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Of mass media influence and advertisers’ ‘shortcuts’

on 03 Februari 2010.

KUCHING: “There is no evidence to show that television programmes have any benefit for children under two years old,” revealed Dr Douglas Gentile of Iowa State University, USA.
Dr Gentile pointed this out yesterday at Kompleks Azam, Jalan Crookshank, during his two-part talk titled ‘Media Impact on Children and Adults’, which was jointly organised by Sarawak Development Institute (SDI) and the Centre of Excellence for Rural Informatics, Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technology, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS).

The renowned speaker, who is also the director of the Media Research Lab in Iowa State University, discussed both the positive and negative impacts that the mass media has in Part One of his talk called, ‘Not Seen on TV: The Truth about Media’s Effects on Children’.

He began the first segment by presenting the principles of neural network development in children’s cognitive processes such as reading and mathematics, as well as in their behaviour, which include values, attitudes and stereotypes.

Media Impact Ta.jpg

Dr Gentile during his talk at Kompleks Azam yesterday.

“The peak of a human’s neural development is at the age of seven and it starts to decline from age twelve onwards,” highlighted Dr Gentile.

“Judging from this, it can be concluded that early experience is highly important in forming behaviour.”

He added that while he has yet to find scientific proof that media products such as ‘Baby Einstein’ (a line of multimedia products that aim to promote the development in children between three months and three years old) are beneficial, the world-famous educational television programme, ‘Sesame Street’ has indeed been proven to improve children’s learning proficiency involving letters, numbers, sorting skills and prosocial behaviour.

Moving on to the impacts that the mass media has on children, Dr Gentile said empirical research has shown that prosocial behaviour conveyed through the mass media presents two major effects, namely the Prosocial Effect, which instigates acts of kindness, helpfulness and other positive behaviour amongst its viewers, and the Anti-Violence Effect, which dissuades audiences from producing behaviour that causes harm onto others.

“These positive effects that occur from viewing prosocial behaviour in television programmes are not just short term; on the contrary, they are embedded into the viewer’s subconscious for a lengthy period of time,” said Dr Gentile.

Conversely, however, the developmental psychologist disclosed that viewing violence in the mass media promotes the following four major effects on audiences: the Victim Effect, the Aggression Effect, the Bystander Effect and the Appetite Effect.

Dr Gentile elaborated, “According to studies that have been conducted over the years, violent content in the mass media can cause an increase in fearfulness, mistrust and self-protective behaviour, which is called the Victim Effect and mostly occurs among female viewers.

“Besides that, there is also the Aggression Effect having been exposed to violence in television programmes, causing them to demonstrate behaviour involving increased meanness, aggression and violence, while there are those who manifest the Bystander Effect, which involves increased callousness and apathy, having been desensitised from the same type of media content.

“Finally, the Appetite Effect entails an increase in self-initiated behaviour amongst the viewers in seeing violent material, which basically means the more you watch, the more you want to watch.”
Dr Gentile revealed statistics resulting from documented studies on the mass media’s impact that were conduct in the USA, Japan and Singapore, which showed extremely similar patterns irrespective of the place of the conducted research.

He wrapped up the first segment of his talk with an emphasis on the magnitude and power of a parent’s role in allowing the type of television programmes and/or video games for their children.
Dr Gentile concluded, “Similar to the fact that not every cigarette smoker ends up suffering from lung cancer because of the absence of other risk factors, it is not definite that violent media content will cause children to be inhibit and exhibit aggressive behaviour.

“However, compared to factors such as environment, genetic predisposition and experience, the mass media is the most controllable risk factor when it comes to the formation of negative behaviour amongst children, and parents have the most power to decide on how best to keep this risk factor in check.”

Meanwhile, part two of Dr Gentile’s talk titled, ‘Advertising, the Mind, and What We Can Learn from Advertisers’ Successes’ incorporated discussions on the psychological ‘tricks’ that are used in advertising.
“The four-step process in advertising are building brand awareness, followed by building brand preference and then product purchase or use, and finally building brand loyalty,” said Dr Gentile.

According to Dr Gentile, it is part and parcel for advertisers to develop creative and effective means of promoting any given product, regardless of the said product’s benefits or disadvantages on consumers.
To sell a brand and subsequently the product, Dr Gentile said, “Advertisers use four types of ‘shortcuts’ as a means to endorse its features to the consumer, which are the Authority Principle, the Identification Principle, the Contrast Principle and Humour.”

Most notable among the aforementioned is the Authority Principle which involves persuasion by a leader or authoritative figure, as demonstrated by a recorded clip showed by Dr Gentile on how likely people are to trust and believe in authoritative figures.

The recording exhibited an experiment in which several people with the appeared intention to deposit cash into an ATM.

However, seeing that the machine was seemingly ‘out of order’, they willingly handed over their cash to an actor who was stationed by the ATM dressed as a security guard, without much hesitation or posing many questions, if any at all.

Concluding that since these ‘shortcuts’ that advertisers use have been proven to be effective in subconsciously persuading people to buy their ideas and/or products, Dr Gentile affirmed that similar methods can and should be used in advocating important issues and informative such as those pertaining to children’s health and wellness.

News Taken From : Eastern Times Online, Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

 

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