Chat with us, powered by LiveChat Reading Guide Module 2 Major Theories of Media Effects: Chapter 1: The Role of Theory in Scholarly Fields To assist you with the assigned readings, I have developed an outline of questions - Very-Good Essays

Reading Guide Module 2 Major Theories of Media Effects: Chapter 1: The Role of Theory in Scholarly Fields To assist you with the assigned readings, I have developed an outline of questions


Reading Guide Module 2

Major Theories of Media Effects: Chapter 1: The Role of Theory in Scholarly Fields

To assist you with the assigned readings, I have developed an outline of questions for you to answer. Think about this as a key for what information to pay attention to in the reading. Research shows that students learn and retain information better when they can write it down in their own words.

Try to answer the questions within these guides in your own words rather than copying and pasting the content from readings/lectures. The idea is to see if you can succinctly answer the question in your own words based on the knowledge you gained from your readings/lectures. Try to answer each question within one to three sentences.

1.    Primary purpose of any scholarly field is: 

2.    What is knowledge?

3.    What is the focal phenomenon of media effects? 

4.    What are ontological and epistemological beliefs? 

5.    What is the difference between evolution and revolution of ideas?

6.    What is a theory? 

7.    What are advocacy and scientific theories?

8.    What are the differences between advocacy and scientific theories?

9.    What are the five components of scientific theory? Which ones are the most important?

10.    What is the life cycle of scientific theories?



Research Methods

Getting to the truth:

The Scientific Method The scientific method is the process of testing our ideas about the world by:

setting up situations that test our ideas.

making careful, organized


analyzing whether the data fits with

our ideas.

If the data doesn’t fit our ideas, then we modify our ideas, and test again.

The Scientific Method

Acquiring knowledge through the formation of specific questions & systematic testing of those questions.

Steps in the Process

1. Understanding the theory

2. Develop hypotheses

3. Design study

4. Collect data and analyze findings

5. Report findings



Theory: the big picture

Example of a theory: Social learning theory – Observing others engaging in prosocial behavior makes the observer more likely to engage in prosocial behavior.

Theory is an abstract system of

concepts and relationships that

help us understand a phenomenon or solve a problem.

Hypothesis •Hypothesis

• Testable prediction about relationship between variables

• Example

• Wearing a super hero costume makes people more prosocial

Methodology Basics

• Independent Variable: The variable that is observed or manipulated to see if it has an effect on another variable.

• Levels: number of conditions for a given IV

• Dependent Variable: The variable that is measured to see if it is being effected or influenced by the IV in any way.



Costumes and Prosocial Behavior

• Hypothesis: Wearing a super hero costume makes people more prosocial

• IV:

• Costume or not

• DV:

• Measurement of prosocialness

How do we test hypotheses?

• Media Psychology Research:

• Non-Experimental Methods

• Surveys

• Experimental Methods

Survey research

• Surveys

• Self-reports of knowledge, feelings, experiences, attitudes, behavior, etc.

• Types

• Cross-sectional

• Longitudinal (trend, cohort, panel)




Why take a sample?

• Sampling saves time. You can

find the ratio of colors in this jar

by making sure they are well

mixed (randomized) and then

taking a sample.


Random sampling:

making sure that every

individual in a population

has an equal chance of

being in your sample.

“Random” means

that your selection of

participants is driven

only by chance, not

by any characteristic.

An observation that two

variables are related to

each other.

Especially useful when

you cannot manipulate


Allow researchers to see

how two variables are


The more years spent

smoking, the greater the

chance of lung cancer Correlations

Exposure to sexualized

advertisement associated

with dissatisfaction of

own body.

The greater the number

of Facebook friends, the

less time was spent


Correlation Coefficient

• A number that describes the strength of the relationship between two variables

• The + or – sign indicates whether this relationship is positive or negative

• Can vary from -1.0 to +1.0.

