Special Session Summary the Three S’S of Masss-Media Influence: Socialization, Social Judgments, and Social Behaviors

Dan Freeman, University of Arizona
Merrie Brucks, University of Arizona
[ to cite ]:
Dan Freeman and Merrie Brucks (1999) ,"Special Session Summary the Three S’S of Masss-Media Influence: Socialization, Social Judgments, and Social Behaviors", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 410-411.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Pages 410-411



Dan Freeman, University of Arizona

Merrie Brucks, University of Arizona

What do violence, tobacco addiction, alcohol abuse, obsession with body image, and excessive materialism have in common? Leading scholars have argued that the extent of all of these behaviors may be magnified by mass media entertainment and/or advertising. For example, Pollay (1986) summarizes the claims from numerous scholars spanning several academic disciplines in arguing that advertising produces a distortion of cultural values, which he termed the "unintended consequences" of advertising. Such claims are consistent with published research in the communication literature that has consistently reported positive correlations between mass media exposure and various undesirable behaviors and questionable values. The purpose of this session was to explore the processes by which mass media may act as socializing agents, and the implications for subsequent social judgments and social behaviors.

Until recently, a process-based theoretical explanation for the socializing force of mass media has been lacking. Muh of the evidence garnered in supporting such claims has consisted of content analyses of advertisements and television programs or simple correlational studies. Consequently, the notion that images and messages communicated through mass media produce profound negative consequences has been considered by many as little more than "prevailing opinion," (for example, see Holbrook 1987). Fortunately, new energy was infused into this research stream in consumer behavior with the publication of O’Guinn and Shrum (1997). Building on cultivation theory from the field of communication as well as information processing theory, O’Guinn and Shrum (1997) provides a process-based theoretical explanation for data showing greater distortion of affluence judgments with increased exposure to affluence-oriented images and messages in daytime television programming. More generally, this paper provides a psychological explanation for the socializing influence of mass media programming and messages, unintended or otherwise, in advertising.

The presentations in this session followed in the spirit of O’Guinn and Shrum (1997) by taking process-based theoretical approaches to the investigation of mass media influence in policy-relevant contexts. The papers provided diverse, but yet complementary, perspectives on this issue in their theoretical underpinnings, target populations, and data collection methods.



L.J. Shrum, Rutgers University

Valerie Darmanin, N.W. Ayer & Partners

This presentation reported the results of a study that investigated the relative effects of both direct and mass-mediated experience on perceptions of risk. The study focused on one type of riskC risk of crime victimizationCand in doing so, tested three competing theories about how direct and mass-mediated experience interact to influence crime risk perceptions: 1) mainstreaming, which suggests that television viewing will have the greatest effect on those with less direct experience with crime; 2) resonance, which predicts a greater effect of television viewing on those who have more direct experience (TV provides a "double dose" of information); and 3) impersonal impact, which posits that the effects of direct and indirect experience are a function of whether the estimates are concerned with personal crime risk (e.g., one’s own chances of being a victim of a crime) or societal crime risk (e.g., estimates of the societal crime rate). Results from a study of 157 general population respondents showed mixed support for the impersonal impact hypothesis. Consistent with the impersonal impact hypothesis, regression results indicated a cultivation effect (positive relation between television viewing and crime risk judgment) for societal crime risk estimates but not for personal (own neighborhood) crime risk estimates, whereas direct experience was related to personal (own neighborhood) crime risk judgments. Contrary to the impersonal impact hypothesis, direct experience also had an independent effect on societal crime risk judgments. In addition, both direct experience and television viewing were significantly related to personal (NYC) crime risk judgments. However, the introduction of a TV X Direct Experience interaction term into the regression equation was significant and reduced the effects of both television viewing and direct experience to non-significance for all three crime risk judgments. Additional analyses indicated that the significant interaction was the result of a greater effect of television viewing on the crime risk judgments of those with more direct experience, consistent with a resonance effect.



