25
Oct 15

Can you hear me now?

Technological advances have made modern life easier and substantially aided the accessibility of people to one another. In particular the cellular phone has developed a far-reaching network allowing people to gain contact constantly and the access is reaching many remote areas. It has been reported that approximately 91% of Americans own a cell phone and a growing proportion of cell phones owned are “smart phones” (Stothart, Mitchum & Yehnert, 2015).   A preliminary evaluation of the situation would conclude that the prevalence of cell phones or smart phones as an advantage and improvement to society. However, a more detailed or comprehensive evaluation of the overwhelming popularity and usage of cell phones indicate an underlining problem associated with the possession of cell phones.

How often do you find yourself looking at your phone? Perhaps while waiting in line, walking to class or passing the time while riding in a vehicle.   The amount of time being distracted or consumed by using the cell phone is staggering. However, the most condemning use of the cell phone is while driving and many studies have documented the distraction associated with the use of a cell phone while driving. I’m willing to bet you have not considered another distraction associated with the cell phone because I had not considered this aspect: waiting to respond to a call or text message can impact attention.

A study conducted by Stothart, Mitchum and Yehnert investigates the impact of notifications from a cell phone to prompt task-irrelevant thoughts or mind wandering (Stothart, Mitchum & Yehnert, 2015). The results of the study support the notion that when cell phone notifications are not viewed or responded to a significant decline in performance related to attention are experienced (Stothart, Mitchum & Yehnert, 2015). Interestingly, the findings indicate that the magnitude of performance decline is consistent with impaired attention associated with driving while using a cell phone (Stothart, Mitchum & Yehnert, 2015).

The implications of the study conducted by Stothart, Mitchum and Yehnert are noteworthy because the increasing prevalence and integration of cell phones into society appears to be on an ever-increasing trajectory. Obviously as the study implies not only is the direct interaction or usage of a cell phone a distraction to attention and performance but also the mere acknowledgment of the cell phone presence is enough to negatively effect attention and task performance.

It appears to me that the argument to unplug or detach yourself from the cell phone periodically is a wise decision, particularly if you are trying to focus and remain diligent on a task. These findings present an interesting discussion in respect to permitting access to personal cell phones during working hours or during school hours. Regardless, I have gained a better appreciation for silencing my cell phone and freeing myself from unnecessary distractions.

Stothart, C., Mitchum, A., & Yehnert, C. (2015). The Attentional Cost of Receiving a Cell Phone Notification. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 41(4), 893-897.


25
Oct 15

Why Crime?

“Why?” That’s usually the first question that pops into my head right after I close my eyes and begin shaking my head in disbelief. Another school shooting was just broadcasted on the news, this time it was at a small community college in Oregon.  News like this seems to have become more common, especially over the recent years.  Other mass shootings have included fatalities at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Aurora’s Century 16 movie theater, and Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, all of which totaled 80 fatalities and many more wounded.  What do all of these examples have in common?  All of these crimes were committed by just one person.  What else do these examples have in common?  The crimes were committed by someone under the age of 25.  These are just a handful of examples, compared to many other terrifying acts of violence that are publically known.  Whether these crimes resulted in many victims or just one victim, the end result always leads us to ask the same question in each and every act of crime… “Why?” There seems to be three consistent questions that people start asking when a horrific act of crime has been committed.  The first two questions are “What was their motive?” and “What was their violent history before this incident?”  People ask these two questions because each one can explain a different attribute or characteristic of the perpetrator.  The motive – What was their mindset?  What kind of home or culture did this individual grow up in? The third question always seems to be “could this have been prevented?” The prevention – “could have this been stopped?” leads me to discuss two types of theories that can help explain why a person might be inclined to commit a crime.  These theories explain the biological and sociological understandings that may help explain why a person would do such an act.   The last topic I would like to discuss is ways we can prevent, or at least, try to minimize, certain acts of crime.

Biological theories are internal and it is how we are classified, or programmed, as an individual. Current understanding of these mechanisms suggests that certain biological factors, such as particular genes, neurological deficits, low serotonin activity, malnutrition and environmental pollutants may all affect a person’s biological propensity for criminal or antisocial behavior (Akers, Sellers, 2008).  Studies have shown that much of this can be narrowed down to two particular causes: heredity, and pregnancy.  If a child is born into a family that has had a criminal history, chances are greater that the child will also be likely to attempt certain crimes during their lifetime.  Prenatal and perinatal factors can significantly influence mental health and personality. A woman who takes alcohol and/or drugs, such as methamphetamines, heroin, etc., puts her unborn child at risk for issues such as premature birth, low birth weight, neurological and developmental delays, and feeding difficulties, just to name a few negative birth defects. These are the children who later on are more prone to learning difficulties, and are associated with poor impulse control and criminal behavior.

