How does media influence culture and society?

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Kevin Mangelschots

The media has a profound effect on our cognition, beliefs, attitude, affect, physiology, and lastly, our behavior.

Just look at social media and all the popular, yet fleeting trends popping up. What’s deemed cool behavior today might be deemed cringe and old a month, or even a few weeks later.

But how does media influence culture and society? Let’s find out.

Two ways the media effects their audience: Direct effect media vs indirect effect media

Research has shown that the media influences the masses through two main effects:

  • Individual/direct effect. (Private)
  • Social/indirect effect. (Public)

Individual effect/direct effect

The individual or direct effect means that information portrayed by the media may persuade individuals of society to accept them as being true.

Social effect/indirect effect

The social or indirect effect refers to the fact that the information portrayed by the media creates familiar knowledge of a norm.

This raises social coordination and has the capability of maintaining a peaceful society because individuals accept the information easier, more quickly and with less resistance if they believe that other members of society have also accepted that information.

The indirect effect affects the individual through other people by sharing information that influences the rest of the audience instead of the individual directly.

How does media affect our lives?

3D icons of multiple different social media.

The influence media has on society and culture is profound indeed. Media has the influence to affect 6 things in their audience.[1]https://www.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/45690_Chapter_2.pdf Namely:

  1. Cognition
  2. Beliefs
  3. Attitude
  4. Affect
  5. Physiology
  6. Behavior

Cognitive media effect

Cognitive media effect happens when the media exposure impacts an individual’s mental processes.

One of the easiest to notice cognitive effects that happens when the audience gets information from the media is the acquiring of facts and empirical data from media messages.

Media’s effect on beliefs

Beliefs are depicted as cognitions about the chance that an event or object is related with a given concept/construct.

Others have described it as a belief if something is true or not.

The media constantly shapes and alters our beliefs by showing parts of the world that we aren’t always able to see for ourselves because we are living at one particular spot in the world.

Media’s effect on attitude

 

Attitudes are judgments that we make about something or someone.

For example, we make judgments, ratings about someone’s physical attractiveness, likability, and how likely it is to see ourselves in a long-lasting relationship with that individual.

The information that the media shows us triggers and incentivizes us to make judgments about that information. Information such as political issues, candidates, life events and controversial issues.

Media’s effect on affect

Affect alludes to the feelings that individuals experience. It includes our mood and emotions.

The media can trigger a lot of emotions through sharing visual and verbal information. For example, showing images or information about innocent people being killed in a war can trigger fear, but also anger, and feelings of compassion.

But, media such as a music channel playing cheerful, happy songs can also help us to manage our moods when we are sad and stressed out. In this case, by listening to cheerful music, which can help us to calm down.

Media’s effect on physiology

 

Illustration depicting the differences between the autonomic and somatic nervous system.

A physiological effect can be defined as an automatic, involuntary, autonomous somatic response.

For example, when people watch an exciting movie like an action flick, or a horror movie, their heart rates and blood pressure will usually increase as a result from emotions such as excitement, or fear.

This excitement or fear will trigger a fight or flight response of the body. The fight or flight response is a remnant from ancient history to protect ourselves against predators such as animals and other hostile tribes or individuals. In other words, to ensure our survival.

How does media influence our behavior?

Behavior can be described as the actions that an individual takes.

Different media messages will invoke different reactions from the audiences. In other words, the shared media influences our behavior.

For example, media constantly sharing terrible news such as innocent people dying or starving may change our behavior to be more empathetic towards others and may cause us to garner help for the less fortunate people in the world.

Next up, the positive and negative impact of mass media.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

What is mass media?

A sign with the words, “internet”, “television”, “radio”, “newspapers”, and “magazines” pointing to different directions with the sign, “media”, standing in the top center indicating all others are forms of mass media.

Mass media means technology with the purpose to reach a large group of individuals. In other words, with the purpose of reaching a mass audience.

It is the most popular and primary way of communication to target and reach a large group of people or audience in society.

It refers to communication. It can be spoken, written or broadcasted information that targets and hits a large audience.

Any form of media that’s meant for the larger masses is what we call mass media.

Different types of mass media

A lot of different types of mass media exist.

