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Barbara Seels
University of Pittsburgh

Karen Fullerton
Celeron Consultants

Louis Berry
University of Pittsburgh

Laura J. Horn

This chapter summarizes a body of literature about instructional though there are also many studies on distance education and
technology that is unique not only in its depth but also in its educational television. This stress on societal issues reflects
breadth and importance. A recent search of articles about tele- concern for pressures on children that influence learning and
vision yielded 20,747 citations in the Educational Resources behavior.
Information Center (ERIC) database while a similar search in There is some evidence that the essential relationships
the PsycINFO database produced 6,662 citations. It is fitting, among variables are beginning to be understood. Thus, televi-
therefore, that there be a chapter in this handbook which re- sion viewing affects obesity, which can impact school achieve-
views how instructional technology has used research on tele- ment. Programming affects beliefs, such as stereotypes about
vision as well as how the field has contributed to this body of mental illness, which create a need for mediation. Therefore,
research. the concept of the television viewing system (programming,
After the first edition of this handbook appeared, sev- viewing environment, and behavior) gains importance.
eral excellent review books were published including Chil- There are areas that seem important but are not well re-
dren, Adolescents and the Media by Strasburger and Wilson searched. The most important of these areas is controversial
(2002), Handbook of Children and the Media by Singer and programming, such as MTV, World Wrestling Federation pro-
Singer (2001), and Television and Child Development by Van grams, reality shows, and talk shows. There have been minor
Evra (1998). These books do such a thorough job of updat- changes. For example, ITV now means interactive or two-way
ing the literature that the authors decided to refer you to television as well as instructional television (Robb, 2000), and
these books rather than adding major sections to this chap- the Center for Research on the Influences of Television on Chil-
ter. dren (CRITC) at the University of Kansas is now at the University
We feel these books address literature in areas such as of Texas, Austin. However, the most important service we can
sexuality, drugs, new media, and violence that is germane to provide is not to detail minor changes. Rather, it is to give you
learning from television because parents and teachers need an overview of the major evolutionary trends in this body of
to mediate the viewing experience. It is clear from our re- literature. We do this under the heading Current Issues near
cent review that the literature on mass media dominates al- the end of each major section.

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Research Bibliography (1989) available from Childrens Televi-

12.1 NATURE OF THE CHAPTER sion Workshop (CTW).
In addition, it was necessary to determine what to include
In order to address research on learning from television,1 it is and exclude in relation to the other chapters in the handbook.
necessary to define this phrase. For the purposes of this chapter, All distance learning and interactive multimedia studies were ex-
learning is defined as changes in knowledge, understanding, atti- cluded because other chapters cover these technologies. Some
tudes, and behavior due to the intentional* or incidental effects* media literacy* will be covered because it is a very important
of television programming. Thus, learning can occur intention- variable in learning from television. Nevertheless, it is assumed
ally as a result of programming that is planned to achieve specific that aspects of visual literacy (i.e., visual learning and commu-
instructional outcomes or incidentally through programming for nication) will be covered throughout the handbook, not just in
entertainment or information purposes. this chapter.
Three elements of the television viewing system* are cov- It was further decided that a variety of methodological
ered: the independent variable or stimulus, mediating variables, approaches would be introduced, but that discussion should
and the resulting behavior or beliefs. The television viewing ex- be limited because the final section of this handbook cov-
perience* is based on the interaction of these three components ers methodologies. Methodological issues, though, will be ad-
of the viewing system, which are usually described as program- dressed throughout this chapter.
ming, environment, and behavior. Each of these elements en- Our final decision was that this chapter would make a com-
compasses many variables; for example, message design* and prehensive effort to integrate research from both mass media*
content are programming variables. Viewer preferences and and instructional television*. Although other publications have
habits are environmental variables that mediate. Individual dif- done this, generally one area dominates, and consequently the
ferences are also mediating variables in that they affect behavior. other is given inadequate attention. It was our intent to start the
Learning and aggressive or cooperative behaviors are dependent process of integrating more fully the literature from mass media
variables. and instructional television.
For this review to serve an integrative function, it was nec-
essary to be selective in order to comprehensively cover many
areas. Several parameters were established to aid in selectivity. 12.1.1 Relevance to Instructional Technology
The first decision was that film and television research would
be integrated. Although they are different mediums, their cog- Research on learning from television encompasses more than
nitive effects are the same. The technologies underlying each formal instruction. This body of research addresses learning in
medium are quite different; however, for instructional purposes, home as well as school environments. Many of the findings are
the overall appearance and functions are essentially the same, relevant to the instructional technologist; for example, research
with television being somewhat more versatile in terms of stor- on formal features* yields guidelines for message design. Instruc-
age and distribution capabilities. Furthermore, films are fre- tional technologists can both promote students learning to reg-
quently converted to television formats, a fact that blurs the ulate and reinforce their own viewing* and educate parents and
distinction even more. Research on learning from television teachers about media utilization.
evolved from research on learning from motion pictures. Film In addition, instructional technologists are also responsible
research dominated until about 1959 when the Pennsylvania for recommending and supporting policy that affects television
State University studies turned to research on learning from utilization. The literature provides support for policy positions
television. Investigations related to one medium will be iden- related to (a) control of advertising and violence, (b) parent
tified as such; however, effects and other findings will be con- and teacher training, (c) provision of special programming, and
sidered together. Classic research on both film and television is (d) media literacy education.
reviewed. Researchers in instructional technology can determine gaps
Nevertheless, relatively little space is devoted to film research in the theoretical base by using reviews such as this. In the
because an assumption was made that there were other reviews future, more research that relates variables studied by psychol-
of this early research, and its importance has diminished. It ogists to variables studied by educators will be required in order
seemed more important to emphasize contributions from the to identify guidelines for interventions and programming.
last 20 years, especially since they are overwhelming the con-
sumer of this literature by sheer volume.
Another decision was that although some important interna- 12.1.2 Organization of the Chapter
tional studies would be reported, the majority of studies covered
would be national. This was essential because the international The chapter is organized chronologically and categorically in
body of literature was gargantuan. Those who wish to pursue order to cover both research on the utilization of television in
international literature are advised to start with a topic that has education and mass media research on television effects. The
existing cross-cultural bibliographies, such as the Sesame Street beginning of the chapter chronologically traces the evolution

1 A glossary of terms related to learning from television is given at the end of the chapter. The first time a term defined in the glossary appears, it

will be marked with an asterisk.

