Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Science Behind Your Parents Telling You Not to Watch Too Much TV

The "house of Mad Science" is finally pretty much rid of the flu bug! Now, hopefully, I'll blog a bit more frequently. However, there are some big things coming up with Mrs. Mad Scientist going to Seattle to welcome a new niece to our family. We are also finally cranking up data collection in the PRIME Lab with some exciting studies that I am sure I'll mention here once results start rolling in.

In this blog entry I want to share with you that there is actually good science to back up what any good parent knows. Too much TV is a really bad thing. Even more important, this science backs up what the apostle Paul admonished followers of Christ to do in Phillipians 4:8 when he said "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things."

One of the most common media effects theory is termed "Cultivation Theory." The main premise is that individuals who watch a lot of television will overtime begin to believe that the "real world" is similar to what is presented on TV. The primary evidence of this effect has been found for peoples' crime estimates. Also, known as the "mean and scary world hypothesis," this effect takes the form of heavy viewers of television perceiving the world to be more violent than it actually is. However, in theory, this cultivation effect can carry over to other beliefs and judgements. Heavy media exposure for instance can fundamentally shape young males' social reality judgements concerning how to behave toward and communicate with women by "cultivating" particular beliefs about how "successful" men and women behave. Numerous studies have also demonstrated that media use can for instance "cultivate" in young women a belief of what the "ideal" female body looks like and how to present that body to the world. One particular sad point in this line of research is that there appears to be a link between pressure to attain the "ideal" body presented through the media and eating disorders.

The most recent research suggests that the reason the cultivation effect occurs is that the human brain doesn't always distinctly attach the source of information with information stored in long term memory so over time we forget that, for instance, the way we think male and female relationships exist is based on distorted and all too often immoral information stored in our memory from the media we consume. This is grounded in the very structure of human memory. Extremely brilliant cognitive psychologists have proposed that human memory consists of interconnected nodes of information and that connections between the nodes are created, strengthened and weakened as we perceive and store into memory, information, including any media content, in our environment. Therefore, if an individual is constantly exposing his or herself to the world as presented on TV, or any other form of media, connections between long-term memory nodes representing that information will be the strongest making the media world view the most accessible in memory.

Thus, according to good science, the media content we expose ourselves to and therefore let our thoughts dwell on will fundamentally shape the information we have accessible in memory and in turn have some effect on how we perceive and interact with God's world. This is the science behind too much TV being a bad thing and Phillipians 4:8, because if we follow this verse and as much as possible try to appropriately manage our media use, then whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- things that are excellent or praiseworthy will be what is most accessbile in our mind.

May God bless you with a praiseworthy mind.
Mad Scientist.

Friday, February 9, 2007

The Superbowl of Brains

I am really slow getting my superbowl ad blog but I've been fighting a nasty flu bug that seems like it's knocking out half of Mizzou. I was going to join in on the millions of people giving their reviews of superbowl ads but I came across this interesting article on This article gives me the chance to throw out hopefully more interesting thoughts than just another opinon on the ads.

This article describes superbowl ad research done by a company in California using FMRI brain scans of individuals watching the superbowl ads. This company has actually been doing this post game ad report for a couple years now, I think, but this year the research release drives home a point I really try to make with my students. The brain scan data indicates that advertisers went over the top on trying to develop edgy, attention grabbing content at the expense of achieving a positive communication effect for the advertised brand. As I tell my students, attention is a necessary but not sufficient condition for an ad to have a positive effect on the target. The FMRI data reported on this year's superbowl ads indicated that several of the ads evoked very strong response in the Amygdala, an area of the brain responsible for processing threat and anxiety, but very little activity in other areas. Apparently, stimuli that evoke a strong response in the Amygdala are likely to be memorable but the memory is NEGATIVE! Not exactly the best effect for a client who just spent 2.6 million dollars placing a superbowl ad!!! The brand that "wins" the award for demonstrating this negative effect....drum roll please.....Snickers (2 men kissing ad). This ad evoked the strongest Amygdala response in viewers with little other activity in other brain areas. Since this ad has run, reaction has been so negative to the ad, Snickers cancelled it's plans to continue airing it in other programs.

Some of my students intuitively want to argue that even bad publicity is still publicity that can ultimately pay off for a brand. However, I do my best to completely stamp out this view. I pride myself on being a fairly open minded teacher but this is one view I will never be able to buy into. Time will tell if Snickers sales actually suffer as a result of their completely reprehensible ad. However, the logic of bad publicity "magically" turning into a positive effect for a brand is not something I think intelligent and ETHICAL brand managers ought to gamble money on. Not only is the logic flawed, but this kind of thinking can lead to trashy, junk ads that represent the lowest of the low of advertising.

I wish you all health in this cold and flu season:)
Mad Scientist