Possible examples could be television, advertising, radio, internet, newspapers, magazines. But it includes movies, and even video games as well.

What is mass media influence?

Image of a man holding 3 covers. The first cover says documents, the second mass media, and the cover below reading information.

Mass media influence can be defined as the effect that the media has by sharing information on all individuals of society. This information affects the beliefs, attitude, and behaviors of individuals and audiences.

It should be noted that this impact on individuals and groups can be positive, but also negative.

The negative effects of mass media on society

Illustration of a tree with at the end of its branches several different mass media icons.

Since mass media has such a large effect on the beliefs, attitude and behavior of society, it can be used intentionally, or unintentionally result in negative effects. And the negative impact of mass media has been plentiful in our history. Overindulging in social media for example can be bad for your mental health.

Mass media can and has lead people to:

  • Poor physical health
  • Poor mental health
  • Depression
  • Negative body image
  • Unhealthy sleep patterns
  • Cyberbullying
  • Fear of missing out (FOMO)
  • Violence
  • Crime
  • Poverty
  • Addiction
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Promoting popular culture

Poor physical health

fast food and unhealthy eating concept - close up of fast food snacks and coca cola drink on wooden table

Mass media organs, such as advertisement promoting the use of cigarettes in the past for example, can cause poor physical health.

The goal of advertisements is to sell as much as possible in order to make profit, not necessarily to make or keep people healthy. That doesn’t mean that all ads promote bad products, or that something can’t be tasty and healthy. But it means that we shouldn’t automatically believe that a product is healthy just because it’s promoted that way.

Sitting still and watching TV, or browsing the internet all day, can become unhealthy if it prevents you from moving around during the day and working out.

It basically comes down to this. Every person requires exercise and to remain in active throughout their lives to stay healthy, no matter who you are.

Poor mental health

A picture of scrabble blocks being laid as such that they describe different kind of mental health disorders.

If the media shares mainly negative news, or if people on social media for example only share their seemingly perfect lives, then that can lead to other people suffering from poor mental health such as depression, and even becoming suicidal.

Always remember that other people purposefully only try to portray the good things in their lives while simultaneously trying to hide the bad stuff going on. In other words, reality is not often found on social media platforms.

Mental health is key. And one should make sure to stay in a healthy place mentally. Consult a therapist, or other professional health care professionals and your best friends and family to get help if needed.

Depression

Picture of a man sitting down with his hands behind his head.

Depression is a form of poor mental health. The source of depression can for example be bad news about war, violence, or through social media because other people’s lives are seemingly that much better and perfect than ours. Or so it is portrayed, at least.

Modern people suffer a lot from depression. And as someone who has suffered from it himself, I would advise you to search immediate professional help. Because depression is frequently too complex and deliberating to defeat on your own, especially if you are severely depressed, and possibly even suicidal.

Negative body image

Another negative impact of mass media could be a negative body image.

It has been shown that mass media strongly influence how people see themselves and others. Sadly, this is often for the worse.

People typically suffer from negative body image due to seeing skinny models on television with the so-called “perfect body”. Other influences can be individuals seeing and considering the perfect selfies and lives of influencers on social media as facts instead of seeing through the portrayed illusion. That most certainly doesn’t help, either.

People have different shapes. One is tall, one is short. One is muscular, one is thin. Likewise, one is thicker, somebody else is skinnier. What matters is that you maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight isn’t healthy, but neither is being too thin. Don’t compare yourself to other people. The grass always seems greener on the other side.

Unhealthy sleep patterns

Female student sleeping on sofa

Mass media platforms such as social media can be extremely addictive to some people. Many people, especially younger folks, typically spend many hours each day on social media.

This behavior can continue at night, which will eventually result in establishing unhealthy sleep patterns. Getting the proper amount of sleep and rest to recharge your batteries is paramount to stay physically and mentally healthy. This means that you should never substitute sleep.

Cyberbullying

Illustration of a prohibition sign with various examples of cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying can be a consequence of the perceived anonymity that people have on the internet. When people share personal information about themselves, with in particular pictures, they’re an easy target and victim for other people to bully them.

