Decision-Making and Media Literacy

As I pointed out in the personal essay section of this blog, being unaware of how media influence our decisions can have potentially disastrous consequences. See Swimming with Alligators. This chilling story about teens who ignored warnings designed to save their lives underscores the need for media literacy.

IMediaShocknformation is so ubiquitous in our lives, and the motives behind it are often so disguised, that people need to learn better ways to evaluate and analyze it. The Center for Media Literacy (CML) is dedicated to helping children and adults prepare for living and learning in a global media culture by translating media literacy research and theory into practical information, training and educational tools for teachers and youth leaders, parents and caregivers of children.

The group believes that:

  1. Media literacy is education for life in a global media world.
  2. The heart of media literacy is informed inquiry.
  3. Media literacy is an alternative to censoring, boycotting or blaming “the media.”

Regarding point #3, they say:

Deeply committed to the First Amendment and freedom of expression, media literacy does not promote partisan agendas or political points of view. The power of media literacy is its ability to inspire independent thinking and foster critical analysis. The ultimate goal of media education is to make wise choices possible.

The Center for Media Literacy offers educators a library of curriculum guides and teaching tools.

I like their approach. In a global, self-published medium like the Internet, government regulation of the sending side of communication is difficult. Education of the receiving-side is the only practical way to protect and empower people.

Promiment among the growing number of advocacy groups calling for more media literacy is UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization). They say, “The proliferation of mass media and new technologies has brought about decisive changes in human communication processes and behaviour.”  Media literacy, they say, empowers citizens to understand media, critically evaluate content, and make informed decisions.

Many believe the U.S. lags other parts of the world in media literacy education. Among  the U.S. organizations calling for more child and adult media literacy education are:
Achieve Inc.
American Academy of Pediatrics
Aspen Institute/Communications and Society
Cable in the Classroom
Center on Media and Child Health
Educators for Social Responsibility
Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI)
Kaiser Family Foundation
National Association for Media Literacy Education
National Middle School Association
National Council for the Social Studies
National Council of Teachers of English
The National Telemedia Council
Telemedium: Journal of Media Literacy

Partnership for 21st Century Skills

By better understanding how media skew perceptions on an unconscious level, people can make more rational, logical, and informed decisions. But what if people can’t read at all? Or what if they are functionally illiterate? In the next post, I’ll discuss some statistics scary enough to make Bram Stoker and James Cameron look comforting.

Effects of Electronic Media on Children Ages Zero to Six

The Effects of Electronic Media on Children Ages Zero to Six is a comprehensive survey of research stretching back 50 years. It was prepared for the Kaiser Family Foundation by the Center on Media and Child Health, Children’s Hospital Boston in 2005. It explores the history of research about the effects of electronic media on children while their minds are still developing and when they are most vulnerable, i.e., before they fully develop critical thinking skills and become conscious of how media can affect them.

Even the youngest children in the United States use a wide variety of screen media. As the Kaiser Family Foundation notes in its introduction to the study, “Some children’s organizations have expressed concerns about the impact of media on young children; others have touted the educational benefits of certain media products. This issue brief provides a comprehensive overview of the major research that has been conducted over the decades on various aspects of young children’s media use, and also highlights the issues that have not been researched to date.”

FatKidEatingTopics examined include:

  • Health
  • Aggression
  • Violence
  • Pro-social media
  • School Achievement
  • Attention and Comprehension
  • Fear Reactions to Frightening Content
  • Parental Intervention
  • Learning
  • Reality
  • The Family Environment
  • Response to Advertising
  • Computer Use

In regard to advertising, research has shown that children in this age group are unable to understand its persuasive intent. This raises questions about unfair manipulation that could affect a child’s later growth and trajectory in life. For instance, among the studies cited, research showed that:

• The likelihood of obesity among low-income
multi-ethnic preschoolers (aged one to five
years) increased for each hour per day of TV or
video viewed. Children who had TV sets in their
bedrooms (40% of their sample) watched more TV
and were more likely to be obese (Dennison, Erb &
Jenkins, 2002).
• Children (average age of four years) preferred
specific foods advertised on video more than
children who had not seen the foods advertised on
video (Borzekowski & Robinson, 2001).
• Body fat and body mass index increased most
between the ages of four and 11 among children
who watched the most TV (Proctor, Moore, Gao,
Cupples, Bradlee, et al, 2003).

