Psychology / Media Effects On Social Groups
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Autor: anton 02 November 2010
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Drinking in college is portrayed in the media as a social norm and heavily encouraged by advertisements such as commercials directed at students, flyers dispersed throughout campuses, and even coupons for local bars found in student newspapers. Given that alcohol consumption is known to increase throughout adolescence and climax in late adolescence or emerging adulthood, heavy episodic alcohol use among college students makes this period crucially important to the etiology of adult alcohol abuse (Shim 2005).
The decision-making perspective suggests that adolescents make rational, goal-oriented decisions to drink, decisions that occur in a series of steps involving the identification and assessment of the desirability and the likelihood of potential consequences (Shim 2005). In a study conducted by Soyeon Shim and Jennifer Maggs (2005), the attraction to drinking in college is linked to personal attitudes, values, and beliefs. Specifically self-actualizing values, which are related to oneâ€™s inner self and are utilitarian, and socialâ€“hedonic values, which are primarily pleasure seeking. Research has shown that the pursuit of socialâ€“hedonistic pleasure, sensation-seeking traits, and college studentsâ€™ interpersonal goals are positive predictors of heavy drinking and/or other risk-taking behavior. Conversely, social conformity and college studentsâ€™ academic and health goals are negative predictors of drinking and/or other risk-taking behavior (Shim 2005).
In 1994, a study was conducted to determine if the price of alcohol would effect how much young people would consume, and therefore in retrospect how incidents regarding alcohol are affected. The study shows that during times when taxation was being imposed that alcohol consumption from the youth was lowered to a large degree while accidents also dropped. This was seen especially when the drinking age was increased during the 1980â€™s. This research suggests that if reductions in youth alcohol consumption, heavy alcohol consumption, and alcohol-related injuries and deaths are desired, an increase in federal taxes on alcoholic beverages is an effective policy to accomplish these goals (Grossman 1994).
Norms are social â€œfactsâ€ of life that help frame perceptions and influence behavioral choices. One refers to norms as widely shared attitudes or expectations about how people in general, or members of particular social group, behave. The term also refers to the most common behavior exhibited in a social group, that is, the statistical average or most typical behavior of group members (Jung 2005).
One important factor in the decision-making process among college studentsâ€™, who choose to drink, is the perception of the social norms. Commonly, peopleâ€™s perceptions of social norms are greatly influenced by vicarious experiences-by what they see, hear, and read-without direct experiential correctives. Because the symbolic environment occupies a major part of peopleâ€™s everyday lives, much of the social construction of reality and shaping of social norm consciousness occurs through electronic acculturation (Jung 2005).
Liking for an advertisement is usually a good indicator of its effectiveness, as that attitude can generalize to the brand, produce, or service being advertise (Russell 2005). In 1990, beer, wine, and liquor advertisers spent $56.5 million on billboard advertising which is believed to be attractive to the alcohol industries due to broad exposure that includes children and young adults. Drinking advertisements include socially desirable attributes such as tough, sociable, and sexually attractive people, and employ visual imagery with depictions of the benefits of consumption (Schooler 1996). Subliminal messages incorporated in advertisements have been mostly ineffective according to researchers; however a 1988 study found that two-thirds of Americans believe they work. "Subliminal messages are only subliminal if people don't realize what they've seen. They are intended to work by tapping the unconscious mind of viewers or listeners and influencing them to think or feel a certain way" (Onion 2000).
Increased identification with reference groups, such as the models portrayed in advertisements, can lead to changes in social reality construction or behavior, because identification tends to lead to the expectation that doing something consistent with that seen in the media will bring positive results. These beliefs, called expectancies, strongly and consistently predict behavior (Austin 2002).
College students today are bombarded with mediated messages to consume alcoholic beverages. These messages help to create an image of a social norm that may or may not be consistent with the actual values of college students. The more strongly students endorsed self-actualizing values, such as having a sense of accomplishment and self-respect, the less favorable were their attitudes toward both physical and psychological, alcohol-related consequences (Shim 2005).
The â€œsocial norm approachâ€ has been the basis of several research studies in regards to problem of college alcohol consumption. Studies suggest that drinking among college students stems from several factors including peer pressure and easy access to alcohol, as well as influence by media and perceived social norms.