Sociological theory looks at the influence of environment, and ways in which the environment, including home, community and culture, can cause an individual to act or think a certain way. Theories of this type often focus on the relationship between crime and factors such as: social inequality, the influence of peers, social disorganization in a community, the consequences for an individual unable to achieve social success, and the role of criminal subcultures, including gangs (Akers, Seller, 2008).  Sometimes we are limited by the cultural and social options available to us.  Is an individual going to school working towards a career? Is he or she active within the community, and surrounding themselves with positive people?  Or will other outside influences dictate decisions that would ultimately lead to another life that would be less fulfilled.

Now that I’ve discussed two possible main causes of why a person commits a crime, let’s discuss some of the things we can focus on to help overcome these biological and sociological disorders. From a biological standpoint, the treatment needs to begin before the child is even born.  Meaning, we have to initiate programs that would educate parents about the early stages of a child’s development. Parents have to be more aware, especially expecting mothers, that their own personal health affects their child’s health.  Once the child has been born, then there needs be more advanced parental education and programs available to help parents raise children who are healthy and developing appropriately. As part of a sociological focus, parents and communities need to effectively support positive opportunities for their children. Education programs that lead to gainful employment and community-based programs that enhance positive behavior (e.g. sports, clubs, etc.) are crucial to the development of at-risk children.  And finally, it is important to make programs available that give support to families who struggle with issues such as violence, poverty, and mental and health issues. Children can always strive to do their best in school, with work, within the community, but if they don’t have the support at home, then that child will follow those who do give them attention, and it may not always be the right kind of attention.

This is a brief little insight into some of the factors that might make a person more at risk of committing a crime, and some of the ways in which we can be proactive to help reduce the potential for criminal behavior. This by far is not the ultimate solution to eliminate crime all together, but it will help us gain a better understanding of, “Why?”

 

 

References:

Akers, RL, and Sellers, CS (2008) Criminal Theories: Introduction, Evaluation, and Application. 5th Edition. Los Angeles; Roxbury

 


25
Oct 15

Perceptions of Justice and the movie Twelve Angry Men

If one sits and really thinks about it, a courtroom can really be considered a mini model of the world that can be used to look at the social processes of society.  In this universal laboratory juries present a way to scrutinize real-world problems, and the theoretical concerns in relation to reasoning, memory, judgment and decision making, attribution, stereotyping, persuasion and group behavior, and how they affect the judgment of eyewitness testimony, the stereotyping of the defendant’s characteristics, the juror’s characteristics and bias, and the juror’s memory and comprehension (Bornstein & Greene, 2011).

The jury has the job of deciding the credibility, and then subsequently passing judgment of whether or not witness statements are true (Tversky & Fisher, 1999). Unfortunately, jurors have a very difficult time discerning which eyewitness accounts are credible and which ones are not, because eyewitness testimony is profoundly convincing in their eyes. (Pawlenko, Wise, Safer, & Hofeld, 2013). Unless there is another eyewitness that refutes the claims of the first, it is difficult for a juror to forget a prominent eyewitness account (Myers, 2008). According to a study conducted by Gary Wells, R.C.L. Lindsay and their colleagues, jurors that observed eyewitness questioning in relation to a staged theft had a difficult time discerning whether or not the eyewitness testimony was credible (Myers, 2008). In this examination both incorrect and correct eyewitness statements were seen as accurate 80 percent of the time by these jurors (Myers, 2008) This great percentage compelled the researchers to surmise that there is a great possibility that humans are not able to discriminate whether or not an eyewitness has erroneously singled out an innocent person (Myers, 2008). In the movie “Twelve Angry Men” this was exactly the case for at least eleven out of the twelve jurors (Lumet & Rose, 1957). This sentiment was brought up in the very beginning of the movie when Juror number ten stated “Listen, what about the woman across the street?  If her testimony doesn’t prove it, then nothing does” and then after some agreement from others in the room he continued on with “Just a minute. Here’s a woman who’s lying in bed and can’t sleep. She’s dying with the heat. Know what I mean? Anyway, she looks out the window and right across the street she sees the kid stick the knife into his father. The time is twelve ten on the nose. Everything fits. Look she has known the kid his whole life. His window is right opposite hers, across the el tracks, and she swore she saw him do it.” (Lumet & Rose, 1957). When juror number eight questioned this testimony by stating that the witness stated that she saw him commit this act through the windows of the passing el train, juror number ten shot back stating that the prosecution proved that one could see through the windows of a passing el train at night (Lumet & Rose, 1957). Juror number three had also stated that there was an old man who lived on the floor directly beneath the boy’s apartment, and that he had heard what he was sure was fighting, and then the kid saying that he was going to kill his father, right before he heard a body falling on the floor; he then proceeded to run to his door in enough time to see the young man running down the stairs (Lumet & Rose, 1957). None of these jurors questioned the testimony of the eyewitnesses involved, until juror number eight started punching holes in the witness testimony. They took what these people said verbatim, and didn’t look any further into what may have been the truth in the situation. By the end of the movie, they realized that most likely the woman was one to wear eyeglasses, and would not have had time if she were in bed to put on her glasses to accurately see the boy killing his father through the windows of the el train; and that the older man first would not have been able to discern who was yelling that they were going to kill the man over the deafening sound of the el train, and secondly he would not have had enough time to get to the doorway to see the young man running down the stairs (Lumet & Rose, 1957). It is not that these eyewitnesses are trying to be deceitful, they really truly believe that they are being accurate in their testimony; it just happens that our perceptions and memories are erroneously affected over time (Myers, 2008). Unfortunately, because we are not able to remember everything exactly as it happened, and because there is great credence given to people that state they saw something happen with their own eyes, we have a large problem with wrongful convictions based on mistaken eyewitness testimony (Myers, 2008).