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12. Learning from Television 251

of research in this area. Other sections, which are organized effects of television. The disciplines that are most dedicated to
by subject, review theoretical and methodological issues and reflecting on learning from television are education, communi-
synthesize the findings. A glossary of terminology related to cations, psychology, and sociology. Within education, the fields
television research is given at the end of this chapter. of educational psychology, cognitive science, and instructional
The chapter starts with a historical overview. After this in- technology have a continuing interest. Educational psychology
troductory background, the chapter turns to sections organized and cognitive science have focused on mental processing. In-
categorically around major issues, some of which are indepen- structional technology has made its greatest contributions to
dent or mediating variables, and others of which are effects. The television research through the areas of message design, forma-
first section synthesizes research on message design and men- tive evaluation,* and critical-viewing skills.
tal processing. It reviews how formal features affect compre-
hension* and attention.* The next issue section deals with the Organizations. Groups associated with research
effects of television on school achievement. Turning to what is on television operate in diverse arenas. Government institu-
known about the effects of the family, viewing context, viewing tions, such as the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH),
environments,* and coviewing* are reviewed next. The effects the Educational Resources Clearinghouse on Information Re-
of television on socialization* are explored through attitudes, sources (ERIC), and the Office of Research in the Department
beliefs, and behaviors. The next section covers programming of Education have been the catalyst for many studies. Govern-
and its utilization in the classroom and home. The final sec- ment has influenced research on television through hearings
tion covers theory on media literacy and mediation* through and legislation on violent programming and commercials for
critical-viewing skills.* The organization of the chapter follows children. Government legislation also created the Public Broad-
this outline: casting System (PBS).
Many universities have established centers or projects that
1. Historical overview pursue questions about the effects of television. These include
2. Message design and cognitive processing* the Family Television Research and Consultation Center at Yale
3. School achievement University, the Center for Research on the Influence of Televi-
4. Family-viewing context sion on Children at the University of Kansas, the National Cen-
5. Attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors ter for Children and Television at Princeton, and Project Zero
6. Programming and utilization at Harvard University. Foundations have supported research in
7. Critical-viewing skills the areas of media effects and instructional television, includ-
8. Glossary of terms ing the Spencer, Ford, and Carnegie Foundations. Public ser-
vice organizations such as Action for Childrens Television and
It was necessary to approach the literature broadly in order to church television awareness groups have spurred policy and
synthesize effectively. Despite the disparity in types of research research.
and areas of focus, most of the studies provided information Research and development (R&D) organizations, such as the
about interactions that affect learning from television. Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, have gener-
ated curricula on critical-viewing skills. Childrens Television
Workshop (CTW), the producer of Sesame Street, is an R&D
12.2 HISTORICAL OVERVIEW organization that not only develops programming but also does
research on the effects of television.
Much research on the effects of television is contradictory or
inconclusive, but that doesnt make the research useless, waste- Review Articles and Books. Despite such long-
ful, or futile. We need to know as much as we can about how term efforts, much of the literature on television lacks connec-
children learn, and conscientious research of any kind can teach tion to other findings (Clark, 1983, 1994; Richey, 1986). The
us, if nothing else, how to do better research (Rogers & Head, conceptual theory necessary to explain the relationship among
1983, p. 170). variables is still evolving. Because of this, consumers of the lit-
As Fred Rogers and Barry Head suggest, to use research on erature are sometimes overwhelmed and unable to make deci-
television, one needs a historical perspective. The purpose of sions related to interactions in the television viewing system of
this section is to provide that perspective. It will briefly ex- programming, environment, and behavior.
plain the evolution of the technologies, important historical Comprehensive and specialized reviews of the literature are
milestones, the evolution of the research, and the variety of helpful for synthesizing findings. Individual studies contribute
methodological approaches used. After reading this section, you a point of view and define variables, but it takes a review to
should be able to place the research in historical context and examine each study in light of others. Fortunately, there have
understand its significance. been many outstanding reviews of the literature. For exam-
ple, Reid and MacLennan (1967) and Chu and Schramm (1968)
did comprehensive reviews of learning from television that in-
12.2.1 Contributors to the Literature cluded studies on utilization. Aletha Huston-Stein (1972) wrote
a chapter for the National Society for the Study of Education
This large body of research is the result of individuals, organiza- (NSSE) yearbook on Early Childhood Education entitled Mass
tions, and fields with constituencies naturally interested in the Media and Young Childrens Development which presented a
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conceptual framework for studying televisions effects. In 1975, Delivery Systems. The State University of Iowa
the Rand Corporation published three books by George Com- began the first educational television broadcasts in 1933. Ed-
stock that reviewed pertinent scientific literature, key studies, ucational broadcasting quickly grew, with several universities
and the state of research. Jerome and Dorothy Singer reviewed producing regular programming and commercial stations broad-
the implications of research for childrens cognition, imagina- casting educational materials for the general population. During
tion, and emotion (Singer & Singer, 1983). In that article, they the 1950s and 60s, other technical innovations emerged that
described the trend toward studying cognitive processes and expanded the flexibility and delivery of educational television.
formal features. By 1989, the American Psychological Associa- These included the development in 1956 of magnetic videotape
tion had produced a synthesis of the literature tided Big World, and videotape recorders, the advent of communications satel-
Small Screen. lites in 1962, and the widespread growth of cable television
Other reviews have concentrated on special areas like read- in the 1960s and 70s. Delivery systems encompass both trans-
ing skills (Williams, 1986); cognitive development (Anderson & mission and storage capabilities. The various means whereby
Collins, 1988); instructional television (Cambre, 1987); and vio- the message is sent to the intended audience differ in terms of
lence (Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988). Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers the breadth of the population who can access the message.
offers a series of volumes edited by Dolf Zillmann and Jennings These means of transmission include broadcast television, com-
Bryant on research and theory about television effects. munications satellite, closed-circuit television (CCTV), cable ac-
Light and Pillemer (1984) argue against the single decisive- cess television (CATV), and microwave relay links.
study approach and propose reviews around a specific research Broadcast television programming is generally produced for
question that starts by reporting the main effects, then reports large-scale audiences by major networks and, with the excep-
special circumstances that affect outcomes, and finishes by re- tion of cable or microwave relay agreements, can be received
porting special effects on particular types of people. This inte- free of charge by any viewer with a receiver capable of receiv-
grated research strategy is especially appropriate for reviews of ing the signal. Satellite communication has the capability of
research on television effects. distributing the television signal over most of the populated
globe. Closed-circuit television is produced for limited audi-
ences and for specified educational purposes. Cable television
often presents programming produced by public television or-
12.2.2 Evolution and Characteristics
ganizations, public service agencies, or educational institutions
of the Technologies for educational purposes. Today, many of the microwave re-
lay functions have been replaced by satellite relays; however,
The evolution of the technologies of motion pictures and televi-
this transmission medium is still used to distribute closed cir-
sion during the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th cen-
cuit programming within prescribed areas such as school dis-
tury can be described in terms of media characteristics, delivery
systems, and communication functions. It is also important to
know the terminology essential to understanding research de- Storage Media. In the beginning, television pro-
scriptions and comparisons. This terminology is given in the
ductions were often stored in the form of kinescopes, which
glossary at the end of this chapter.
are rarely, if ever, used today, although some early television
recording may still exist in kinescope form. Today, most video Functional Characteristics. These media charac- programs are stored on videotape cassette format, which is con-
teristics of film and television are primarily realism or fidelity, venient and is produced in a variety of tape widths. Videotape
mass access, referability, and, in some cases, immediacy. Pro- permits a large number of replays; however, it can deteriorate
ducers for both of these technologies wanted to make persons, after excessive use.
places, objects, or events more realistic to the viewer or listener.
The intent was to ensure that the realistic representation of the Communications Functions. From an instruc-
thing or event was as accurate as possible (i.e., fidelity). The abil- tional point of view, the most important factor in the devel-
ity to transmit sounds or images to general audiences, or even opment of any of these technologies is not the technical aspect
to present such information to large groups in theaters, greatly of their development but rather the impact of the medium on
expanded access to realistic presentations. In the case of tele- the audience. Terms that relate to communications functions
vision, the characteristic of immediacy allowed the audience to include instructional television (ITV), educational television
experience the representation of the thing or event almost si- (ETV), mass media, incidental learning, and intentional learn-
multaneously with its occurrence. The notion of being there ing. Today, ITV programming is often transmitted by satellite to
was a further addition to the concept of realism. As these various a school where it is either recorded for use when convenient
forms of media developed, the ability to record the representa- or used immediately and interactively through a combination
tions for later reference became an important characteristic. of computers and telecommunications. Educational television
Viewers could not only replay events previously recorded but programming is typically not part of a specific course of study
could also refer to specific aspects or segments of the recording and may be directed to large and diverse groups of individuals
time and time again for study and analysis. Each of these charac- desiring general information or informal instruction.
teristics has driven or directed the use of film or television for The distinction between mass media and educational tele-
instructional purposes. vision is frequently difficult to make since most educational
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12. Learning from Television 253