Be mindful of what information you share online. You never know what other people with bad intentions will decide to do with that information. Don’t assume that just because you’re a good person, others are too by default.

Fear of missing out (FOMO)

Seeing people from all over the world living it up on social media might create the fear of missing out about those things.

People’s lives are rarely as exciting as they make it up to be. And besides, being a little boring or traditional isn’t always bad. Live your life on your terms, don’t let anyone else dictate how you should live it.

Violence

A man making a clenched fist while the woman tries to protect her face from incoming harm.

One possible negative impact of mass media could be violence.

Some information of mass media channels like television can confirm preexisting biases, such as for example that members of a different race are to blame for recent burglaries, or recent shootings. In reality, people from multiple races, including our own, engage in such despicable behavior, and not just people from one race.

Media can purposefully, or inadvertently, depict the wrong picture. In this case, that only one specific group of people are to blame. It can also be the case that the audience interprets it the wrong way because of their preexisting biases. In this case, this would be their racial bias. Either way, this can lead to violence.

Mass media channels such as video games can also lead to more violence due to blurring the line between reality and fiction.

If you can have to do a lot of violent things in the video game, you can become more prone to doing so in real life as well.

Crime

Image of a yellow tape with the sentence, “crime scene do not cross” written on it in black letters.

In rare cases, movies and information being shared about crime can incentivize someone to commit crimes. Video games can also cause someone to commit crimes because of the violent acts they have to commit in the game.

Of course, that’s not what usually happens. As, anything can tick a person off, whose already mentally unstable and gullible. Still, the line between reality and fiction can get blurry at times and lead to increased crime rates.

Poverty

The luxury stuff that gets displayed on advertisements and the television in general can lead to poverty for the members in society.

Because material wealth is often what impresses people and makes them want to buy that stuff. And that’s ultimately the goal of advertisement. To get you to buy stuff in order to make profit of their audience.

Never live above your means. And realize that material wealth and luxury are not everything that life is about. Money certainly helps to improve your life, but it is not the only thing, nor is it the thing that will lead to happiness and overall contentment.

Addiction

Image of someone's hand pouring whiskey in glasses.

The internet is an addictive place. You can become addicted to shopping due to the constant advertisements poking your eyes out. You can also become addicted to social media, and even to pornography.

People addicted to porn, or any other addiction, are suffering from a chemical imbalance in their brains. Serotonin and norepinephrine are the hormones that regulate our mood and behavior. And those hormones are out of wack in people suffering from any addiction.

Unrealistic expectations

What people show on social media is not necessarily the truth. People typically only want to show the best about themselves. This in turn creates a heavily skewed image of reality.

People like to dream. They like to think of the future, and they certainly like to envision a positive future instead of a negative one, even though a more pessimistic future is in truth also a possibility.

That’s not a bad thing, not at all. But people tend not to be all that objective and introspective when it involves themselves. This can lead to unrealistic expectations in life, which will only lead to misery and unhappiness.

Examples of the negative effects of mass media on society

A boy giving two thumbs down in disapproval.

Let me explain and give some examples of the negative effects of mass media on society.

Let’s take the recent COVID-19 outbreak for instance. While the media has had positive effects regarding warning people of the dangers, and how to protect themselves against it, the mass media has also had negative effects on people’s mental and physical health as well.

The mass media has, in my opinion, had a negative effect on people’s mental and physical health in regard to the whole COVID-19 outbreak.

Perpetually showing the outbreak, the increasing numbers of infected, and constantly reminding people to stay inside led many people to live their lives in fear.

A lot of people, especially elderly individuals, were afraid to go outside for even a simple walk. And we all know that people need to stay active in order to remain healthy. Especially older folks. I can’t imagine how many people’s physical health deteriorated, or have even died from a lack of physical activity out of fear from contracting COVID-19.

Picture showing the words mental health and a green leaf on a white background.

With respect to mental health, the advice from the government to stay inside four walls, to not get out of the house if not necessary hasn’t been kind to our mental health. Not to mention that being stuck in a chronic state of stress and anxiety because of the fear of possibly contracting Covid-19 when one does decide to get out of the house has had a negative impact on our mental AND physical health.

