This unit examines the effect of media on the society. The unit is subdivided as follows:

  1. Overview of Media Effects 
  2. Definitions of Media Effect 
  3. Levels of Assessment of Media Effects 


At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  1. describe the effects of media on the society 
  2. understand the definition media effects 
  3. identify the levels of assessment of Media Effects. 


3.1 Definitions of Media Effect

To better understand the concept of media effects, let us examine the definitions below:

McQuail (1977) defines media effects as any of the consequences of mass media operation, whether intended or not, that has effectiveness and the capacity to achieve given objectives.

Black et al (1995) observes “the term media effects not only refer to the consequences or impacts of media use on individuals, society and culture; media effects also are rather well-defined area of scholarly inquiry that examines the impact of media”. Black summarises certain rules or conventions about what must occur before something is considered to be true media effect. They are:

  1. the presumed cause (e.g. a person watches a lot of violence on television or in films) and the presumed effects (e.g. a person becomes more aggressive) most covary, change together, in some verifiable way;
  2. the presumed cause (e.g. viewing violence) must precede in time the presumed effect (e.g. engaging in aggression); and 
  3. rival causes and explanations for these other causes (e.g. living in a volatile environment) must be controlled for and/or eliminated. 

Media effects mean different things to many people. To some, it is just about the impact of the mass media message on the audience. Even at that, some communication academics believe that particular parts of the media message must be contextualized. In other words, some academics talk about media effects to mean the impact of particular content of the mass media message. For instance, the impact of watching pornography on audience is propensity to rape. In this case, it is the contents of the media message that produce the impact.

To other academics, it is the medium through which the message passes through that matter. These academics are more concerned about the consequences of using a medium as a totality, relatively independent of the nature or content of its messages. They are particular about the effect that devoting a great deal of time to watching television might have on literacy by displacing time that otherwise might be spent on reading.

In the same vein, some academics are concerned with the impact of particular media message conventions or public notions about a media message. For instance, the general convention is that video games may be addictive for youngsters because they are so fast paced and use so many “orienting devices” that they may control children’s attention.

Focusing on the specific context in which potential effect occur is another concern of effect by researchers which they termed media context effects. For instance, an assessment of the impact of settings and situations in which media are used, such as the impact on learning of watching television or listening to rock music while doing homework.

Levels of Assessment of Media EffectsGenerally, media effect could be assessed at many different levels. They include at:

  1. individual level 
  2. family level 
  3. reference group 
  4. community group 
  5. societal group and 
  6. cultural group 

One needs to point out that different approaches to the assessment of the impact of the media can be used. At the individual level, for instance, scholars might be concerned with media effects on attitudes, beliefs or behaviours, or examination of media effects on perceptions of reality, on level of anxiety, on moral judgement, on predispositions to commit a crime, and on many other dimensions of the way we think, feel or act. (Black et al 1995: 36). Black and his group also noted that “some scholars are more concerned with the short-term or transitory effects of media; others strive to determine whether the media have more durable or long term effects. Sometimes, the positive, beneficial or prosocial effects of media are examined, but more often, concerns are with the negative, detrimental or anti-social consequences of using media”. The authors noted further: “some people examine media effects simply for the purpose of better understanding the roles and consequences of media in the society. Others examine media effect in order to know how to utilize media more effectively to achieve specific goals. Still, others consider media impact in order to administer or regulate media or to better formulate public policy regarding media”.


Which of the levels above do you think media effects could be assessed the most?


This unit has been able to show that the mass media alone should not be blamed or praised for any disruption or betterment in the social communication process. Rather, the unit maintains that both the media and the society at large should be responsible for such alteration in the social process.

Those who tend to hold the mass media solely responsible are those who exaggerate the influence of media and center widespread public concern on negative media effects. This is because they thought that it was possible to study effects more objectively than media uses could be studied. They chose to focus their efforts on developing what they thought would be definitive, powerful ‘explanations for the consequences’ of media use. They didn’t see as much purpose or value in describing and cataloguing people’s subjective reasons’ for using media (Baran & Davies 2003: 258).

The position of this unit is that such effects research is one sided because media cannot serve their intended function unless people make certain uses of their content. Mass media can only transmit any information successfully, only if enough audience members are willing and able to make certain uses of the content. In other words, without the society, which responds or interacts with the mass media, the mass media cannot single-handedly alter the social process. The position here subscribes to the uses and gratifications approach and sharply contradicts that of the effects theories.

One needs to point out, however, that rather than taking a one sided position, that is, ‘uses’ against ‘effects’, it is worthwhile to consider the new research directions which seek to harmonise the ‘uses and ‘effects’ approaches. Windahl (1981) argued that a merger of ‘uses and gratification’ and the ‘effects’ traditions was overdue and proposed what he called a ‘uses and effects’ model that viewed the product of the use of media content as ‘conseffects’ (cited in Baran & Davies) 2003: 268)

Blumer (1979), while presenting his ideas on how the uses and gratifications effect approaches could be harmonized writes:

How might propositions about media effects be generated from… gratifications? First, we may postulate that cognitive motivation will facilitate information gain… Second, media consumption for purposes of diversion and escape will favour audience acceptance of perceptions of social situations in line with portrayals frequently found in entertainment materials… Third, involvement in media
materials for personal identity reasons is likely to promote reinforcement effects.

In essence, while one could aligned oneself with one position against the other, it appeals to intellectual reasoning to pursue the new direction which Windhal refers to as ‘conseffects’. With these, orientations into the role of the media in the society would be harmonized.


This unit has been able to establish the effect of mass media in the society. It looked specifically at what the media do to people and what people do with the media. The unit also examined the different levels of assessment of media effects concept.


Most people believe that the media is to be blamed for the disruption in the society. Do you agree? Give reasons.


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