Connie Pechmann, University of California, Irvine

Marvin E. Goldberg, Pennslvania State University

For the past twenty years, a host of researchers in public health, medicine, psychology and consumer behavior have been studying why young people start to smoke cigarettes. The findings consistently show that youths who become smokers (vs. refrain) have substantially different perceptions of tobacco-related social norms (Lynch and Bonnie 1994). Youths who smoke (vs. nonsmokers) perceive smoking to be significantly more prevalent among both youths and adults. Researchers have applied these findings to develop school-based tobacco use prevention programs. Years of research have resulted in a highly effective curriculum referred to as the "Social Influences Resistance" curriculum. This curriculum takes a multi-pronged approach in that it seeks to denormalize smoking, teach youths how to resist social pressures to smoke and explains the importance of the tobacco issue from both a personal and public health perspective. Unfortunately, this curriculum has been very difficult to implement because it requires approximately fifteen class sessions, and there is simply not enough time in the school day. Thus, many tobacco control officials have all but abandoned the hope of covering the required content in school. Instead, they have turned their attention to the possibility of using mass media ads for tobacco use prevention. Unfortunately, there is considerable uncertainty over which types of anti-smoking ads work vs. do not work with youths, and there has been very little research on the topic. In the current research, we investigate the relative effectiveness of different types of anti-smoking messages for smoking prevention and the applicability of the social influences resistance model. Study 1 employed several hundred 7th and 10th graders in developing and implementing a message-based coding scheme for more than 200 anti-tobacco advertisements. In Study 2, we focused our attention on the seven most prevalent types of ads and randomly selected 8 ads of each type for further study. The experimental design was a randomized factorial with 9 levels: the 7 antismoking ad types, a mixed ad condition (1 ad of each type) and a control ad condition. Dependent variables included intent to smoke, attitudes toward smoking, perceptions of social norms regarding smoking, risk perceptions and knowledge of tobacco marketing tactics. Our results suggest that ads that contain family or peer-related (social norm) messages tend to be highly effective with youth while the other ads types seem to be relatively ineffective. The most persuasive ads: (1) discuss the negative impact of smoking on family members, (2) depict smokers as having a negative social image, or (3) depict nonsmokers as having a positive social image. Ads that focused on long-term personal health effects, short-term cosmetic effects or tobacco marketing practices had no significant impact on smoking-related attitudes or intent. By defining theoretically meaningful categories of anti-smoking ads, this research has provided a foundation for further research in the area. The findings also suggest which types of ads may be most effective at dissuading youths from smoking.



Merrie Brucks, Melanie Wallendorf, and Dan Freeman, University of Arizona

In order to prevent alcohol and tobacco-related disease and/or abuse, health advocates must be able to prevent adolescents from initiating the use of these products. Historical data have suggested that most children who use these self-destructive products begin during adolescence; thus, nearly all studies of psychosocial risk factors associated with the onset of use, product-related advertising effects, and school-based interventions have focused on children age 12 and older. By the time children reach adolescence, however, they have already been exposed to a flood of commercial messages promoting the onsumption of alcoholic beverages and tobacco. In the upstream/downstream metaphor suggested by Goldberg (1995), these messages reach children while they are on the upstream banks of the river that flows rapidly toward alcohol abuse and tobacco addiction. Since it may be easier to change the conditions at the upstream site where the children play than it is to pull them out of the dangerous rapids later, we break with traditional research by focusing on the conditions at the headwaters. The two studies we report investigate the socializing influence of billboard advertisements for alcoholic beverages and print advertisements for cigarettes on young children, respectively. Both studies utilize a projective method for assessing children’s socialization to alcohol and tobacco-related attitudes that minimizes social desirability bias. Taken together, the findings from the two studies are cause for great concern. Results suggest that not only have young children (i.e., children ages 5-7) begun to form associations with alcohol and tobacco use/users, they have begun to form positive associations that may predispose them to initiate use when they reach adolescence.


Goldberg, Marvin E. (1995), "Social Marketing: Are We Fiddling While Rome Burns?" Journal of Consumer Psychology, 4 (4), 347-370.

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Lynch, B.S. and R.J. Bonnie (1994), Growing Up Tobacco Free, Washington DC: National Academy Press.

O’Guinn, Thomas C. & L. J. Shrum (1997), "The Role of Television in the Construction of Consumer Social Reality," Journal of Consumer Research, 23 (4), 278-294.

Pechmann, Cornelia (1997), "Do Anti-Smoking Ads Combat Underage Smoking? A Review of Past Practices and Research," in Social Marketing: Theoretical and Practical Perspectives, M.G. Goldberg, M. Fishbein and S. Middlestadt eds., Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 189-216.

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