn’t changed much. Soap operas and talk shows still dominate the daytime time slot. Prime time television since the 1950s has been aimed at and catered towards males. In 1952, 68% of characters in primetime dramas were male; in 1973, 74% of characters in these shows were male. In 1970 the National Organization for Women (NOW) took action. They formed a task force to study and change the “derogatory stereotypes of women on television.” In 1972 they challenged the licences of two network-owned stations on the basis of their sexist programming. In the 1960s the shows I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched insinuated that the only way that a women could escape her duties was to use magic. Industry analysis Shari Anne Brill of Carat USA states, “For years, when men were behind the camera, women were really ditsy. Now you have female leads playing superheroes, or super business women” Current network broadcasting features a range of female portrayals.

Socialising children[]

Before the occurring of the television, printing was considered as the main channel to access the information and knowledge. The way of people in those days in reaching the information is limited in many ways. Children were once controlled by adults through means of literacy. The literacy level of books would often correspond with the "appropriate" topics for children. Topics unsuitable for children would be written for a higher level of literacy and when most children would try to read these books they would be beyond their literary capabilities. [2]

With television, the literacy level required to understand is substantially lower as well as it being difficult to monitor a child's use of the device and anticipate the content that will be delivered through it. However, much research and development is being dedicated to regain control, monitor and restrict children's consumption of television.[3]

Often, television can show children what adults may not want them to know. A key example of this is in the television show Father Knows Best where children are let in on perhaps the biggest secret: that adults keep secrets from them.[4]

Politics and television[]

Politics have changed substantially since the inception of television both to the politicians advantage and detriment. Politicians have been able to reach people on a much more personal level at a much greater scale. However, intense and constant exposure to political leaders has demystified them in society’s collective mind, making them less legendary or mythical and more human.

Negative effects[]

More negative interpretations of television’s social effects exist as well. As television became the increasingly dominant form of mass communication, critics complained of how poorly the medium lived up to its promise of serving the public interest, most notably in Newton N. Minow's 1961 speech describing the "vast wasteland" that was television programming of the day. Television was characterized as the "boob tube", a mindless occupation and time filler.[5]

Since its invention, television has been accused of testing the limits of propriety in society. This is in contrast to author Milton Shulman’s example of television in the 1960s, where “TV cartoons showed cows without udders and not even a pause was pregnant,” and on-air vulgarity was much more frowned upon. Shulman writes that even by the 1970s, television was shaping the ideas of propriety and appropriateness in the countries the medium blanketed. He asserts that, as a particularly “pervasive and ubiquitous” medium, the TV can create a comfortable familiarity with and acceptance of language and behavior once deemed socially unacceptable. Television, as well as influencing its viewers, evokes an imitative response from other competing media as they struggle to keep pace and retain viewer- or readership. [6]

Complaints about the social influence of television can also be heard from the justice system as investigators and prosecutors alike decry what they refer to as “the CSI Syndrome.” They complain that, because of the popularity and considerable viewership of CSI and its spinoffs, juries today expect to be “dazzled,” and will acquit criminals of charges unless presented with impressive physical evidence, even when motive, testimony, and lack of alibi are presented by the prosecution.[7]

Psychological negative effect[]

The basal ganglia portion of the brain becomes very active when a person plays video games and watches TV. And the body releases a chemical called dopamine. Ritalin (and cocaine) also works on the basal ganglia of the brain and increase dopamine. More dopamine is released; the less neurotransmitter is available to do anything else.[8] For that reason persons with illnesses related to dopamine unbalance like ADHD should limit the time spent on watching TV to a half-hour a day.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Technology trends[]

In its infancy, television was an ephemeral medium. Fans of regular shows planned their schedules so that they could be available to watch their shows at their time of broadcast. The term appointment television was coined by marketers to describe this kind of attachment.