According to attribution theory we as humans look for the meanings of other’s behaviors or our own behaviors (McLeod, 2010). This theory explains how the social observer uses the information they have available to decide why certain events happen; how this information is obtained and combined helps determine a causal perception (McLeod, 2010). There are attributional biases that occur due to certain stereotypes about certain groups of people, and these stereotypes can directly influence a juror’s judgment due to the characteristics of the defendant as well as the characteristics and subsequent biases from the jurors themselves (Myers, 2008). Jurors seem to be more sensitive and responsive to defendants that are like them (share the same attitudes, religion, race or gender); they tend to feel that if they would not commit a certain crime, then that others like them would not either (Myers, 2008). In “Twelve Angry Men” the young man that was accused of killing his father was described as Puerto Rican, and there was much hinting to the fact that he came from an extremely impoverished area, and a very abusive household (Lumet & Rose, 1957). It is obvious by the way they speak about the young man that the majority of the jurors do not identify with this young man’s background (Lumet & Rose, 1957). Near the beginning of the movie juror number four goes into a description as to why he thinks the young man is guilty of killing his father based on the stereotypes of people that come from that area when he states “We’re here to decide if he is guilty or innocent of murder, not to go into reasons why he grew up this way. He was born in a slum. Slums are breeding grounds for criminals. I know it. So do you. It is no secret. Children from slum backgrounds are potential menaces to society.” (Lumet & Rose, 1957). At the end of the movie when the tides have turned and more of the jurors are voting for a not guilty verdict this bias based on stereotyping is still quite evident in at least one of the jurors, and is shown when the tenth juror states “I will like hell quiet down. There is not one of them, not one who’s any good. Now do you hear that? Not one. Now let me lay this out for you ignorant—bastards. You at the window, you’re so god-damned smart. We’re facing a danger here. Don’t you know it? These people are multiplying. That kid on trial, his type, they’re multiplying five times as fast as we are. That’s the statistic. Five times. And they are – wild animals. They’re against us, they hate us, and they want to destroy us. That’s right. Don’t look at me like that! There’s a danger. For God’s sake we’re living in a dangerous time, and if we don’t watch it, if we don’t smack them down whenever we can, then they are gonna own us. They’re gonna breed us out of existence.” (Lumet & Rose, 1957). Unfortunately, this bias shows that the facts are not all that matters when jurors are asked to make social judgments; it is difficult for them to put aside those stereotypes and biases, and make a determination of judgment based on the facts shown (Myers, 2008).

In the United States we relegate governance to people that meet very minimal requirements.  There is question and concern that laypeople are not capable of comprehending complex evidence and judicial instructions and explanations of laws, and that they can be swayed by emotions or biases because of their misunderstandings (Bornstein & Greene, 2011). The standard of proof in some complex cases such as “preponderance of evidence” “clear and convincing evidence” or “beyond a reasonable doubt” may be confusing to individuals, and therefore the comprehension of the meanings of these legal phrases might be totally different than the legal community’s intention of them. In the movie “Twelve Angry Men” the judge’s instructions state “And now gentlemen of the jury, I come to my final instruction to you. Murder in the first degree – premeditated homicide – is the most serious charge tried in our criminal courts. You’ve listened to the testimony and you’ve had the law read to you and interpreted as it applies to this case. It now becomes your duty to try and separate the facts from the fancy. One man is dead. The life of another is at stake. I urge you to deliberate honestly and thoughtfully. If there is a reasonable doubt – then you must bring me a verdict of “not guilty”.  If, however, there is no reasonable doubt, then you must, in good conscience, find the accused guilty…” (Lumet & Rose, 1957).  Eleven of these twelve jurors did not take the judge’s instructions as seriously as what the judge’s instructions eluded that they should be taken, and this was evident in the very beginning by their all voting guilty before they even had the chance to “deliberate honestly and thoughtfully” (Lumet & Rose, 1957). Later on, after some questioning was done, and more people were thinking of changing their votes the eleventh juror stated “Pardon. This fighting. This is not why we are here, to fight. We have a responsibility. This, I have always thought, is a remarkable thing about democracy. That we are, uh, what is the word? Notified. That we are notified by mail to come down to this place and decide on the guilt or innocence of a man we have never heard before.  We have nothing to gain or lose by our verdict. This is one of the reasons why we are strong. We should not make it a personal thing.” in this statement he is speaking about the duty they were designated to uphold, and how that is understood may be misguided (Lumet & Rose, 1957). Then after another vote, there is some question as to whether or not all of the jurors understand exactly what the judge meant when he said “reasonable doubt” and this was shown when the fifth and eleventh juror’s question whether or not the seventh juror completely understands what that instruction really meant (Lumet & Rose, 1957). The national conviction rate in felony cases is eighty percent, and because of this is it is very important that the jurors not only heed the judge’s advice to “deliberate honestly and thoughtfully” but that they also understand what the law means when is says “beyond a reasonable doubt”; unfortunately, this is where the criticisms of laypeople being incapable of making these sometimes life or death decisions becomes pertinent (Myers, 2008).