Now, I’m not saying that this was the intention of the government. I’m simply saying that these were adverse effects of mass media, and that it can have profound positive, but negative effects as well. Intended or not.

Another example could be violence in video games. Now, I love video games, and I think they have a lot of positive effects as well. They can stimulate imagination, reflexes, eye-hand coordination, and even higher cognitive functions such as problems solving.

But seeing and performing a lot of violence in video games can lead to people becoming more violent in real life as well. Even though most of us know very well where to draw the line in regard to video games and real life, some people can take it too far.

As a result, the line between fiction and reality can become blurred. This can lead to an increased amount of violence in real life.

Modern mass media organs such as the social media platforms Facebook and Instagram can often portray a distorted view of reality, although it is the people utilizing social media that misuse it in that manner. This can make their audience feel insecure and lonely due to people only showing their seemingly perfect lives and carefully chosen pictures.

People get carried away, and provoking news can start living a life of its own. News and stories tend to become enlarged, and the context frequently ends up becoming distorted as a result.

Can overwhelm personal connections

Mass media can overwhelm personal connections at times. Most of us, have experienced this at some point in history.

Think of being at a party, or a family gathering, with people staring and listening to what’s on the television instead of listening to and concentrating on the people around them.

Or think about people watching YouTube on their phones when going out with other people for drinks. Instead of conversing with their peers, people can get so absorbed by what’s going on online that they don’t even notice their direct surrounding anymore.

Disinformation can get spread

Image of people using their phone saying, “try to stop the spread of false information.”

Mass media such as the internet, or social media can be a huge source of information, but unfortunately, disinformation as well. But perhaps the largest issue with it is how easily that disinformation can get spread with those mediums.

Today, everyone has a voice. And while that is mostly a good thing, it has also allowed people to spread fake news. Previously, those people would usually get filtered out, and common sense would’ve prevented us from giving them a platform or medium to spit out their nonsense to the public. But in modern times, everyone can voice their opinion ever so easily.

Can empower those already in power

Mass media organs, peculiarly those that are privately owned, are at risk for spouting out their own propaganda. The truth often gets blurred when you’ve got a dog in the fight. And that can happen with mass media as well.

There’s always a chance that those in power use it to stay in charge, or to get into a position of even more power.

Think of channels on the television that are left or right leaning. Some are owned by, or associate with, a certain political vision. And regularly, they will advocate what they believe in, not necessarily what’s objectively true. This can and will influence people’s political choices.

Promoting popular culture

Cancel culture symbol or cultural cancellation and social media censorship as canceling or restricting opinions that are offensive or controversial to the public with 3D illustration elements.

Promoting popular culture is not a problem in itself. But when the popular culture takes precedence over the truth and being authentic, then it does become a huge trouble.

What is good is not always popular, nor is it always exciting. Still, being able to act like yourself is important in order to stay mentally healthy and to stave off mental disorders such as depression.

The positive effects of mass media on society

Image of multiple people giving a thumbs up.

Now on to the more positive stuff.

There are good effects of mass media as well.

In fact, it can be a major contributor to positive changes in our society. Think of good effects such as:

  • Informing people
  • Increased awareness
  • Expose the truth
  • Bring issues to light
  • Educational opportunities
  • Developing reading and writing skills
  • Employment opportunities
  • Creating and growing a business
  • Source of inspiration
  • Quick access
  • Practice social skills
  • Bring people together
  • Empower minorities
  • Strengthening family ties
  • Improved mental health
  • Improved physical health
  • Improved motor skills

Informing people

The description of the word information written in black letters on a white piece of paper.

One of the most important functions of mass media is to inform their audiences. It has never been easier to get informed about different topics and to become educated online.

Good decisions can only be made when we are well-informed. This means that caution should be taken in order to make sure that the information is truthful. Always consider the source of the info, and if someone has something to gain by lying to its public.

Increased awareness

Large social media channels can bring more awareness to critical subjects such as political topics, and what issues are currently living in the world.

Increased awareness is essential because it triggers us to think about those things. And thinking about the issues in our society can lead to solutions. If not, it can at least lead to different ways that we can contribute individually.

Expose the truth

Picture with the word “lie” in the background and the word “truth” in the middle of it.

