In an effects study, the concern of the academic is that the consumption of media incurs effects on those engaged in the act of consumption. As such, the audience is conceptualized as a passive recipient of media that is directly shaped by its content and form. Because of the unending concern of parents and educators about the development of youth and the increasingly mediatised nature of our world, this form of media study never fails to maintain currency.
One common example of an effects study are the studies conducted in the interest of the media & violence debate. In 2004, David Gentile and a team of researchers hypothesized a potentially positive correlation between hostile and aggressive behaviour in teenagers and their exposure to video game violence, and confirmed this hypothesis in a study that examined examining 607 students from 8th and 9th grade school levels. (Gentile, et al, 2004)
They established a positive correlation between exposure to video game violence and trait hostility and a positive relationship between video game violence and aggressive behavior as manifested in argumentative behavior. It is difficult to describe all the nuances of the study, but let it suffice to point out that Gentile and his team observed that children with the highest hostility scores did not necessarily get into more physical fights (regardless of their violent video game habits). (Gentile, et al, 2004)
Rather, hostility acted as a moderating effect on violent behavior, making individuals exposed to a minimum amount of violent videogame content more likely to engage in fights if they were possessed of a violent disposition. (Gentile, et al, 2004) Where an effects study presumes passivity in the audience, a reception study acknowledges that there is an interactive process that exists in the act of consumption of media, rather than assuming that the audience has been ‘spoon fed’ material that affects his psychic well-being. It assumes that there is an active engagement between audience and text.
Reception studies are predicated on Stuart Hall’s model of encoding/decoding, in which authorial intent may not be identical to reader interpretations. The reception mode of study is Henry Jenkins preferred paradigm for media studies. In an article about that focuses primarily on how women write fan literature based on the “Star Trek” universe, Jenkins (1988) also examines how the ethnographic plurality of fans create a similar plurality of interpretations and modes of engagement with the characters and stories of “Star Trek.
” This plurality of interests also affects the creation of fan literature, which retrofits the thematic content of the stories to pursue alternate meanings. Jenkins (1988) examines the alternate ways in which women and homosexuals choose to receive the gender politics of a television show that is largely regarded as a ‘masculine’ property and how they accept, tolerate or repudiate its perspectives on homosexual relationships and female empowerment.
He also notes how women and men recount episodes in different ways, with the different emphases they chose being telling indicators of how their reception of certain episodes. In an age where participatory culture is becoming more the norm, and digital technologies have empowered individuals to share, remix, create, edit, sample and retell various forms of content (not just textual ones), the reception study has a more relevant future than the effects study.
The presumption of passive engagement that characterizes the latter might have been more relevant in the 20th century, when much of the creative classes were part of a professional elite, but when technological democratization is permitting amateurs to tinker with creativity, then reception study is more relevant in portraying the psyche of the 21st century media junkie.
Gentile, D. A. , Lynch, P. J. , Linder, J. R. & Walsh, D. A. (2004). The effects of violent video game habits on adolescent hostility, aggressive behaviors, and school performance. Journal of Adolescence 27 (2004) 5-22. Jenkins III, H. (1988) Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten: Fan Writing as Textual Poaching. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, Volume 5, No. 2, p. 85-107
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