Group influences can affect juries profoundly.  Minority influence and group polarization can influence how juror’s initial judgments amalgamate into a group decision (Myers, 2008). The minority opinion is generally not the one that succeeds in fact, in nearly 90% of trials the majority position at the start of deliberations becomes the jury’s verdict; however, sometimes when the minority influence is consistent, persistent and self-confident it will be the opinion that will prevail (Defoe, 2013; Myers, 2008). This was definitely seen in the movie from the very beginning when the eighth juror went against everyone in the room and voted “not guilty” (Lumet & Rose, 1957). He was consistent and persistent with his opinion, and showed great self-confidence throughout the entire course of deliberation, and this is most likely the reason why he was able to influence the other jurors to change their votes to acquit the young man on trial (Lumet & Rose, 1957). Group polarization is generally a phenomenon in which the opinions and decisions of a group become more extreme than what each person individually believes (Grinnell, 2009).Generally a jury that originally has a majority opinion to vote guilty will then provide a guilty verdict; those within the majority that recommend harsh punishments are more likely after deliberation to impose an even more harsh punishment than originally recommended (Myers, 2008). The same can be said with a non-guilty verdict, and more lenient punishments.  This part of the movie was not portrayed in a realistic psychological sense, and seemed to elude the reasoning behind the idea of group polarization (Sunstein, 2007). That being said, there are the ever so rare exceptions, and this movie does a good job of showing how the processes work in order to produce those rare exceptions (Sunstein, 2007).

The 1957 movie “Twelve Angry Men” does a fantastic job of demonstrating how these mechanisms can materialize in the jury decision making process (Lumet & Rose, 1957).

References

Bornstein, B.H., & Greene, E. (2011). Jury decision making: implications for and from psychology. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20 (1). 63-67.

Tversky, B. & Fisher, G. (1999). The problem with eyewitness testimony. Retrieved from: http://www.agora.stanford.edu.sjls/Issue%20One/fisher&tversky.html

Pawlenko, N.B., Wise, R.A., Safer, M.A., & Hofel, B. (2013). The interview-identification-eyewitness factor (I-I-eye) method for analyzing eyewitness testimony. Retrieved from: http://www.thejuryexpert.com/2013/05/the-interview-identification-eyewitness-factor-i-i-eye-method-for-analyzing-eyewitness-testimony

Myers, D.G. (2008). Social psychology in court. In D.G. Myers Social Psychology. 9th edition. 541-571.

Lumet, S., & Rose, R. (1957). Twelve angry men. Los Angeles: Orion-Nova Twelve Angry Men.

McLeod, S.A. (2010). Attribution theory. Retrieved from: www.simplypsychology.org/attribution-theory.html

Defoe, D. (2013). Jury decision making and psychological science: a given and take relationship. Retrieved from: http://www.psycholawlogy.com/2013/04/07/jury-decision-making-and-psychological-science-a-five-and-take-relationship

Grinnell, R. (2009). Group polarization. Retrieved from: http:psychcentral.com/encyclopedia/2009/group-polarization/

Sunstein, C.R. (2007). Group polarization and 12 angry men. Negotiation Journal. doi: 10.1111/j.1571-9979-2007.00155.x


25
Oct 15

Effects of Media on Violent Behavior

My other Psychology course that I am taking this semester is Abnormal Child Psychology. In this course, part of the weekly lesson sometimes includes an embedded discussion supported by yammer. The instructor will pose a question related the topic and the class posts their comments and replies to other posts, etc., like a discussion board. Perhaps some of you are familiar with this. A recent question from one of the lessons was, “What impact do you think violence in the media (e.g., TV, movies, video games) has on the development of antisocial behaviors?” The majority of those who responded to the question, myself included, stated that there was little evidence linking watching violence on TV or video games to violent behavior. So, I think I should first apologize to Professor Brian Crosby for being so adamant in my incorrect response and then I will bury my head in embarrassment.