The viewership's dependence on schedule lessened with the invention of programmable video recorders, such as the Videocassette recorder and the Digital video recorder. Consumers could watch programs on their own schedule once they were broadcast and recorded. Television service providers also offer video on demand, a set of programs which could be watched at any time.

Both mobile phone networks and the Internet are capable of carrying video streams. There is already a fair amount of Internet TV available, either live or as downloadable programs, and video sharing websites have become greatly popular.

The Japanese manufacturer Scalar has developed a very small TV-system attached to the eyeglasses, called "Teleglass T3-F".[9]

Suitability for audience[]

Almost since the medium's inception there have been charges that some programming is, in one way or another, inappropriate, offensive or indecent. Critics such as Jean Kilborne have claimed that television, as well as other mass media images, harm the self image of young girls. Other commentators such as Sut Jhally make the case that television advertisers in the U.S. deliberately try to equate happiness with the purchasing of products, despite studies which show that happiness for most people comes from non-material realms, such as warm friendships and feelings of connection to one's community.[10] George Gerbner has presented evidence that the frequent portrayals of crime, especially minority crime, has led to the Mean World Syndrome, the view among frequent viewers of television that crime rates are much higher than the actual data would indicate. In addition, a lot of television has been charged with presenting propaganda, political or otherwise, and being pitched at a low intellectual level.

Alleged dangers[]

The neutrality of this section is disputed.

Paralleling television's growing primacy in family life and society, an increasingly vocal chorus of legislators, scientists and parents are raising objections to the uncritical acceptance of the medium. For example, the Swedish government imposed a total ban on advertising to children under twelve in 1991 (see advertising). Fifty years of research on the impact of television on children's emotional and social development demonstrate that there are clear connections between watching violence on television and engaging in aggressive or violent behavior.[11] In a recent study published in the journal Media Psychology, the research team demonstrated that the brain activation patterns of children viewing violence show that children are aroused by the violence (increased heart rates), demonstrate fear (activation of the amygdala—the fight or flight sensor in the brain) in response to the video violence, and store the observed violence in an area of the brain (the posterior cingulate) that is reserved for long-term memory of traumatic events.[12] I.e. the brain response is structurally similar to that which it would have toward the event occurring in-person.

A 2002 article in Scientific American suggested that compulsive television watching, television addiction, was no different from any other addiction, a finding backed up by reports of withdrawal symptoms among families forced by circumstance to cease watching.[13] A longitudinal study in New Zealand involving 1000 people (from childhood to 26 years of age) demonstrated that "television viewing in childhood and adolescence is associated with poor educational achievement by 12 years of age". In other words, the more the child watched television, the less likely he or she was to finish school and enroll in a university.[14] A study published in the Journal of Sexuality Research and Social Policy concluded that parental television involvement was associated with greater body satisfaction among adolescent girls, less sexual experience amongst both male and female adolescents, and that parental television involvement may influence self-esteem and body image, in part by increasing parent-child closeness.[15] Numerous studies have been done on the relationship between TV viewing and school grades.[16]

One of the reasons people campaign against TV is because of the activities people are not doing during the time that they watch it. Many campaigners believe that using up 3.5 hours a day on TV (UK and American average) is not worthwhile. While only 3% of American minors own personal TV's, it is estimated that the daily viewing average among 12–17 yr olds exceeds 4 hours.

According to a study published in Nature magazine, [17] the basal ganglia portion of the brain becomes very active when a person plays video games and watches TV. And the body releases a chemical called dopamine. Ritalin (and cocaine) also work on the basal ganglia of the brain and increase dopamine. “The problem is that the more dopamine is released, the less neurotransmitter is available to do schoolwork, chores, homework and so on."[18]

Propaganda delivery[]

Audiovisual media, including television, is the second most effective means of communication available to the psychological operator. Effectiveness is based on seeing and hearing the persuasive message. These media are an excellent means of transmitting persuasive messages and eliciting a high degree of recall.[19]

Propaganda can exist on news, current affairs or talk show segments, as advertising or public-service announce "spots" or as long-running advertorials.