television programming is distributed via broadcast television, the FCC had received 25,000 complaints about violent or sexu-
the primary mass-media mode. What differentiates mass media ally oriented programs on television. As a consequence, in 1975
from educational television is the notion of intended purpose. the Ford Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the
With educational television, intentional effects are achieved Markle Foundation cosponsored a major conference on televi-
through purposeful intervention to achieve educational objec- sion and human behavior. The Supreme Court ruled that the
tives. Incidental effects, on the other hand, typically result from FCC could regulate hours in which indecent programming
mass media or entertainment oriented programming. could be aired. The 1980s. In 1982, the National Institute of Mental

12.2.3 Legislative Milestones
Health confirmed the link between television and aggression
and stated that, violence on television does lead to aggressive
The history of research on television effects has been tied to
behavior by children and teenagers who watch the programs
important government policy actions (Wood & Wylie, 1977). In
(NIMH, 1980, p. 6); thus television was labeled a cause of aggres-
the 1930s the government declared air channels to be public
sive behavior. In 1985, the American Psychological Association
property and created the Federal Communications Commission
(APA) publicly concluded that violence can cause aggressive be-
(FCC) to regulate systems such as radio. After lengthy hearings,
havior and urged broadcasters to reduce violence. As the decade
in 1952 the Federal Communications Commission reserved 242
ended, the FCC decided that the Fairness Doctrine was no longer
television channels for noncommercial, educational broadcast-
necessary because there was no longer a scarcity of stations and
that it was perhaps unconstitutional. Congress passed a bill to
reinstitute the doctrine, but the President vetoed it. The Presi- The 1950s and 60s. The first congressional hear-
dent also vetoed legislation that would place limits on advertis-
ings on violence and television occurred in 1952. In 1954,
ing during childrens programs. In 1989, Congress passed the
hearings were held to investigate the link between television
Television Violence Act granting television executives the au-
and juvenile crime. When he was doing his Bobo doll social-
thority to hold discussions on the issues of television violence
psychology experiments in the early 1960s, Albert Bandura pub-
without violating antitrust laws.
lished an article in Look magazine entitled What Television
Violence Can Do to Your Child. This article popularized the
term TV violence. The 1990s. This brings us to the current decade,
In 1964, Newton Minow assumed the chair of the FCC. He which started with Congresss passing the Childrens Television
would prove to be a strong commissioner, remembered for his Act that requires limits on advertising and evidence that stations
statement that television was a vast wasteland. By 1965, ad- provide programming to meet childrens needs. This is the first
vertisers had discovered that they could reach young children legislation to establish the principle that broadcasters have a so-
with advertisements for toys, candy, and cereal more cheaply cial responsibility to their child audiences. The advantage of this
and effectively on Saturday mornings than in prime time. Also approach is that it avoids the thorny issue of censorship. The
in the 1960s, Congress created the Public Broadcasting System bill became a law without presidential signature. Congress estab-
(PBS) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). By lished the National Endowment for Childrens Television to pro-
the end of the 1960s, the National Commission on the Causes vide resources for production of quality childrens programming
and Prevention of Violence had issued a report stating that ex- as well as the Television Decoder Circuitry Act, which requires
posure to violence on television had increased rates of physical all new sets to have closed-caption capability. Over presidential
aggression. This led to the Surgeon Generals appointing a com- veto, Congress approved the Cable Television Consumer Pro-
mittee to study the effects television programs have on children. tection and Competition Act to regulate the cable industry. In
The decade concluded by the Supreme Courts upholding the 1993, the National Research Council of the National Academy
fairness doctrine, which required stations to give equal time to of Sciences published a comprehensive report on the causes of
political candidates. violence in American society, entitled Understanding and Pre-
venting Violence, which addressed the role of television. The The 1970s. The decade of the 1970s started with Senate Commerce Committee held hearings on television vio-
a ban on cigarette advertising on television, which had been lence during which Senator Hollings complained that Congress
initiated after the Surgeon Generals report that there was a has been holding hearings on television violence for 40 years.
relationship between cancer and smoking. In 1972, the Sur- The idea of V-chip legislation to require the technology in
geon General issued a report on violence that alleged that there all sets to block showing of programs rated violent was intro-
was also a causal link between violent behavior and violence duced at these hearings. The Telecommunications Act of 1996
on television and in motion pictures. This first major govern- required that this V-chip be installed on all new television sets.
ment report on television and violence (NIMH, 1972) consisted This landmark legislation had other important provisions, in-
of five volumes of reports and papers gathered through an in- cluding one for discounted service rates for telecommunication
quiry process directed by the National Institute of Mental Health lines into schools, especially for lines for compressed video and
(NIMH). To prepare for this report, NIMH was empowered to the Internet (Telecommunications Act of 1996). This overview
solicit and fund a million dollars worth of research on the ef- of societal concerns about television documents the impetus
fects of television violence (Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988). By 1975, for much research.
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12.2.4 Historical Evolution of the Research These three phases correspond approximately to the three eras
of film and television research: the period of comparative me-
The first major research initiatives in both film and television dia research during the 1950s and early 1960s (Greenhill, 1967);
began in the 1950s and 1960s. Research foci and variables of in- the media effects and individual differences research of the late
terest, as well as the social orientation of research, have changed 1960s through the 1970s (Anderson & Levin, 1976; Wright &
considerably over the years. Huston, 1983); and die interaction research characterized by the
Bowie (1986) reviewed research on learning from films and work of Salomon (1979, 1983) during the later 1970s through
grouped the research into three phases: the present time.
The purpose of this section is to chronicle the evolution of
1. Research on whether films can teach (19101950) these research trends and describe the nature of the research
2. Research on how films teach (19401959) associated with each phase. In doing so, we will attempt to
3. Research on who learns from films (19601985) relate the trends to methodologies and variables.