The chapter on Media and violence was an eye opener for me because I truly did have the misconceived belief that there was no link to media violence and aggressive or violent behavior.  I now know how wrong I was. I did not just leave my beliefs with the Schneider, et al text. I also read some interesting articles on line regarding copycat crimes. I knew about those of course, but thought they were more the exception than the rule. And perhaps they are. However, as our text explains, research studies show an increase in aggressive behavior, attitudes, and greater acceptance of violence in those who are continuously exposed to TV violence (Schneider, Gruman, Coutts,2012).

I was curious to see if I could find an article that related to true crime directly to a violent show or video game. There are many, unfortunately.  The one I found of particular interests related to the video game Grand Theft Auto. Many of you may know that this is one of the most notoriously violent video games out there. A young man, Devin Moore, after playing this game for several hours, was arrested for being suspected for stealing a car. When they got him to the station, he was able to take the officer’s gun from him and shot two police officers and a 9-1-1 call dispatcher.  All were fatally wounded in the head. He was living the video game.  He also had other contributing factors, however. So, did they cause his behavior or did the game? Perhaps in this particular case there were both genetic and environmental risk factors at play. However, it was the video game that he emulated (Bradley,2004). He actually made a comment to that effect at the station before he shot the officers in the head.  In addition to Devin Moore, there are a host of other copycat convictions based on movies such as Benjamin Darras and Sarah Edmondson for the movie Natural Born Killers; Thierry Jaradin for the movie Scream; and  Vadim Mieseges for The Matrix movie. All committed horrendous murders after watching these movies and simulating characters from them (Clark,Dove, 2015).

Resources

Coutts, Larry M., Gruman, Jamie A., Schneider, Frank W.(2012). Applied social psychology. New Delhi, India: Sage Publications

Leung, R, & Bradley, E. (2005). Can a video game lead to murder? 60 Minutes. New York, NY: Columbia Broadcasting system.

Clark, J., Dove, L. (2015).10 notable copycat killers. Retrieved from http://www.howstuffworks.com/


25
Oct 15

My love/hate relationship with reality television

What makes sane people do insane things? Why would people want to sit in a chair and watch videos of other people walking and talking in “unscripted” ways? That doesn’t sounds very appealing to me. I want to spend my evenings reading about practical things like new medical advances that can help me, my dad with Parkinson’s, and my brother with clinical depression. I’d also like to read more about all the alternative healing modalities I’ve yet to explore, learn more about quantum physics and parallel universes, and make time to organize my closets and drawers. But what do I do instead? Sometimes I turn on the Real Housewives. Why on earth would I do such a thing?

Most people in my family despise reality shows, some friends unabashedly own their addiction, and others like me watch consistently but don’t advertise it. Is it a guilty pleasure? What draws hundreds of millions of people all over the world into this swelling phenomenon? Does the appeal lie somewhere in our human nature or is it more specific to the current zeitgeist? The soaring popularity of reality television undoubtedly speaks to a collective fascination we have with one another. It’s both captivating and baffling that we seem to relish such a one-directional anonymous scrutiny of other people the way that scientists study animals in their natural environment. I wonder if it ties into a universal curiosity of the separateness or otherness we subconsciously feel. Or perhaps it’s our insecurities that lead us to social comparison where we are gratified to see everyone else’s flaws exposed, equalizing us. It could be that because we naturally pigeonhole people (as a cognitively efficient way of interacting with the world) as rich or fat or beautiful or old or spoiled or conniving or perfect, that it becomes incredibly refreshing to see that everyone else is as multi-dimensional and human as we are. But then, it’s the gossip and arguing that leads to good ratings, so does that mean we’re all secret sadists?

According to the recent literature, my conflicting emotions towards this new type of entertainment are consistent with the masses: research indicates that although many people claim to dislike reality shows, most people watch at least one on a regular basis. Studies show that people gravitate to the voyeuristic nature of reality television mainly for escapism and vicarious membership (Riddle & De Simone, 2013). This makes sense when many of the shows feature beautiful and wealthy characters living out extravagant, albeit often dysfunctional, lives. According to the social–cognitive theory, reality television audiences may model the self-disclosure behaviors that the characters display in their confessionals, since viewers are more likely to be very active on social media sites sharing intimate aspects of their own lives. Alternatively, the cultivation theory explains that heavy viewership of any entertainment genre makes viewers more inclined to overlap the TV world with the real world, often believing that the TV reality is real. For instance, people who watch shows with violent themes tend to view the world as more violent, those who watch romance-themed shows believe real life relationships should mimic the frequently unattainable levels of romance in the programs, etc. Pertaining to reality shows, the research suggests that viewers tend to believe that women in general behave more poorly than men with regard to verbal aggression and spreading rumors. In addition, the audience has a skewed perception of romantic relationships with the prevalence of both sex and dysfunction (affairs or divorce) being erroneously overestimated (Riddle & De Simone, 2013).