This survey of research concludes with a call for more research in specific areas. One of those is “media interventions.”

            “In order to mediate the effects of media on young children, interventions such as media literacy programs and parental education curricula should be designed and evaluated. There have been almost no media literacy programs designed for zero- to six-year-olds. The United States is far behind other countries in this regard; Australia
and the Netherlands begin teaching media literacy in
preschool and continue it through higher education.
Research in older children indicates that media literacy
may be the most effective intervention with which to
counter negative media effects. Media influences on young children are not only strong and pervasive, but also potentially controllable – especially in the early years when parents determine the majority of their children’s media exposure.”


My next post will deal with media literacy programs which these researchers say may be the most effective form of intervention.

Cell Phones Affect Kids’ Sleep: Need for Digital Curfews

A personal anecdote: I am writing this at 3:00 a.m. after being woken up by a text message on my wife’s cell phone (which she fell asleep with) at 1:38 a.m. The message was from our son who lives two time zones west of Houston. No emergency. He just wanted to tell my wife that he received something she emailed.

I tried to go back to sleep, but couldn’t. So I started wondering if other people had this same problem, i.e., being awakened by electronic gadgets. To the google search bar! The Center on Media and Child Health lists it as a hot topic.

In Perspectives on Parenting, Karen Jacobson, MA, LCPC, LMFT and Lauren Bondy, MSW, suggest setting a digital curfew.

“The playground for tweens and teens today is electronic,” they say. “kids today are roaming, playing, forming relationships, testing limits, making mistakes, exploring, experimenting, and forming their identities and values in online digital spaces.”

Studies [1][2][3] show that sleep is interrupted when teens receive texts at night. Likewise, homework is interrupted and children become distracted when they receive notifications of a new chat messages, texts, or emails. To avoid a daily battle, the authors suggest that parents make a time when all media are off limits into part of the routine. Other recommendations the authors make include:

  • Involving kids in establishing a media plan for their entire day, and agree on weekday and weekend hours.
  • Allowing social media time only after homework is done or during homework breaks.
  • Asking kids, “What’s the best place to charge your cell phone and keep it from distracting you?”


Cell phones are rapidly becoming an integral part of kids’ lives. According to research by C&R Research, 22 percent of young children own a cell phone (ages 6-9), 60 percent of tweens (ages 10-14), and 84 percent of teens (ages 15-18. And cell phone companies are now marketing to younger children with colorful kid-friendly phones and easy-to-use features. According to market research firm the Yankee Group, 54 percent of 8 to12 year olds will have cell phones within the next three years.

These studies and observations suggest that growing and uncontrolled cell phone use among children can have a detrimental impact on their sleep which, in turn, can make them tired the next day and affect their ability to learn in school.


1. Irregular bedtime and nocturnal cellular phone usage as risk factors for being involved in bullying: A cross-sectional survey of Japanese adolescents by Tochigi, Mamoru;Nishida, Atsushi;Shimodera, Shinji;Oshima, Norihito;Inoue, Ken;Okazaki, Yuji;Sasaki, Tsukasa, 2012

2. Adolescent use of mobile phones for calling and for sending text messages after lights out: Results from a prospective cohort study with a one-year follow-up by van den Bulck, Jan, 2007

3. Text messaging as a cause of sleep interruption in adolescents, evidence from a cross-sectional study by van den Bulck, Jan, 2003



Generational Preferences Affecting News Consumption

The decline of printed newspapers during the last decade has been well chronicled. An earlier post called The Future of Digital Media referred readers to a slide deck compiled by Business Intelligence. BI indicates that print-newspaper advertising revenue has declined more than 60 percent in the last decade as people got more and more of their news over the Internet and from mobile devices.