Research from the last phase includes a great many exper- Research Prior to 1965. Before the mid-1950s,
imental studies. The results of these experimental studies can the vast majority of research was focused on the effects of
be grouped in these areas: (a) use of films to teach higher-level instructional films*, usually in controlled educational or train-
cognitive skills, (b) effects of film viewing on individual learn- ing environments, both in formal education and in military
ing, and (c) effects of film viewing on self-concept. Bowie con- and industrial training. This period was marked primarily by
cluded that the literature reviewed in these three areas suggests the widely quoted Instructional Film Research Program con-
that: ducted at the Pennsylvania State University. This program was
initiated under the auspices of the U.S. Naval Training Devices
r Films are effective in teaching inquiry learning and problem Center to study a variety of variables related to the use of in-
solving. structional films for personnel training purposes. One report
r Unstructured films are more effective for teaching problem issued through this research project summarized and evaluated
solving. over 200 film research studies from 1918 until 1950 (Hoban
r Films are effective in teaching observation skills and attention & VanOrmer, 1950). The major focus of the Instructional Film
to detail. Research Program, however, was the conduct of an extensive se-
r Low-aptitude students tend to benefit more from films. ries of experiments that compared instruction delivered via film
r Films tend to be more effective for field-independent students. with conventional or face-to-face instruction. Within these
comparisons, researchers also investigated the effects of various
r Films can positively influence self-concept. production techniques, the effect of film-based instruction on
learner attitudes, and the effectiveness of various applications
Research on learning from films also served as a basis for of instructional films (Carpenter & Greenhill, 1956; Greenhill,
research on instructional television. 1967). This series of studies represents one of the first, and
Television research began with attention being devoted al- certainly most extensive, attempts to evaluate thoroughly the
most solely to its instructional effectiveness in formal instruc- effectiveness of the medium. The findings of these studies,
tional environments. The types and foci of research evolved however, indicated no significant differences in most cases and
into more varied agendas that considered not only the formal have been criticized for a number of methodological procedures
instructional implications of television but also the social, psy- (Greenhill, 1967).
chological, and instructional effects of broadcast television in Typical among the studies conducted in this program were
less formal environments. those that sought to compare the relative effectiveness of
Sprafkin, Gadow, and Abelman (1992) describe the research motion-picture-based instruction with conventional classroom
on television as falling into three distinct chronological phases. instruction. A study by VanderMeer (1949) compared ninth-
The first of these they refer to as the medium-orientation phase grade biology students taught by: (1) sound films, (2) sound films
in which television was seen as a powerful instructional tool that plus study guides, and (3) standard lecturedemonstration class-
required research to describe its effectiveness. At this point, room instruction. No significant differences were found across
little attention was devoted to assessing the interaction of the all groups on either immediate or 3-month-delayed achieve-
media with developmental or individual differences in the view- ment testing, although the film-only group showed a shorter
ers. The second phase that Sprafkin et al. describe is the child completion time. This study is quite characteristic of most of
orientation phase in which research focused more closely on these film studies in that no significant differences were found
the relationship of television to young viewers individual char- across both the experimental and control groups. Other stud-
acteristics and aptitudes. Media effects were thought to be due ies focused on the relative effectiveness of instructional films
to a childs mental processing characteristics, not to program- for teaching performance skills and generally found no signif-
ming. They termed the third phase the interaction phase in icant difference or only slight benefit from the film treatment
which television effects were seen as complex three-way inter- (Greenhill, 1967). The effects of production variables were also
actions between characteristics of the medium (such as type of of interest to researchers, and the relative effects of such vari-
content), the child or viewer variables (such as age), and fac- ables as inserted questions, variants in the sound track, color
tors in the viewing environment (such as parents and teachers). versus monochrome, animation versus still pictures, and the
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12. Learning from Television 255