• -1.0 = perfect negative correlation

• 0.0 = no correlation

• +1.0 = perfect positive correlation



Correlation Coefficient

Positive Correlation

• As the value of one variable increases, the value of the other variable increases

Comprehension of Miranda Rights

In te

ll ig

en ce

Positive Correlation



Negative Correlation

• As the value of one variable decreases, the value of the other variable increases

No Correlation • Changes in one variable not associated with changes in other


T em

p er

at u


Number of People with Hiccups

Correlation and Causation

• A correlation between X and Y does not mean that X causes Y

• All that is known is that X and Y are related in some way



Ice Cream Does What?!?!

•Research has shown that when ice cream sales increase, so do the number of murders.

Ice Cream Sales and Crime

Amount of ice cream sold

C ri

m e

ra te

What is likely going on…




Ice cream




Correlational Design

• Advantages

• Study naturally occurring phenomena that cannot be manipulated

• Study phenomena that is unethical to create in lab

• Disadvantages


• Third variable problem

So how do we find out about causation?


manipulating one factor in

a situation to determine

its effect

IV: Costume or not

DV: Measurement of


Experimental Research

• Beyond just an observation between two variables

• When X increases, Y also increases

• A causal inference

• X is causing the change in Y



Experimental Designs

•Experimental Design • Systematically manipulate one source of

influence while holding others constant

• Random assignment

•ONLY way to determine causality.

Just to clarify two similar- sounding terms…

First you sample, then you sort (assign).

Random assignment of participants to

control or experimental groups is how you control all

variables except the one you’re manipulating.

Random sampling is how you get a pool of

research participants that represents the

population you’re trying to

learn about.

Random Selection

•Rarely possible

•Any study where anyone, anywhere has the equal chance of being selected for that study??

•Random assignment is best solution • Evens out preexisting differences • Individual differences

• Reduces chance of confounds/third variables influencing results



Eliminating Alternative Explanations •Use random assignment to assign

participants in experimental or control condition

• All persons have same chance of being in given condition

• Makes conditions equal

• Why can’t I let people choose what condition they want to be in?



•Allow for causal conclusions

•Ability to tightly control environment


•Artificial situations

• Lack of generalizability

Evaluating all Research and Statements

• Be skeptical!!! Ask yourself: • Are they making causal statements w/ correlational

data? • Using unrepresentative sample or small sample? • Was random assignment used? • Are there enough study details? • Are they making generalizations that are just too

broad? • Have alternative explanations been eliminated?



The Role of Theory in Scholarly Fields

Scholarly Fields

Fundamental Purpose

The primary purpose of any scholarly field is to generate knowledge about the field’s focal phenomenon, then to communicate that knowledge. In order to understand this purpose statement, we need to clarify the meaning of knowledge and focal phenomenon.

In any scholarly field, knowledge is not simply a finding from one study nor is it a listing of findings from multiple studies. Instead, knowledge is a structured, detailed description about what is believed to be known about a field’s focal phe- nomenon. While the building blocks of knowledge are the findings from individ- ual studies, those building blocks by themselves are not knowledge; they need to be evaluated for validity and usefulness, then assembled into a meaningful struc- ture in order to attain the status of knowledge. The evaluation involves scholars assessing the validity of findings so they can discard the claims that are found to be faulty. Then the valid findings need to be calibrated for importance so that the most important findings can be used to form a solid core when assembling those findings into a system of explanation.


A field’s focal phenomenon is the entity that scholars in that field are trying to understand and explain. For example, the focal phenomenon of the field of chem- istry is physical matter that is studied by examining atoms and molecules. The focal phenomenon of the field of biology is living things that are subdivided into botany (the study of plants) and zoology (the study of animals). The fields regarded as social sciences are concerned with human thinking and behavior. Within the broader field of the social sciences, the scholarly field of psychology is focused on the focal phenomenon of the human mind; the field of sociology focuses on human interactions in groups; the field of economics focuses on the exchange of resources; and the field of media effects focuses on how the media exert an influ- ence on individuals and aggregates.

Development of Scholarly Fields

Scholarly fields are generated when scholars become attracted to a phenomenon and are driven by curiosity to learn all they can about that phenomenon. As more scholars are attracted to studying a phenomenon and as they begin speculating about the nature of that phenomenon, they form a community to share ideas in articles, books, conference papers, and websites.