A 2012 survey by the Pew Foundation called Trends in News Consumption confirms this trend. It also indicates that television news may be vulnerable now, too. The reason: a growing tendency among young people to consume news online.

Pew found that “Perhaps the most dramatic change in the news environment has been the rise of social networking sites. The percentage of Americans saying they saw news or news headlines on a social networking site yesterday has doubled – from 9% to 19% – since 2010. Among adults younger than age 30, as many saw news on a social networking site the previous day (33%) as saw any television news (34%), with just 13% having read a newspaper either in print or digital form.”

As younger people move online, they leave television news with an increasingly older audience.


My take: In a personal essay elsewhere on this site, I discuss generational conflicts in media preferences. Changing demographics of the evening network news shows have changed their advertiser base. Long gone are the BMW commercials. Viagra, Cialis and other drug commercials aimed at seniors have replaced them.

Prescription drug advertising has become so prevalent, one wonders whether it is a reflection or a cause of the shows’ aging demographics. Personally speaking, I feel a little self-conscious when – with my family – Cialis commercials come on. It makes me wonder whether the younger people in the room are thinking, “Does he or doesn’t he?”  Hey, when they start advertising adult diapers on the evening news, I’m out of there. You’ll find me getting all my news online, too!

Priming Effects of Television Food Advertising on Eating Behavior

A 2009 study by Jennifer L. Harris, John A. Bargh, and Kelly D. Brownell of Yale University published in Health Psychology and titled Priming Effects of Television Food Advertising on Eating Behavior poses some interesting questions about whether exposure to food advertising stimulates the appetite even when you are not hungry. The study sheds light on how exposure to food advertising may contribute to the obesity epidemic which both a U.S. Surgeon General and World Health Organization have labeled a leading cause of death, disease and disability. WomanEatingBurger

The study tested the hypothesis that exposure to food advertising during TV viewing contributed to obesity by triggering the urge to snack on available food.

The researchers studied two groups: elementary-school-age children and adults.

Children watched a cartoon that contained either food or non-food advertising and received a snack while watching.

Adults watched a TV program that included food advertising that promoted:

  • Fun product benefits
  • Nutrition benefits

They also measured a control group that saw no food advertising. The adults then tasted and evaluated a range of healthy to unhealthy snack foods in an apparently separate experiment.

For both children and adults, they measured the amount of snack foods consumed during and after exposure to the advertising.

They found that:

  • Children consumed 45% more when exposed to food advertising.
  • Adults consumed more of both healthy and unhealthy snack foods following exposure to snack food advertising compared to the control group.

They concluded, “In both groups, food advertising increased consumption of products not advertised. This effect was not related to reported hunger or other conscious influences.” They say that their experiments “demonstrate the power of food advertising to prime automatic eating behaviors and thus influence far more than brand preference alone.”

My take: People overeat for many reasons. This study shows the power of television to stimulate the appetite is one of them. However, it doesn’t address how much television contributes to overeating compared to other causes. That’s not criticism, just an observation about the study’s scope.

Speaking as someone who suffered serious health consequences from overeating and who recently shed 80 pounds, I found that my obesity was largely related to eating too many high-calorie meals at restaurants.

The meals were both over-portioned and high in fat. I began losing weight simply by becoming more aware of the caloric content of my foods through a 99-cent iPhone app. It helped me make healthier food choices. I also began vigorously exercising for an hour each day. I still watch just as much television as I always have.

I suspect that the priming effect discussed in this study is a contributing cause to obesity but not the main cause. Insofar as television influences food choice, we should also not forget that it can influence food choice in a positive direction. In my opinion, the largest factors contributing to obesity are lack of conscious thought about:

  • How many calories we consume each day
  • How poor food choices can negatively impact health.

All that food on television may look appetizing, but after $250,000 bypass surgery, believe me, a 99-cent iPhone app looks far more appealing.