Many people are unaware of how powerful the media’s influence is on us. Studies suggest it’s the media who are often responsible for establishing the public agendas, and framing is a major tool they use. Story framing involves highlighting some dynamics while understating or eliminating others entirely to create a certain picture or send a message (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012).  Reality television achieves this by taking hours and hours of boring footage and editing it down into eight-minute titillating segments that weave into interesting, hour-long storylines. The producers have the power to remove or include any second of filming they captured. Can you imagine if someone did that to our lives – edited it all down to portray us as angels or monsters? We all have our moments and the good reality shows like to reveal both good qualities and flaws when humanizing their characters in an effort to make them relatable.

The research is beginning to present patterns which suggest a causal effect of reality television on people’s attitudes and beliefs (Riddle & De Simone, 2013). This is a somewhat mindboggling notion: edited, often scripted movies about people presented to us as authentic snapshots of their lives are changing the way we think and feel about ourselves and the world? It almost too absurd to be true that these shows could be shifting social norms, but perhaps it’s simply a difficult truth to face. Much like everything else before it I believe the reality television market will eventually become saturated, interest will wane, and the pendulum will swing. But which novelty will it swing to next – back to a previous format or some new level of voyeurism? Reading some of the literature explaining the fascination of reality shows gives me pause to examine my own motives and gratification for watching, and consider whether it has reshaped any of my own cognitions.

References

Riddle, K., & De Simone, J. J. (2013). A snooki effect? An exploration of the surveillance subgenre of reality TV and viewers’ beliefs about the “real” real world. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 2(4), 237-250. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1037/ppm0000005

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

 


25
Oct 15

A Culture of Fear

24-Hour News Coverage and Parenting Styles

Crime is down in this country. Over the past 25 years, America has seen a dramatic reduction in criminal violence that has cut the crime rate in half since it peaked in the early 1990s (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2015). Young parents today are raising their children in an undeniably safer environment than the last generation’s, and yet for many, the idea of allowing one’s children to walk home from school unsupervised is unthinkable. So why the discrepancy between current crime statistics and public belief that our neighborhoods are no longer safe? Why are parents so afraid of the world? One reason could be constant access to 24-hour sensationalized news networks.

Turn on the television or browse the internet long enough and you will eventually encounter some variation of fear-based news coverage: mass shootings, vehicular accidents, sexual slavery, terrorist attacks, Amber alerts, drug trafficking, impending natural disasters. This is the result of highly competitive, anything-for-a-story journalism that depends on viewer beliefs that the world is a dangerous place. But what actually happens when we are exposed to emotionally-charged depictions of violence in the media on a daily basis? Research suggests that frequent exposure to violent images can have a lasting negative impact on psychological well-being. In a study of 116 journalists working with uncensored photos and videos, researchers found that frequently viewing disturbing images independently predicted higher scores on scales measuring depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, and alcohol consumption (Feinstein, Audet, & Waknine, 2014). This supports the theory that continual exposure to violent media and fear-based news contributes to feelings of pessimism and demoralization. In short, sensationalized news coverage is making us overly fearful of our world.

It isn’t difficult to see how such widespread uneasiness would inevitably impact parenting styles on a societal level; parents are naturally driven to protect their children. A general pessimism over the state of our country and world has led to an obsession with safety and well-intentioned parenting practices that deny children the freedom to take risks and make mistakes. Children must be allowed some measure of independence in order to discover their world and their place in it. In attempting to provide adequate protection from perceived environmental threats, paranoid parents may actually be denying their children the experiences necessary for the development of competent risk management (O’Neill & Fleer, 2015). Safety-conscious parenting techniques that once would have been disapprovingly referred to as “coddling” are now the norm and parents who allow their children basic freedoms such as walking home from school are subject to accusations of neglect.

Sensationalized, fear-based news stories prey on our natural insecurities and encourage us to erroneously believe in rising crime rates and unsafe neighborhoods. This leads to overprotective parenting and children who are afraid to take chances. So what can people do to insulate themselves from the fear mongering of 24-hour news coverage? Until media outlets start to value truth over money-making, we will have to learn to protect ourselves at the individual level against feelings of pessimism and panic. One way to do this is to set personal boundaries – limit your exposure to unpleasant or violent media by avoiding sensationalist stories. Don’t be a passive consumer, and don’t allow fear to rule your life and the way you treat others. Parents must manage their fears in a way that doesn’t interfere with raising healthy, resilient, competent children.

References

Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2015). Crime statistics. Retrieved from https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/crimestats

Feinstein, A., Audet, B., & Waknine, E. (2014). Witnessing images of extreme violence: a psychological study of journalists in the newsroom. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 5(8), 1-7.

O’Neill, S. & Fleer, M. (2015). Better than bubble wrap: do we “over regulate and over protect” children at the expense of them learning how to “take risks”? Journal of Research in Early Childhood Education, 9(1), 111-127.

Pain, R. (2006). Paranoid parenting? Rematerializing risk and fear for children. Social & Cultural Geography, 7(2), 221-243.


25
Oct 15

Unnatural Disaster

Some might say that technology while helpful is damaging interfering with our abilities to interact with others socially, prevents and even destroys our ability to understand one another without face to face recognition. But, I believe that mankind is capable of harnessing progress and technology by our own curiosity. We are an inquisitive and progressive species. We are ever evolving and ever digressing. For every two steps forward, we take one step backward in order to perfect our existence.