use of attention gaining and directing devices were all studied, it difficult to draw specific conclusions or recommendations
albeit with few, if any, significant differences across groups. from most of these comparative studies. Other methodologi-
The period between the mid-1950s and the mid-1960s was cal problems also plagued this early research, including: lack
characterized by a great deal of instructional television research of equivalence of experimental groups, confounding of vari-
by a group of researchers at the Pennsylvania State University, re- ables, and statistical analysis procedures that were not power-
constituted as the Instructional Television Research Project (Car- ful enough to detect differences that may have been present
penter & Greenhill, 1955), as well as by other individuals (Hager- (Greenhill, 1967).
stown Board of Education, 1959; Holmes, 1959; Kumata, 1956; In terms of group equivalence, two problems were appar-
Niven, 1958; Schramm, 1962). These projects and summaries of ent. First, groups were rarely pretested to determine if prereq-
research included literally hundreds of studies covering many uisite knowledge was approximately equivalent. Second, little
content areas and many different age groups. In most cases, the attention was given to ensuring equivalence of assignment to
summary reports issued by these researchers or projects pro- experimental groups. In some cases, correlative data such as
vided fairly comprehensive descriptions of the general findings IQ scores or grade point averages were used as matching vari-
and conclusions. As with the film research initiatives, the televi- ables, but because of the use of intact classes, randomization
sion research projects focused strongly on comparative research was rarely employed to assign subjects (Chu & Schramm, 1968;
designs and similarly resulted in no significant differences. Few Stickell, 1963). Because the variables of televised instruction
studies reported findings entirely supportive of television, and and conventional instruction were not clearly defined, it was
conversely few found television instruction to be less effective almost impossible to separate other mediating variables related
than conventional classroom instruction. The finding of no sig- to production methods, technologies, viewing and teaching en-
nificant difference was seen by Greenhill (1967) as a positive vironments, viewer characteristics, and content organization.
result because it implied that television could be a reasonable The result was often a serious confounding of many variables,
alternative to classroom instruction and consequently, for rea- only some of which were of interest. In terms of statistical anal-
sons of administrative, fiscal, and logistical benefit, could be a ysis, t and F tests were used only occasionally, and analysis of
more desirable choice of instructional method. covariance procedures were employed rarely because adjust-
The comparative studies of television conducted during this ing variables were infrequently assessed (Stickell, 1963). Addi-
time were later criticized on methodological grounds by Stickell tionally, content-related factors and objectives as well as types
(1963) and Greenhill (1967). Stickell analyzed 250 comparisons of learning were often not addressed or confounded (Miller,
and determined that only 10 were interpretable methodolog- 1968).
ically. Those 10 had employed random assignment of subjects, Other more carefully defined variables continued to be inves-
control of extraneous variables, and application of appropriate tigated during this time, including: technical or production vari-
tests of significance in which the underlying assumptions of the ables such as color, camera techniques, and attention-gaining
test were met. Of the studies Stickell found to be interpretable, and directing devices (Ellery, 1959; Harris, 1962; Kanner &
none revealed significant differences. Rosenstein, 1960; Schwarzwalder, 1960); pedagogical variables,
The majority of these early comparative studies were de- such as inserted questions and presentation modes (Gropper
signed to compare various forms of televised instruction to a & Lumsdaine, 1961; Rock, Duva, & Murray, 1951); and vari-
vaguely specified standard known as face-to-face instruction, ables in the viewing environment, such as viewing angle, group
conventional, or traditional classroom instruction (Carpen- size, and distractions (Carpenter & Greenhill, 1958; Hayman,
ter & Greenhill, 1956; Lumsdaine, 1963). Instructional tech- 1963; McGrane & Baron, 1959). In addition, attitudes toward
niques and formats included (a) a single instructor teaching the televised instruction and the use of television to teach procedu-
same content, (b) a live instructor teaching a class while the ral skills were studied (Hardaway, Beymer, & Engbretson, 1963;
same class was being televised to a remote class, (c) a num- Pasewark, 1956).
ber of different instructors teaching the same general lesson as Later studies, conducted during the 1960s and early 1970s,
the televised lesson, and (d) kinescope recordings of a lesson focused more specifically on individual variables, media char-
augmented by various, instructor-led activities. In most cases, acteristics, and die interaction between viewer characteristics
there was little or no means of equating the instructional formats and television effects. These studies typically employed the
being used in terms of instructor equivalence, content congru- aptitudetreatmentinteraction paradigm described by Cron-
ence, or environmental similarity (Greenhill, 1967; Wilkinson, bach and Snow (1976) and were intended to explore specific ef-
1980; Williams, Paul, & Ogilvie, 1957). Among the large number fects of television on particular individuals. These designs were
of comparative studies, there are many that simply compared inherently more precise and more powerful and consequently
the medium with some standard of live classroom instruction, enabled researchers to identify the effects of individual variables
while a smaller proportion made comparisons with the audio as well as the interaction of variables and other factors (Levie &
message only, comparisons of film versus kinescope, and televi- Dickie, 1973).
sion versus an in-studio classroom (Kumata, 1956). During this time period, studies employed quantitative ex-
As mentioned, this matter was further complicated by the perimental methods almost, exclusively to evaluate the relative
fact that the vast majority of the studies, in both film and televi- effectiveness of film and televised instruction in generally con-
sion, produced results of no significant difference (Greenhill, trolled environments such as laboratories, studios, classrooms,
1967; Stickell, 1963). This finding, when considered in conjunc- and schools. Researchers did not have the resources or research