Mass media can either hide the truth, but can also be used as a tool to expose the truth. Again, consider the source carefully and search for multiple mediums in order to find the objective truth. In short, search for empirical evidence.

A great amount of information and truth can be spread to a large audience at an incredible rate. This means we can get to the truth much quicker than we could before.

Bring issues to light

This increased awareness and shared information can bring issues such as political problems to life. Think about the current war that’s going on between Ukraine and Russia.

People who are younger or are living far away from those countries may have no idea what’s going on over there, or what may have led to these huge issues in the first place.

But because of our instant and constant connection with the world due to the internet, social media and television, issues can now be brought to life for the whole world to see with their own eyes.

Educational opportunities

Picture of the word “education” being written with scrabble tiles on a table.

How does media influence education?

The information that gets shared online or via television can educate us about several topics and skills.

But even the internet itself is a huge source of educational opportunities. Think about being able to follow online courses to earn a professional degree.

Before the internet existed, we needed to take classes in a school to get a degree. But today, most people have access to the internet. That also means most of us have entrance to almost unlimited recourses and information.

This means that those with enough time and money can get their degree to practice the jobs of their dreams online without even having to leave their house!

Developing writing and reading skills

Reading books, blogs, and writing about it to your friends, or writing down your favorite quotes and what you’ve learned can help to develop writing and reading skills.

Being able to write and read appropriately is no different from thinking, as you need to think in order to write intelligible and for reading comprehension. These skills are valuable no matter what you do in life or where you’re going to work.

These are skills that are the most important to learn in life, and that you should be taught in school. Read, write, and to think. That’s what makes someone smart and capable.

Employment opportunities

Image of a man focusing on one thing while the rest of his colleagues are talking in a meeting.

Advertisements can directly and indirectly lead to more job opportunities. Ads are getting ever more popular and more employees are needed in order to shoot and broadcast those advertisements.

But the increase in ads and their visibility also helps other people in society to find employment opportunities without having to search everywhere to find a job.

Creating and growing a business

Creating and growing an online business has never been so easy at any point in time. There are so many chances to exploit these days. Earlier, you almost had to be capable of coding to create your own website. But today you can do so without any coding experience.

Growing a business has become exponentially easier as well. Think of promoting with Facebook ads, or promoting your website on social media. The possibilities are endless.

Source of inspiration

Goal, plan, action text on light box on desk table in home office. Business motivation or inspiration, performance of human concepts ideas.

Mass media can serve as a source of inspiration not just for our personal life, but our work life as well.

People have found out before what they wanted to do in life just because they saw a documentary about a particular career or job before. Watching television in general might give us ideas that we want to execute in our own personal businesses as well.

Quick access

Internet has given us quick access to information and education. We are instantly connected to the world with the simple press of a button.

We often don’t appreciate that incredibly fast and convenient access. Not only that, but we might even dismiss it as normal. But it is truly amazing that this is even a possibility.

This ability to quickly find the right information gives us more free time to pursue other things in life, and to absorb more information at a faster rate than was possible before.

Practice social skills

Image of multiple children laughing and talking with each other.

Social media allows us to interact with each other with the simple press of a button.

Staying up to date with the current trends and what’s happening in the world can give you something to talk about with friends and strangers alike.

Talking with your friends through social media can help develop your social skills and can be used as a form of practice. Of course, conversing with people in real life remains key, and there’s no replacement for that. Neither is social media.

Bring people together

Another positive impact of mass media is the capacity to bring people together.

Television showing the horrible things in life, but also the good things currently happening in the world, can serve to bring people together.

People are social animals, and we want to feel connected to each other. It’s the other people that give meaning to our lives. It can bring people together from all over the world, even if they don’t know each other personally.

Empower minorities

Image of multiple pawns standing together with one pawn standing separated alone.

Mass media can empower the minorities by enabling everyone to actively voice their opinion now. And there is real power in numbers. Beforehand, the minority might have been silenced by the larger majority. But now, that is much harder to accomplish.

Just because it’s a minority doesn’t mean they don’t have anything valuable to say, or that they aren’t right. We need thoughts and ideas that are different from the average in order to solve problems and to be able to live together peacefully and cooperatively.