The speculation about the focal phenomenon reveals scholars’ ontological beliefs, which are beliefs about the nature of the phenomenon, such as its size, its components, its processes, and how it interacts with other phenomena in the social and physical worlds. Researchers begin testing those speculations to find out which are most useful. These tests reveal researchers’ epistemological positions, which are beliefs about the ways in which humans can come to know the phe- nomenon and the limits of that knowing. Because scholarship is a community endeavor, researchers publish their findings in scholarly outlets so their ideas about the phenomenon as well as their research findings can be shared with other schol- ars in the field.

Scholarly fields begin in an exploratory mode, where assumptions dominate. There are many assumptions that must be made early in the history of a scholarly field in order to answer questions such as:  What are the most important con- cepts that can be used to explain the phenomenon? How should those concepts be defined? How can those concepts best be measured in research studies? How are those concepts related to one another? When a field is new, these questions have no existing answers or the answers are not very useful, so researchers must specu- late about possible answers. Those speculations are evaluated by other scholars so that the faulty speculations can be weeded out.


The development of knowledge in a field always involves a hermeneutic process. This means that scholars try to leverage the result of an individual research study to argue that the result indicates a general pattern; scholars then use that speculated general pattern to explain an individual result. When a field is well developed, it is relatively easy to use this hermeneutic process because scholars have a well-articulated big picture of their phenomenon that allows them to easily understand any individual research finding. However, when a field is new, the big picture is fuzzy, so scholars rely on speculations based on what they think are reasonable assumptions at the time. It is rather like trying to solve a huge puzzle with thousands of pieces without knowing what the picture of the puzzle will reveal when all the pieces are assembled. Scholars must make reasonable guesses about what the picture is in order to start placing pieces in what they hope will be useful positions so that all the pieces go together in a way to reveal a coherent big picture. That is, scholars use their assumptions about what the big picture of the phenomenon might be in order to design their research studies. If their assumptions about the phenomenon are faulty, then the design of their research studies will produce findings of questionable value, that is, those results will be diffi- cult to interpret or those results will not seem to make sense.

The hermeneutic process follows a circular procedure of using assumptions to support other assumptions. In many fields, scholars will attempt to break open this circular process of pure reasoning by introducing empirical tests that can be used to generate tests of those assumptions. Over time, those assumptions that have been found to generate support evolve into trusted empirically based findings, while those assumptions that fail to generate sufficient support from a program of empirical tests are regarded as faulty and are replaced with alternative assumptions.

The typical growth pattern in scholarly fields is by gradual evolution of ideas as scholars debate speculations and test them for empirical support. Gradually over time, scholars coalesce around certain ideas as being better descriptors of the field’s focal phenomenon. These ideas become institutionalized as the accepted knowledge about the focal phenomenon. Scholars take these foundational ideas for granted as they try to build knowledge beyond this core.

In contrast to evolution as a growth pattern, some fields experience a revolution where scholars grow tired of accepting the foundational core ideas and challenge them as being outdated, too limiting, or faulty in some way (Kuhn, 1970). Growth through revolution occurs suddenly after a period where thinking is stuck, and the growth of knowledge slows down and might even stop. Scholars keep doing the same kind of scholarship over and over until the marginal utility of each new study approaches zero. Then a creative scholar introduces a new way of thinking about the phenomenon typically by strongly challenging an assumption then altering it


in a way that suggests a fresh way to build understanding about the field’s focal phenomenon. If that fresh thinking attracts enough scholars and if the new schol- arship does indeed result in new insights about the phenomenon, then the revo- lution is successful and alters the direction of how scholars explain the field’s focal phenomenon.


What Is a Theory?

The word “theory” has many different meanings in everyday language. Reynolds (1971) says that it can refer to “(1) vague conceptualizations or descriptions of events or things, (2)  prescriptions about what are desirable social behaviors or arrangements, or (3) any untested hypothesis or idea” (p. 11). Thus we often hear people say something like “That is just a theory” to discount someone’s explanation and this makes the idea of theory in everyday language appear to be something that is not very useful.