tion with the general comparative nature of the research, makes interest to investigate or describe specific effects on larger or
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noncontrolled populations, such as the effect of incidental learn- important to note that there were many methodologically rig-
ing resulting from noneducational broadcast television. orous studies conducted during this period which continue to
provide useful insights, not only into the comparative effects of Research after 1965. After 1965, research focus television and traditional classroom instruction but also into the
was increasingly directed toward mass media and social effects. effects of specific variables, such as color, inserted questions,
The formation of Childrens Television Workshop (CTW) in the and presentation techniques (Greenhill, 1967; Reid & MacLen-
late 1960s directed research interest to formal features and for- nan, 1967). During the period of time from the mid-1960s
mative evaluation (Polsky, 1974). The 1970s were also devoted through the 1970s, other empirical studies were prompted by
to research on the relationship between televised violence and (a) better design conceptualization such as the aptitude treat-
aggression. With the 1980s, a change from the behavioral to ment interaction paradigm, (b) more robust statistical analysis
cognitive paradigm in psychology stimulated further research techniques, and (c) greater attention to the individual character-
on mental processing and formal features. Some research ques- istics of the medium, the child, and the viewing environment.
tions have persisted from the 1960s until the present, such as Increasingly, research moved from the laboratory or classroom
effect on school achievement and aggression. Research evolved to the home and social environment. Two types of experimen-
from a focus on specifying variables to describing the relation- tal studies that compare variables are common in research on
ships and interactions among variables. More varied research television: laboratory and field experiments. The former has
agendas have considered not only the formal instructional im- advantages when comparing theories, testing hypotheses, and
plications of television but also the social, psychological, and in- measuring effects; the latter is suited to checking the results of
structional effects of broadcast television in various, less-formal laboratory experiments in real-life settings (Comstock, 1980).
environments (Comstock & Paik, 1987; Huston et al., 1992). An example of a laboratory experiment would be three treat-
ments (i.e., violent first segment, violent last segment, and non-
violent segment) given to three randomly assigned groups who
12.2.5 Methodological Approaches are given written instruments assessing recall.* An example of a
field experiment would be randomly assigning children to watch
Historically, research on television has employed four method- specific television shows at home and then administering atti-
ologies: experimental, qualitative, descriptive, and developmen- tude surveys and comprehension measures.
tal. There has been a general chronological correspondence The major advantage of the laboratory experiment is that
between certain methodologies and research foci, for exam- random assignment of subjects to specific treatment conditions
ple, between comparative studies and instructional effective- can control for the effect of other variables. The disadvantage is
ness and between correlational studies and school achievement. that there is no certainty that the setting is realistic. The major
For this reason, it is important to understand that research re- disadvantage of the field experiment is that it produces little
lated to television has, over the years, come to address more than consistent evidence because control of variables is less rigor-
simply the effects of televised instruction on learning. Evolving ous. Nevertheless, one can be more confident in how realistic
societal demands brought about the need for different method- the findings are with a field experiment; however, realism and
ological approaches to study the disparate effects of television validity are gained at the expense of control of variables and the
on types of viewers, on variations in viewing environments, on possibility of drawing causal conclusions. Laboratory research,
socialization effects, and on interaction with programming vari- on the other hand, generally allows one to draw causeeffect
ables (Cambre, 1987). Such a broad base of research agendas conclusions about interactions.
has necessitated reliance on research methodologies other than
those of a traditional empirical nature. Qualitative Methodology. Qualitative research
The vast majority of current television research reflects these methodology includes approaches that typically use nonexper-
four methodological approaches: experimental, qualitative, de- imental methods, such as ethnography or case studies, to in-
scriptive, and developmental. This section deals with these vestigate important variables that are not easily manipulated or
various research methodologies with regard to their purposes, controlled and which emphasize the use of multiple methods for
strengths, and weaknesses as they apply to film and television collecting, recording, and analyzing data (Seels & Richey, 1994).
research. Although case histories have been used frequently in television
research, ethnographic studies are becoming more common. Experimental Methodology. Early research in The trend toward qualitative research emerged after new re-
television effects utilized traditional experimental designs, al- search questions began to be asked about the mediating effect of
beit with different levels of robustness and precision. The era the home context for television viewing (Leichter et al., 1985).
of film and television research conducted during the 1940s Often with qualitative research, the purpose is hypothesis gen-
through the mid-1960s, which has been referred to as the pe- erating rather than hypothesis testing. Unlike survey methodol-
riod of comparative research studies generally used traditional ogy, qualitative research cannot present a broad picture because
experimental designs, such as those described by Campbell and it concentrates on single subjects or groups, although longitu-
Stanley (1963). Although many of these studies were method- dinal studies can describe how groups, or individuals change
ologically weak in that they did not employ randomization of over time. There is no attempt at representative sampling as in
groups, pretests, or control groups, and have been subsequently survey research. Examples of case studies abound in literature
criticized for these reasons (Greenhill, 1967; Stickell, 1963), it is on early ITV and ETV projects. Ethnographic studies have been
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12. Learning from Television 257