Strengthening family ties

Spending time with the family helps to strengthen family ties. Watching television, or even dancing to music together at a family gathering, can help to strengthen the bond between our family members.

Television showing how families eat together in movies and documentaries can also help to reinforce those values and thus, can strengthen family ties as a result.

Improved mental health

Illustration of a brain with arms and legs lifting weights while smiling, indicating that working out makes the brain feel, and work better.

Educational programs, documentaries, and people telling their personal experience and struggles regarding mental health can help break the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

This can increase the probability of the audience of the mass media to search help when struggling with their mental health.

The media can also educate individuals how to appropriately guard their mental fortitude, what possible symptoms of mental health difficulties look like, and how to deal and cope with them more effectively.

So the media can help raise awareness, recognize, and deal with mental health issues while simultaneously reducing the stigma surrounding mental health concerns.

Improved physical health

Fit dark skinned woman cutting healthy vegetables and fruits.

Educational programs can help to bring awareness to the importance of physical health and how to effectively stay in good shape.

Think of raising consciousness to the importance of a healthy body weight, the importance of both endurance and strength workouts to stay fit, especially when we get older and naturally lose muscle mass and mobility. But also the negative impacts that bad habits such as smoking and drinking too much have.

Some television channels offer yoga, Pilates, and even calisthenic workouts that their audience can follow in order to stay in great physical shape.

Improved motor skills

A positive impact of mass media can be improved motor skills.

Video games for example do have a lot of positive effects on individuals, such as improving problem-solving skills, but also improved motor skills like eye-hand coordination.

You’ll need to be very fast and be able to deliver a lot of inputs in a short amount of time. Especially if you decide to play against other players online, which typically ups the difficulty. Improved motor skills are important in sports, but also to keep ourselves physically healthy and balanced.

Being unable to move well or, even worse, not being able to move at all leads to a lot of deaths at a later age. This means that developed motor skills are a literal lifesaver.

Examples of positive effects of mass media on society

Image of a purple plus sign on a black background.

Let me give you some examples of the positive effects of mass media on society.

Let’s think about the current war between Ukraine and Russia for a second. It’s a terrible thing. Many innocent people are dying, people lose limbs, are starving from hunger, and so on.

Yet, because of the media coverage, many people from all over the world are supporting these innocent people who are currently suffering from the war by making contributions. Donations with clothes, food, money, and even actively sheltering people who are refugees in their very own houses.

This is one of the beneficial effects of mass media influence. It encourages empathy and humanity from the individuals of our society. It stimulates our responsibility to help those in need in case of natural disasters and other unfortunate situations.

Furthermore, quiz based games, educational news such as broadcasts and cooking programs increase the literacy and capability of their audiences.

The quote, “in the age of information, ignorance is a choice” written on a black background.

The current generation is much more educated and self-aware of their rights and what’s happening in the world due to the increased access to media today. This is to their own, personal benefit, but can also be beneficial to their professional career as well.

For example, knowing how much a junior engineer fresh out of college is making at the average can help the beginning engineer to understand how much he should reasonably be asking for his first job.

In short, when the media portrays accurate information, without their own personal bias and propaganda, is when mass media has the most positive effect on their audiences.

People should always be conscious and skeptical of the information they’re given in life, even the information portrayed by well known mass media channels.

That’s not to say that the presented information is automatically wrong or misguided by default. But a healthy amount of skepticism and criticism is healthy to figure out if the information is valid, and to keep a peaceful, well functioning society.

Always consider the source of the information, if there’s empirical evidence about the topic, and what the current literature has to say about that subject.

Final note

Image of the word, “conclusions” written on a black backboard with white chalk.

Mass media has multiple benefits, but has some potential, life altering downsides as well.

In the best case scenario, it helps to maintain a peaceful, cooperative society while simultaneously informing and educating its audience truthfully. At worst, media aids in creating chaos and destabilizing society as a result.

As always, be critical of the information you’re receiving. Consider the source, the empirical evidence, and your own intuition in order to get as close to the objective truth as possible.

References

References
1https://www.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/45690_Chapter_2.pdf