It’s 10 p.m. Do you know whom your kid is texting?

An article by Liz Perle on, The Side Effects of Media, discusses a Kaiser Family Foundation report called Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds.

Perle, citing the report, points out:

  • Over the past 5 years, there has been a huge increase in media use – from nearly 6 1/2 hours to more than 7 1/2 hours today
  • Due to multitasking, kids pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes of media content into those 7 1/2 hours. Kids ages 8-18 spend more time with media than they do with their parents or in school.
  • Mobile and online media fuel these huge increases in media use
  • Three groups stand out for their high levels of consumption: preteens, African Americans, and Hispanics
  • Kids who spend more time with media report lower grades and lower levels of personal contentment
  • Parental involvement matters: Children whose parents set rules or limited access spent less time with media than their peers

Seven and a half hours a day almost equals the amount of time most adults spend at work. But these children consume media seven days a week, not five. During that 7.5 hours per day, the time they spend reading magazines dropped from 14 to nine minutes; reading newspapers dropped from six minutes to three.

Kaiser found: “Today the typical 8- to 18-year-old’s home contains an average of 3.8 TVs, 2.8 DVD or VCR players, 1 digital video recorder, 2.2 CD players, 2.5 radios, 2 computers, and 2.3 console video game players. Except for radios and CD players, there has been a steady increase in the number of media platforms in young people’s homes over the past 10 years (with the advent of the MP3 player, the number of radios and CD players has actually declined in recent years).”

Much of that media is moving into the bedroom, according to Kaiser. Kids report spending more time watching TV than using any other medium. Among 7th–12th graders, about four in ten (39%) say they multitask with another medium “most of the time” they are watching TV.

The researchers also say that in a typical day, 46% of 8- to 18-year‑olds report sending text messages on a cell phone. Those who do text estimate that they send an average of 118 messages in a typical day. On average, 7th–12th graders report spending about an hour and a half (1:35) engaged in sending and receiving texts.

But that’s not the only thing kids use smartphones for. Smartphones are rapidly becoming a media-delivery platform for this age group. Older teens report spending more than an hour a day consuming media via the cell phone alone (:23 for music, :22 for games, :22 for TV).

My take: These findings suggest that young Americans spend more time consuming media than they do eating, sleeping, or going to school. When I was growing up, the term “conspicuous consumption” referred to the clothes, cars and other things people bought to flaunt their wealth. One might say that among today’s youth, conspicuous consumption refers to the increasing ways that people devour information from smartphones. Seriously, parents need to set some limits for kids and teach them about media, just as they would teach them to drive. In the personal essay section of this blog, I describe (in sometimes painful detail) how different media can sometimes skew the way people make life-altering decisions.

Impact of Nutrition Information on Food Choice

Two University of Minnesota researchers studied the impact of nutrition information provided through popular media on consumers’ purchases in grocery stores. They studied omega-3 fortified eggs as an example. According to the authors, Sakiko Shiratori and Jean Kinsey, the results showed a significant positive impact of nutritional information from the popular media on consumers’ food choices. They also found that publishing stories  in popular media can effectively promote consumers’ health.

They conclude, “The impact of nutritional information from the popular media on consumers’ food choices is substantial. Although Omega-3 fortified eggs usually sell at a premium price compared to the typical eggs, growing knowledge of the health benefits of Omega-3 propels their consumption. To change dietary behaviors in order to promote health, publishing in popular media can be said to be an effective communication approach.”

The 2011 study takes into account other factors contributing to food choices such as price, income, household demographics or regional differences.

Positive, scientific nutritional information presented in a variety of mass media shifted  consumer demand.

My take on this: This study makes a pretty compelling case for PR when food companies have a positive story to tell. In future posts, I’ll discuss other studies related to media and food. I began my career in food advertising and worked on food accounts almost exclusively for my first ten years in the advertising industry.

If you’ve never heard of Omega-3 Eggs, this article provides a good summary. The heart you save may be your own.