conducted by photographing or videotaping the home environ- the hypothesis. On the other hand, methodology experts who
ment, which mediates television viewing (Allen, 1965; Lewis, examined other studies supported the hypothesis on violence
1993). An example of a recent ethnographic study on learning and aggression (Cook, Kendzencky, & Thomas, 1983, cited in
from television is the Ghostwriter study conducted by CTW Huston et al., 1992).
(Childrens Television Workshop October 1994). Ghostwriter Content analyses are used to determine variables such as
is an after school literacy* program that encompasses a mix of (1) the number of violent, antisocial, or prosocial incidents in a
media including television and utilizes outreach programs with program; (2) characteristics of roles* given ethnic groups, gen-
community organizations. Ethnographic techniques were used der, age, or occupations portrayed; and (3) values presented on
to gather data on wide variations in observed phenomena in television, such as in commercials. Meta-analyses, which use sta-
disparate settings. For example, case studies were done at Boys tistical techniques for synthesis of the literature, and integrated
and Girls Clubs in Los Angeles and Indianapolis and at Bethune research studies, which use comprehensive surveys and graphic
Family Learning Circle in Baltimore. comparison of the literature, are used to draw conclusions from
multiple studies on a research question. Descriptive Methodology. Studies in this cate-
gory include survey research such as demographic, cross- Developmental Methodology. Formative evalua-
cultural, and longitudinal, in addition to content and meta- tion as a research methodology developed in response to a
analyses.* The common denominator among such studies is the need for procedures to systematically try out and revise ma-
use of survey techniques for the purpose of reporting charac- terials during a product development process (Cambre, 1987).
teristics of populations or samples. It is one of the major contributions of television research. Ac-
Survey research uses samples of group populations to study cording to Flagg (1990), The goal of formative evaluation is to
sociological and psychological variables. To do this, data can be inform the decision making process during the design, produc-
collected by personal or telephone interview, questionnaires, tion, and implementation stages of an educational program with
panels, and structured observation. Demographic research uses the purpose of improving the program (p. 241). The techniques
facts and figures collected by others, such as the census bureau used in formative evaluation of television programs are impor-
or television information offices. Cross-cultural studies based on tant areas of competency for instructional technologists. For-
surveys use factual data about groups to draw generalizations. mative evaluation studies pose research questions rather than
There are many longitudinal* and cross-sectional* studies in hypotheses, and techniques employed range from oral reports
the body of literature on learning from television Sometimes and videotaping reactions to short questionnaires. Evaluation
these are based on qualitative research, sometimes on quantita- models incorporate phases, such as pre- and postproduction, in
tive research, and sometimes on both. The longitudinal method the research process.
can reveal links between earlier and later behavior and changes An example of formative evaluation studies on television is
in individuals over time, but the changes may be the result of the AIT report on the development of a lesson in the form of
many factors not just developmental maturation. Cross-sectional a program entitled Taxes Influence Behavior (Agency for In-
studies can demonstrate age differences in behavior by observ- structional Television, 1984). Students were questioned about
ing people of different ages at one point in time. They pro- attention to the program, interest, story believability, character
vide information about change over time in cohort groups but perceptions, storyline comprehension, and program objectives.
not change in individuals. A sequential* method combines the Teachers were asked about the programs appeal, curriculum fit,
cross-sectional and longitudinal approaches by observing dif- objectives, and utilization. Revisions and recommendations for
ferent groups on multiple occasions. Obviously, the more vari- teachers were based on the data collected.
ables are controlled in each of these methods, the more reli- It was Childrens Television Workshop (CTW) that pioneered
ably results can be interpreted. If there is not sufficient control techniques for formative and summative evaluation* (Flagg,
of variables, the results from a cross-sectional study can con- 1990). After specifying message design variables and then
flict with the results of a longitudinal study. The longitudinal investigating the effect of these variables on psychological phe-
method is more extensively used, perhaps because it is easier nomena such as attention, CTW developed techniques for in-
and less expensive. vestigating relationships formatively, so that designs could be
Parallel longitudinal studies in Australia, Finland, Israel, changed, and summatively, so that effects on behavior could
Poland, and the United States (Heusman & Eron, 1986, cited be reported. In doing so, CTW forever put to rest the assump-
in Huston et al., 1992) revealed a pattern of involvement with tion that one style of television is best for all young children
violence related to amount of television viewing. The amount (Lesser, 1974) and the assumption that television was not an
of violence viewed at age 8 predicted aggression at age 18 interactive enough medium to teach intellectual skills to young
and serious criminal behavior at age 30. Because this was a children.
relational study, however, it could not be determined whether Periodic bibliographies issued by CTW document not only
more violence was viewed because of the viewers personality the research done there but also research related to CTW pro-
or whether violent programming affected the viewer through ductions. Sammur (1990) developed a Selected Bibliography of
desensitization* or some other mechanism (Eron, 1982; Hues- Research on Programming at the Childrens Television Work-
mann, Eron, Lefkowitz, & Walder, 1984, cited in Huston et al., shop that annotated 36 formative, summative, and theoretical