Educational advantages[]

Despite this research, many media scholars today dismiss such studies as flawed. For one example of this school of thought, see David Gauntlett's article "Ten Things Wrong With the Media 'Effects' Model." Dimitri Christakis cites studies in which those who watched "Sesame Street" and other educational programs as preschoolers had higher grades, were reading more books, placed more value on achievement and were more creative. Similar, while those exposed to negative role models suffered, those exposed to positive models behaved better.[20] Modern children can be exposed to much more history, news and science than previous generations when information was only available from newspapers and books.


  1. Meyrowitz, Joshua (1995) "Mediating Communication: What Happens?" in John Downing, Ali Mohammadi and Annabelle Sreberny-Mohamadi (eds) Questioning the Media, Sage, Thousand Oaks, pp. 39-53.
  2. Media Form : From the Alphabet to Internet, Department of Media, Macquarie University, semester 2 2007 ,page 208.
  3. Federal Communications Commission, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, "The V-Chip: Putting Restrictions on what your Children Watch," viewed 27 October 2007,
  4. Lemish Dafna,Children and Television : A Global Perspective, Blackwell Publishing, Australia, 2007
  5. McFedries, Paul (2001). The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Smart Vocabulary, p. 88, Alpha Books.p. 88
  6. Shulman, Milton (1973) The Ravenous Eye, Cassell and Company, p. 277.
  7. Van Zandt, Clint (MSNBC analyst & former FBI profiler), 4:21 p.m. ET 3 Aug, 2005, "The Real World vs. the CSI Syndrome,", viewed 27 October 2007,
  9. includeonly>"Watch TV anywhere on tiny set that fits on glasses", Reuters, May 22 2007. Retrieved on 2007-08-31.
  10. Jhally, Sut (2000). Advertising at the Edge of the Apocalypse. Critical Studies in Media Commercialism: 27–39. ISBN 0198742770.
  11. Pecora, Norma; John P. Murray, & Ellen A. Wartellafat (June, 2006). hildren and Television (TV): 50 Years of Research, Erlbaum Pres.
  12. Murray, John P. (February, 2006). Children's Brain Activations While Viewing Televised Violence Revealed by fMRI. Media Psychology 8 (1): 25–37.
  13. Kubey, Robert; Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (February 23, 2002), "Television Addiction Is No Mere Metaphor", Scientific American, 
  14. Hancox, MD, Robert J., Barry J. Milne, MSc; Richie Poulton, PhD (2005). Association of Television Viewing During Childhood With Poor Educational Achievement. Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 159 (7): 614–618.
  15. Schooler, Deborah, Janna L. Kim, and Lynn Sorsoli (December 2006). Setting Rules or Sitting Down: Parental Mediation of Television Consumption and Adolescent Self-Esteem, Body Image, and Sexuality. Sexuality Research and Social Policy: Journal of NSRC 3 (4): 49–62.
  16. Hershberger, Angela. "The ``Evils" of Television: The Amount of Television Viewing and School Performance Levels". Indiana University South Bend. Retrieved on 2007-06-18.
  19. "Psychological Operations Field Manual No.33-1" published in August 1979 by Department of the Army Headquarters in Washington DC; and "Psychological Operations (PSYOP) Media Subcourse PO-0816" by The Army Institute for Professional Development, published in 1983
  20. includeonly>Dimitri Christakis. "Smarter kids through television: debunking myths old and new", Seattle Times Newspaper, February 22 2007. Retrieved on 2007-08-31.

External links[]

  1. Mary Desjardins, Gender and Television, The Museum of Broadcast Communications (2007),,
  2. Meyrowitz, Joshua (1995) "Mediating Communication: What Happens?" in John Downing, Ali Mohammadi and Annabelle Sreberny-Mohammadi (eds) Questioning the Media, Sage, Thousand Oaks, pp. 39-53.