Research in Media Effects (Revised October 2009) Mass Media Research: An Introduction, 9 th Edition

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The Survey Approach. Most survey studies have used questionnaires that incorporate measures of media exposure (such as viewing television violence or exposure to pornography) and a pencil-and-paper measure of antisocial behavior or attitudes. In addition, many recent studies have included measures of demographic and sociographic variables that mediate the exposure–antisocial behavior relationship. Results are usually expressed as a series of correlations.

A survey by McLeod, Atkin, and Chaffee (1972) illustrates this approach. Their questionnaire contained measures of violence viewing, aggression, and family environment. They tabulated viewing by giving respondents a list of 65 prime-time television programs with a scale measuring how often each was viewed. An index of overall violence viewing was obtained by using an independent rating of the violence level of each show and multiplying it by the frequency of viewing. Aggression was measured by seven scales. One measured respondents’ approval of manifest physical aggression (sample item: “Whoever insults me or my family is looking for a fight”). Another examined approval of aggression (“It’s all right to hurt an enemy if you are mad at him”). Respondents indicated their degree of agreement with each of the items on the separate scales. Family environment was measured by asking about parental control over television, parental emphasis on nonaggressive punishment (such as withdrawal of privileges), and other variables. The researchers found a moderate positive relationship between the respondents’ level of violence viewing and their self-reports of aggression. Family environment showed no consistent association with either of the two variables.

Sprafkin and Rubinstein (1979) used the survey method to examine the relationship between television viewing and prosocial behavior. They used basically the same approach as McLeod, Atkin, and Chaffee (1972), except their viewing measure was designed to assess exposure to television programs established as prosocial by prior content analysis. Their measure of prosocial behaviors was based on peer nominations of people who reflected 12 prosocial behaviors, including helping, sharing, following rules, staying out of fights, and being nice. The researchers found that when the influence of the child’s gender, the parents’ educational level, and the child’s academic level were statistically controlled, exposure to prosocial television explained only 1% of the variance in prosocial behaviors.

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