Research Paradigms, Television, and Social Behavior


Edited by: Joy Keiko Asamen & Gordon L. Berry

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  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Dedication

    Joy Keiko Asamen dedicates this book to the memory of her father, Keigi Asamen.

    Gordon LaVern Berry dedicates this book to his grandchildren:

    Lyndsie Marie, Tenley Monet, Steven Wayne, Christopher Johnathan, and Cierra Nicole.


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    Researchers from many disciplines continue to study the medium of television and its impact on behavior because of its ubiquity in this country and many parts of the world. Television also is the object of much research because it is such an attractive medium that combines its ever-present formal features with powerful images and messages that help to set the agenda for the worldview held by many of its viewers. Social scientists, medical specialists, educators, child advocate groups, and politicians have especially been concerned about the social impact that the messages of television can have on developing children.

    The early planning for this book grew out of a recognition that research efforts designed to study the effects of television needed to be bold enough to use a number of models or paradigms in a variety of settings and in a number of creative ways. This openness in the use of various models, coupled with firm scientific principles, was necessary for any investigator to ascertain the sociopsychological impact that the content, structure, and forms of television are having on viewers. Therefore, we wanted to explore methodologies that were broad enough to inform the thinking of developing researchers who are entering this field of study by showing how social science and related paradigms could be applied to understanding this medium. At the same time, we were committed to the view that experienced investigators might look again at the importance of reassessing their previous research models. Such a reassessment might ensure that their findings are grounded in firm theoretical and scientific principles that are consistent with the complexity of television usage in a dynamic and ever-changing multimedia environment.

    This book, like so much of our previous work, is preoccupied with the role of television in the life of the child. Readers will note, therefore, that our efforts to provide a link between the theoretical and practical aspects of both quantitative and qualitative methodologies refer to research where children are the major participants or target group. We have, however, coupled the focus on children in selected chapters with some broader foci on older age groups and with methodologies that are employed to study television from diverse social science and communication studies perspectives.

    Both editors would like to express our thanks to Margaret Seawell, our editor at Sage Publications, who supported us and provided us with guidance during the process of bringing this volume to fruition. We also thank Kim Cary, systems and instructional technologist, Graduate School of Education and Psychology, Pepperdine University, for providing us with technical consultation during the preparation of the book.

    As the senior editor, Joy Keiko Asamen acknowledges the continued support of her mother, Kiyo Asamen, and Ron Kishiyama.

    As the coeditor, Gordon LaVern Berry especially thanks Juanita Berry for her support during the development and completion of this project.

  • Epilogue

    Research Paradigms, Television, and Social Behavior: A Scientist's Contribution to Initiating Social Change


    After a half century's worth of social science research, we have proposed some answers to how television influences our behavior and attitudes while at the same time raising new challenges for social scientists to pursue. Even when answers have been proposed, there still are the philosophical differences as to how best to study the influences of television on human behavior.

    Social science tends to dichotomize research as falling into one of two major theoretical perspectives: positivist or phenomenological. The former has its roots in the natural and physical sciences and seeks specific causes or facts that explain human behavior. These deductive studies are quantitative and tend to occur within a more constrained context so as to enhance the certainty that the identified cause or fact is valid. The latter perspective is inductive and qualitative in nature with its emphasis on why people behave in the manner they do or on how one makes sense of his or her world; the social context in which the investigation is conducted obviously has high salience. Given the different objectives these two camps of studies set forth to achieve, it is not surprising that different methodologies are needed to seek the answers that are being sought.

    Diversity of method affords us the opportunity to achieve new levels of understanding for what we have learned to accept as convention. I am convinced of the important contribution of each camp toward enhancing our understanding of how this ubiquitous medium affects our lives. By virtue of the underlying philosophies that drive the research paradigms, we would logically be achieving diverse outcomes that I believe complement rather than contradict one another. Only by approaching the concerns raised about the influence of television (and other electronic media) on social behavior as positivists and phenomenologists can we expect to achieve answers that will be empirically substantiated and meaningful to society.

    Through studying the influence of television over the years, we have begun to come up with answers for some of our research questions. We appear to know who is influenced by television—children and adults from all parts of the world. We appear to know something about what influences viewers—for instance, the effect of “program-length commercials” or violence in children's programming. We also know what is influenced by television—for example, attitudes toward specific groups in society, such as persons of color or the physically challenged, or a child's capacity to engage in imaginative play.