A few months ago a flood destroyed my only way in and out of our ranch to our home. I had just began a new job, filed for a divorce, and was sick on top of everything else. The workers had just begun to repair the damage a few days ago when we were inundated with 17 inches of rain completely destroying all of the unfinished work to my driveway. Thankfully, after experiencing the previous flood, I had parked at the gate and walked to my home in anticipation of an impassible driveway, a modest mile. On this muddy walk with my umbrella in one hand and a backpack stuffed full of recently purchased groceries my thoughts were surprisingly taken away from the present predicament by the brightly colored roots that had been stripped of the plain brown earth by the rushing waters revealing brightly colored oranges and reds, and the brilliant yellow leaves that were floating by in the newly formed streams in the middle of the half finished road. As I carefully tried to avoid the softer spots in the muddy road I removed the black umbrella from overhead and turned my face upward allowing the rain the pour onto my face. Watching the large droplets falling against the tall canopy of the tree branches above, I could not help to feel that this was a necessary part of life. It felt good to be covered in rain water and to hear the raindrops fall to the ground, to hear the sound of air being forced from the earth from the tiny holes insects had drilled with tiny explosive bubbles being magnified by the umbrella. I felt at peace with my world at this moment.

I actually look forward to crossing the overflowing bridge and getting my rain boots full of water. Maybe I am a glutton for punishment, or maybe I realize that the push for progress may be difficult with many obstacles ahead, but is it not better to keep pushing forward for progress and addressing the obstacles in advance if we can? But if we cannot foresee the obstacles in advance, be prepared to search for the obstacles and look forward to overcoming them as we find them as this is what the nature of progress is and this is how we continue to evolve? Technology has its many ills, but it has saved many lives and will continue to progress by those whose curiosity pushes them to act and move forward.


24
Oct 15

The Agenda of the Media

Many of us look to the media for the latest political or social news. I know that I love listening to NPR on my way to work, or to have CNN running in the background when I am at home trying to multitask! But how much of the information is based on objective content? Part of why we sometimes tune in is because we want to know what Wolf Blitzer thinks about a given situation, we want to know if we should agree or disagree with the rulings of major court cases. So, the media tells us, the media uses key works  and images that give us a scandal spin on the story. When Justin Biber was arrested for drunk driving, they showed his mug shot. First of all, that was not news worthy, but they could have shown us a picture of him from his last concert or from him in a suit, but they chose to add drama and shape the way we feel about him.

If we look at the Bengazi hearings, we see another example of agenda setting, this time it is the government that wants to shine light on something. The conservatives are dragging Secretary Clinton into the lime light with more then 7 hearings on the same issue and there has not been a result. It started out being an investigation into what happened, then turned into finding out if Clinton was negligent, and now it seems that they are just looking to pin something on her. Perhaps, the conservative party wants to tarnish her image with the American people for the 2016 election.

Planed Parenthood, school shooters, and many other incidences have been brought to the media and the people that we rely on for unbiased reporting of the facts, give us what they want us to see.

The government has a saying when they don’t want the public to know something happened but they still need to report it in press meetings, and that is “Send it out with the Trash.” The Whitehouse delivers any bad news on Fridays at the end of the business day, that is considered the trash, because the press corps is ready to go home and listeners are getting ready for the weekend. What goes out on Fridays is typically an update on something that took place during the week, it is never something that the Whitehouse really wants the American people to hear, because it’s not too important. This is another way to shape the public opinion; by sending this information out on a day that people aren’t paying attention, we are again, taking advantage of an opportunity. So when there is something embarrassing that needs to go out, they can say that they sent it out.

My final thought is about satire or reporting. One of my favorite shows is the Trever Noah show. He is funny and he does bring up some very good points about politics and social behavior. But again, it is tailored to be funny and to be satire and not real reporting. He doesn’t go out and conduct interviews, he uses clips from other news sites and we never really see the whole story. What happened to real reporting, where we just get the facts and nothing else? Would we tune in to that? Have we ever been in a place where reporting was unbiased?

 


21
Oct 15

Media and Health

The Media and its effects on body image

            In the United States, and in most western cultures the media’s effects on body image have been studied regularly. It has determined that there is a reliable correlation between negative body image and the media’s influence.1 With these studies came the term objectified body consciousness (OBC) where an individual objectifies their body to the sociocultural influence of the media to cause distorted body image, which has the possibility to lead to eating disturbances and disorders.1 Jackson et al., 2015 have reviewed large studies done in Eastern cultures to help fill to void of diversity in body image and media studies. With knowledge of how many young people (young adults 18-21 years old) that are affected by the media interventions can be written and set to prevent such mental pain.