Scholars have a very different idea about what theories are, but this is not to say that all scholars agree on a single definition. To the contrary, there are many definitions of theory used in scholarship (see Tables 1.1 and 1.2). But when we look across all these definitions, we can see three similarities that indicate where scholars generally agree. First, theories are concerned with providing explanations of a field’s phenomenon of interest. Thus they are more than simple descriptions. For example, Littlejohn (1999) argues that the essence of theories is explanation. “Explanation is more than merely naming and defining variables; it identifies reg- ularities in the relationships among those variables. Explanations account for an event by referring to what is going on within the event or between it and some other event. In simplest terms, explanation answers the question, Why?” He con- tinues, “An explanation designates some logical force among variables that makes particular outcomes ‘necessary’ ” (Littlejohn, 1999, p. 23). “Although a simple tax- onomy, or organized list of concepts, may be considered a theory, most scholars would say that this is only a step toward a scholarly theory, which must include some explanatory mechanism or set of propositions that explain how the concepts are related to one another” (p. 957).

While the phenomenon reveals itself through individual elements that are observable to humans, the phenomenon is not any one of these elements or even an assemblage of the elements; the phenomenon is more—it is the pattern of the elements that is not just the What of the phenomenon but also the How and the Why. Theories then are designed initially to capture the essence of the What but


then must also address the How and Why. This is what is meant by theories moving beyond description and into explanation.

Second, theories are abstracts of some phenomenon, that is, they capture the essence of the phenomenon in a few words relative to the complexity of the phe- nomenon itself. Thus parsimony is important. Theoreticians capture the essence by focusing attention on particular ideas (called concepts) and the relationships (called propositions) among those concepts. Littlejohn (2009) says, “A theory is never intended to reflect the complexity of all experience, but to distill this into a system of knowledge claims explained by a small number of properties. . . . They must reduce complex experience into a manageable set of concepts and proposi- tions” (p. 957).

Table 1.1. Conceptions of Theory Babbie (1998, p. 51):

* A systematic set of interrelated statements intended to explain some aspect of social life Hoover (1984, p. 38):

* A set of interrelated propositions that suggest why events occur in the manner that they do

Infante, Rancer, and Womack (1990, p. 37): * A set of interrelated propositions that suggest why events occur in the manner that

they do Littlejohn (2009, p. 957):

* Human constructions designed to capture what theorists believe the order of the subject matter to be.

* A unified, or coherent, body of propositions that provide a philosophically consistent picture of a subject. The propositions should be generalizable, that is, they should deal with broad patterns in aggregates. They must reduce complex experience into a manageable set of concepts and propositions.

Littlejohn (1999, p. 23): * The essence of theories is explanation, which is more than merely naming and defining

variables. – Explanation is concerned with regularities in the relationships among variables. – Explanations account for an event by referring to what is going on within the event

or between it and some other event. – Explanation answers the question: Why? – An explanation designates some logical force among variables that makes particular

outcomes necessary   McQuail (2005, p. 5): 

* A general proposition, itself based on observation and logical argument, that states the relationships among elements within the observed phenomena


And third, theories are tools for guidance. That is, they should guide schol- ars toward increasing their understanding of the phenomenon. This means that a theory is a wedge that breaks open the phenomenon in a way that allows scholars to enter and experience it in a meaningful way. As a guide to understanding, the theory guides scholars to insights that resonate with them and lead them to think “Aha that makes sense.” As guides, theories also direct scholars in the creation and analysis of evidence. They stimulate and direct future research (Infante, Rancer, &Womack, 1993) by focusing scholars on what to observe and how to interpret meaning from those observations (Littlejohn, 1999).