Social norm media campaigns, for example, may have been particularly effective because these media campaigns made more salient subjectsâ€™ correct conceptions about college studentsâ€™ alcohol consumption. Social norm marketing campaigns are designed to decrease the pressure to drink (Russell 2005). Ads with psychological themes (e.g., no one wants to drink heavily anymore) in particular can help to create the impression that binge drinkers are uncool, unattractive, unexciting, and unpopular. Compared to the traditionally favored macho image of binge drinkers, it seems important to debunk the myth that heavy drinkers are cool, because health-related information does not necessarily deter youths from taking up the aversive habit (Jung 2005). Given the consistency with which socialâ€“hedonic values, goals, or similar concepts predict college studentsâ€™ drinking consumption, one might argue that hedonic values have central importance during this developmental period. In fact, there is evidence that younger people tend to endorse the value of excitement more highly than older people do (Shim 2005).
College students commonly believe that their peers engage in higher levels of dangerous drinking than is actually the case, which may lead to greater perceived normative pressure to drink (Russell 2005). Misperceived drinking norms are vied as important risk factors that instigate alcohol misuse. The most common type of misperception is when nondrinkers and moderate drinkers (as a majority of students on most campuses are) falsely assume that their fellow students drink more than they actually do. Another misconception among the heavy drinkers is that no one can drink as much as they do. Heavy drinkers rely on this norm to justify their own behavior (Thombs 2004).
Investigating how people perceive social cues in ads would provide useful information regarding the process whereby such persuasive messages may influence potential consumers (Schooler 1996). The â€œperceived norms approachâ€ has been implemented in the fight against college alcohol abuse on college campuses nation-wide. Social norm campaign says that the norms are safety, responsibility, and moderation. Social norm interventions are especially productive when media tools such as newspaper ads, articles, radio programs, poster campaigns, and other public venues are used. In reality, several institutions that persistently communicated accurate norms experienced a reduction of up to 20 percent in high-risk drinking over a relatively short time (Jung 2005).
To test if advertisements affect drinking as a social norm, Dennis L. Thombs, PhD, et al conducted a study at Ohio University. An advertisement was placed in high traffic areas such as walkways, dinning tables, flyers, busses, cabinets, athletic departments, and residentsâ€™ halls. The advertisement was more like a magazine and read, â€œThinking About Your Drinking?â€ with facts about students at other universities that have 4 or fewer drinks at parties and most drink only once a week. A huge part of the whole campaign was to see if students knew what they were even trying to convey in the messages. Only 38.5% knew! When some read the title they though it was an anti-drinking, which it was not (Thombs 2004).
Done 4 was an ad campaign that tried to correct studentsâ€™ misperceptions of the campus drinking norms, which in turn was expected to reduce overall alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problem. The advertisement included black-and-white photographs of young white male students who were bent over a toilet vomiting with several empty beer cans next to the toilet. The phrase â€œBottoms Up!â€ was at the top of the page. They were trying to associate the common phrase used at bars with the aftermath of the picture (Russell 2005).
Done 4 failed for many reasons, most notably because the photograph did not reinforce the slogans social norms message or help make it memorable. Meaning, students werenâ€™t associating their commonly used phrase with the possibility of outcome in the photograph. When they said the â€œBottoms Upâ€ the nasty photo never came to mind (Russell 2005).
Increased media literacy among college students may help to change the perception that the media intends to create advocating alcohol consumption. Studies conducted in 2002 suggest that a minimal intervention designed to enhance awareness of the media-use experience can activate skepticism and have both direct and indirect effects on the message interpretation process that leads to behavioral decisions. Heightened awareness led to increased skepticism, as measured by trust and realism of individual messages viewed by the participants (Austin 2002).
The college environment is unique in that several people come together from around the world, most of which are leaving their home for the first time. Especially as freshmen, students enter a new world of stress, demanding classes/professors, and of coarse extra-curricular activities. A new environment, combined with the inexperience of most students makes them more susceptible to be influenced by social norms and the desire to fit in. The media plays an important role in this disposition; therefore further examination regarding the persuasion of advertisements is essential in the fight against college drinking.
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