The studies conducted over seas in china showed that both males and females had larger amounts of body dissatisfaction when they compared themselves to the standard presented within the media. The media has many influences of people of all ages, but in particular the younger generation. Images are constantly portrayed of perfection that in the real world cannot be achieved. This perfection of the human body has the potential to harm not only the self-esteem of children and young adults, but could potentially be harmful to both mental and physical health. Poor body image, and confidence have been shown many times to contribute to disorders such and anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. There is also another category of eating disorders classified under the DSM-V called binge eating disorder.

The media, which consists of news channels, newspapers, magazines, TV shows, flyers, billboards and much more. Reasonably there is no real way to eliminate all negative images from society, but there are steps that can be taken to lessen the effects. Educational campaigns can be put in place in order to show how human perfection is fake. There have been very effective movements to show this, but none have been worldwide. Since this issue of body image due to the medias influence is worldwide it is time to bring this issue worldwide. Trying the prevent issues will save much more time and money in the long run and the sooner a large campaign is started the more effects it will have.

The media and growing technology has its great advantages such as education for more people, but the negative affects are almost over shadowing all of the positive effects.2 Different beauty blogs, clothing campaigns, TV shows and more highlight models, actresses, and their perfection, which is done with an airbrush. This issue is not only in the US but has been shown to be global and small steps taken to fix these issues can lead to a large change.

 

Citations:

 

  1. Jackson, T., & Chen, H. (2015). Features of objectified body consciousness and sociocultural perspectives as risk factors for disordered eating among late-adolescent women and men. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 741-752.

 

2. Lesson 9 Commentary. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2015, from               https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/fa15/psych424/001/content/10_lesson/04_page.html


19
Oct 15

Constant Contact

Back in the 80’s (the 1980’s) MTV played music videos (I promise they did – I was there). One of the first regular shows they offered toward the end of the decade was a series called “Unplugged”.

(Lage & McCarthy, 1991)

It was a way to feature musical artists in a more intimate setting without amplifiers – hence the title. Today, unplugged has a somewhat different meaning. Unplugging is a broad way of saying that an individual is not connected to media – television, smart phone, internet, tablet, radio, etc.  Often when someone says they are unplugged, they are met with a certain amount of derision or scant looks. Why would you do that?

Asking someone to turn off their phone or not access the internet for even just one hour over dinner seems to be a huge undertaking in today’s climate. We see memes pop up on our newsfeeds every day of people sitting right next to each other – sending text messages to each other! Students are gaining access to personal electronic devices at younger and younger ages. Even the baby monitors that new parents use to monitor their newborns are media devices that children are exposed to from the moment they spend their first night at home. What impact does this type of access have on youngsters? On adults? On the fabric of the family? On self-esteem/self-image?

Research completed in the last ten years shows that there is a negative relationship between viewing pro-anorexia website and the self-esteem/self-efficacy of the viewers (Bardone-Cone & Cass, 2007).  The participants in the study viewed the website for a mere 25 minutes! In the time it takes most people to view an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” on their DVR, women that viewed a fictional pro-anorexia website felt worse about themselves than they did prior. Put that into perspective.  If one website viewing of 25 minutes can change a person’s self-image, what would viewing other websites do to other people? And since people rarely spend less than 25 minutes per day on media sources of all varieties, the messages that we are collectively being inundated with each day have a great impact on how we interact with each other and how we feel about ourselves.

Children born in the 21st century don’t know a world without “Google”. Their access to information has been instantaneous for their entire lives. When they don’t know something, they can “just Google it”. They are never stumped trying to remember the name of the capital of Wyoming (Cheyenne) or who played Han Solo in the movie “Star Wars” (Harrison Ford). These same individuals have become so accustomed to interacting virtually through their home gaming systems and text messages that their interpersonal skills in real-time situations are lacking. I have no children of my own, but I see it in some of the children of my friends as well as in restaurants and other public places. The art of making eye-contact and interacting conversationally is virtually non-existent. What I think of as “typical teenage sulking” is now magnified into grunts, head nods, averted eyes and numerous shoulder shrugs. I get it. Virtual interactions are safer. You risk less because there’s an air of anonymity that comes with texting or playing online games. It’s easy to be brave on the end of a game controller or behind a keyboard. You can say things there that you might not be able to say in person out of concern for the reaction you would receive. Unfortunately, this leads to consequence-free actions and a lack of accountability. As an adult, this saddens me.

It’s our duty as a society to find balance. When we were children and received a new toy, we tended to play with it all the time. Once the shine wore off, we would put it away and revert back to our old favorites. The internet is like the new toy, but it is as shiny as ever. We can’t wait for it to fade. It is our responsibility to remind everyone of the old favorites and that it’s ok to put down the new toy every now and then.

 

Bardone-Cone, A. M., & Cass, K. M. (2007). What Does Viewing a Pro-Anorexia Website Do? An Experimental Examination of Website Exposure and Moderating Effects. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 537-548.

Lage, M., & McCarthy, B. (Directors). (1991). MTV Unplugged – The Cure [Motion Picture].

 


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