    On the other hand, we still are faced with a number of challenges regarding television's influence on the development of attitudes, values, and behaviors in its viewers. For instance, for each generalization that investigators identify, there are exceptions. Why are some viewers exceptions to the “rule”? Why can some children view a steady diet of violent television programming and not act out aggressively? Furthermore, what is the mechanism that explains how television influences the formation of attitudes and values as well as the display of behaviors in viewers? Given the complexity of these issues, it is evident that only through the collaborative effort of scientists from diverse perspectives, the positivists and the phenomenologists, can answers unfold that are both scientifically valid and contextually relevant.

    Social Scientists as Agents of Change

    Social scientists involved in television research have played an integral role in the formation of communication policy in our nation. For example, in the area of children's television programming, we have been able to establish how children's attitudes, values, and behaviors may be influenced by the programming they view, be it violent or, for example, inaccurate portrayals of various groups. Varied research paradigms have been used to establish this relationship, strengthening the validity of this finding. It is through the work of social scientists coming from diverse methodological viewpoints that policymakers eventually drafted the Children's Television Act, which was approved by the U.S. Congress in 1990. Similarly, it is the work of social scientists that has fueled the national concern regarding violent television programming and the introduction of the V-chip.

    Given the global presence of television, the influence this medium has on the attitudes and values of persons from all stages and walks of life, and the potential for this medium to encourage both prosocial and antisocial behavior, social scientists have a responsibility to continue seeking answers as to the influence of this medium on its viewers. Once a social scientist engages in television research, whether he or she intends to or not, the scientist also becomes an agent of change. A scientist cannot study the influence of television and expect that what is found will be overlooked by the policymakers who have been put on alert by their constituencies. If, in fact, social policy develops out of what social scientists uncover, then a scientist must thoughtfully consider the full range of methodologies available in planning the investigation. As responsible scientists, we assess our strengths and limitations and practice our trade in a manner that does not compromise its scientific integrity. Some of us are inclined toward being more positivist, whereas others are phenomenological in our research practices. Given the different intent of these two camps of research, it is important to respect and actively encourage that studies continue to be conducted from both perspectives. As we enter into a new century, this appears to be the only route to uncovering the answers we seek in studying this complex medium.

    About the Authors

    Richard L. Allen, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Communication Studies, University of Michigan

    James A. Anderson, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Communication, University of Utah

    Joy Keiko Asamen, Ph.D., Professor, Graduate School of Education and Psychology, Psychology Division, Pepperdine University

    Gordon L. Berry, Ed.D., Professor, Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and Communication Studies Program in the College of Letters and Science, University of California, Los Angeles

    Kevin A. Clark, Ph.D., Senior Program Manager, The Lightspan Partnership, Inc., San Diego

    George Comstock, Ph.D., S. I. Newhouse Professor, S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communication, Syracuse University

    Patricia M. Greenfield, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles

    Kenneth E. Jones, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, School of Communications, Department of Radio, Television, and Film, Howard University

    Thomas R. Lindlof, Ph.D., Professor, College of Communications and Information Studies, University of Kentucky

    Tannis M. MacBeth, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia

    Timothy P. Meyer, Ph.D., Chair and Ben J. and Joyce Rosenberg Professor, Information Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

    John P. Murray, Professor and Director of the School of Family Studies and Human Services, Kansas State University; Scholar-in-Residence and Director of the Media and Mind Program, Mind Science Foundation, San Antonio, TX, and Visiting Scholar in the College of Communication, University of Texas at Austin (1996–1997)

    Edward L. Palmer, Ph.D., Watson Professor and Chair, Department of Psychology, Davidson College

    Dorothy G. Singer, Ed.D., Research Scientist, Department of Psychology, Yale University, and Co-Director, Yale University Family Television Research and Consultation Center

    Jerome L. Singer, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychology and Child Study, Yale University, and Co-Director, Yale University Family Television Research and Consultation Center

    Carolyn A. Stroman, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Human Communication Studies, School of Communications, and Faculty Investigator, Center for Drug Abuse Research, Howard University

    L. Monique Ward, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan

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