Differences. Theories also exhibit differences that have led scholars to put them in different categories (see Table 1.3). However, this classification task is a diffi- cult one because it requires scholars to weight the importance of those differences

Table 1.2. Conceptions of the Purpose of Theory Hempel (1952, p. 1): 

1. To describe particular phenomena in the world of our experience 2. To establish general principles in order to predict and explain experiences

Infante et al. (1993, pp. 45–50): 1. To organize experience 2. To extend knowledge 3. To stimulate and guide further research 4. To predict new things

Littlejohn (1999): 1. To organize and summarize knowledge 2. To map the phenomenon by focusing attention on particular concepts and

relationships 3. To clarify what is observed in order to understand and interpret things 4. To provide guidelines about what to observe and how to observe 5. To predict 6. To provide an open forum for debate and discussion (heuristic function) 7. To share information and insights (communicative function) 8. To control (normative function) 9. To challenge existing culture (generative function)

McQuail (2005, p. 5): 1. To make sense of observed reality 2. To guide the collection and evaluation of evidence

Reynolds (1971):  1. To generate useful scientific knowledge that is abstract (independence of time and

space), intersubjective (agreement about meaning among relevant scientists), and empirically supported (can be compared to empirical findings)


and when scholars use different weightings or vary in what they consider differ- ences, their categorization schemes vary. Thus the classification of theories has been called “one of the most daunting tasks” because “it defies clear classification” (Littlejohn, 1999, p. 12).

One example of a theory classification scheme was offered by McQuail (2005) who organized mass media theories into five categories: social scientific, cultural, normative, operational, and everyday type theories. McQuail’s social scientific cat- egory includes theories that present general statements about the nature and pro- cesses of a phenomenon in order to guide the systematic and objective observation of the phenomenon so that those statements can be put to the test and validated or rejected by similar methods. The cultural category includes theories that advance arguments that either differentiate cultural artifacts or challenge some practices. The normative category includes theories that present arguments that prescribe how society should be structured or how people should behave. The operational category includes theories that argue for the application of certain practical ideas to solve problems in society. And the everyday category includes theories that are commonsense principles that people generally use to guide their behavior and thinking.

Table 1.3. Types of Theories Reynolds (1971): 

1. Set of laws—the conception of scientific knowledge as a set of well-supported empirical generalizations or laws

2. Axiomatic—an interrelated set of definitions, axioms, and propositions that are derived from axioms

3. Causal process—a set of descriptions or causal processes McQuail (2005): 

1. Social scientific—offers general statements about the nature and processes of a phenomenon that guide the systematic and objective observation of the phenomenon so that those statements can be put to the test and validated or rejected by similar methods

2. Cultural—advances arguments that either differentiate cultural artifacts or challenge some practices

3. Normative—presents arguments that prescribe how society should be structured or how people should behave

4. Operational—argues for the application of certain practical ideas to solve problems in society

5. Everyday theory—commonsense principles that everyday people use to guide their behavior and thinking


Another way to organize theories by type was suggested by Reynolds (1971) who arranged theories according to the nature of their propositions into three categories of set of laws, axiomatic, and causal processes. His set of laws category includes theories where the conception of scientific knowledge is a set of well-sup- ported empirical generalizations or laws. The axiomatic category includes theories that present an interrelated set of definitions, axioms, and propositions that are derived from axioms. And the causal process category includes theories that pres- ent a set of descriptions or causal processes.

Types of Theories: Advocacy and Scientific

Within the field of communication, a useful way to categorize theories is to make a distinction between advocacy theories and scientific theories. An advocacy theory presents a thesis position then assembles evidence in a compelling argument to support that thesis. The thesis can be an ideology (such as Marxism or feminism) or a perspective (such as psychoanalysis). In contrast to advocacy theories, scien- tific theories present a set of explanatory propositions that are speculations about the phenomenon that require testing to determine their value. Scientific theories are less concerned with winning an argument than with refining their explana- tions so that they better fit the patterns within the phenomenon itself as revealed through empirical testing. (For more on this distinction, see Potter, 1996.)

While all theories present claims that purport to explain something about a phenomenon, advocacy theories differ from scientific theories in three major ways—the purpose of the theory, the use of evidence to support the theory, and the criteria for quality in judging a theory.

Contrasting by purpose. The purpose of advocacy theories is to present a par- ticular thesis as an exp

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