1992). Milavsky, Kessler, Stripp, and Rubens (1982) conducted a research studies on the four educational childrens television se-
similar study and concluded that other research did not support ries produced by CTW. The CTW research program reflects the
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systematic application of design, development, and evaluation a failure with many parents not even aware of the existence of
procedures that is necessitated by the expense of producing for such a device.
sophisticated educational technologies. The second factor contributing to this changing environment
was the advent of all the digital technologies, but dominated by
the Internet. World Wide Web based materials have become
12.2.6 Current Issues a parallel media which often interact with existing television
programming to produce a unique hybrid technology that in-
The current issues of importance are how television should be corporates some of the characteristics of the parent technolo-
regulated and how the technology will evolve. Therefore, legis- gies as well as some unique new applications. Internet based
lation in the 1990s and the consequences of new technological educational sites have become a stock-in-trade in most schools
innovation are discussed. and have recently merged with the television industry through
the creation of web sites for many of the educational channels Legislation. The Childrens Television Act was or programs. It is not unusual today to see news or science
passed in 1990 and revised in 1992. The revision was prompted programs that have their own web sites and that display a
by the difficulty of enforcing a law that did not clearly define web site-like screen display during their programming. These
childrens programming (Strasburger & Donnerstein, 1999). The complementary technologies can enhance the attention gain-
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) concluded that it ing power of the programming as well as the ability of children
was not within their role to determine the value of specific to better comprehend what is presented enabling them to in-
programs because there are constitutional limits to the public teract with the program content in a more meaningful way.
interest standard in relation to the first amendment to the Con- The further developments and diffusion of purely digital
stitution. The FCC decided to require licensees to justify how forms of television media such as digital television, digital video
they serve the needs of a community within the construction disks (DVD), broadband delivery, and the ability of individuals
of the law (Corn-Revere, 1997). The Telecommunications Act to produce and incorporate sophisticated video material will be
of 1996 fostered implementation of the Childrens Television additional steps in the restructuring of television.
Act by requiring ratings and V-chips. Those concerned about What does this mean in terms of the way children interact
televisions affect on children stressed that there should be in- with and learn from television? First, the greater flexibility, ver-
creased regulation of television by the FCC and of the Internet satility, and accessibility will increase the options children are
by the Federal Trade Commission. The most active research area faced with and the need for structure and guidance from parents
related to legislation has been the affect of the ratings system. and teachers. Children will also clearly need to develop more
Unfortunately, research has shown few effects from the ratings. sophisticated literacy and interpretation skills. Whether or not
Another active area is the effect of captions. The Television De- these can or will be provided by schools and families is hard to
coder Circuitry Act of 1993 mandated all new television sets in predict at this point, given the poor success of critical viewing
the United States have the capability for closed captions that are skills and the looser family structure.
used for deaf children and those learning English as a second Second, the highly interactive nature of the Internet and
language (ESL) (Parks, 1995). Internettelevision hybrid types of media will provide children
with more activities to interact with the technology and the in- The Changing Television Environment. The tele- formation provided by it, rather than functioning as lower-level
vision landscape has been restructured with the advent of new receptors of the broadcast medium. In this way, the full effect
technologies. This shift began with the diffusion of television of the active theory will become apparent.
hardware into every home, and continued to the everyday adop- A third future lies in the increasingly enhanced realism of
tion of associated television technologies such as cable and satel- computer-television technology. Researchers are predicting that
lite delivery systems and the ubiquity of the videotape recorder. the innovations of virtual reality technology, which are now
During the past decade, the number of television receivers per evolving commercially in video game formats, will enhance the
home has skyrocketed, with many children each having a TV set realism of the computer-television medium particularly for ed-
in their bedroom. Through cable and satellite access, families ucational purposes.
have a choice of a hundred or more channels, most broadcast-
ing twenty-four hours a day. The videotape recorder has enabled
viewers to delay watching or to rewatch television programs at 12.2.7 Summary
any time and thereby shift the traditional viewing hours to vir-
tually any time of the day. The research studies directed at these Film research during the 1950s contributed an identification of
phenomena have confirmed, however, that little effect has been variables, especially variables related to message design. How-
seen in childrens viewing habits. There was simply more of the ever, much of this research was methodologically flawed. There-
same programming fare and it was available through a broader fore, today it is useful primarily for the model it set for television
time frame. The distribution of television sets into various areas research and the variables it identified. During the 1960s tele-
of the home and the less traditional hours of availability have, vision research emphasized comparative studies and frequently
if anything, reduced the opportunities for parental coviewing focused on message design variables.
and control. The V-chip was predicted to enhance the ability The 1970s were a period of transition in that there was a
of parents to exercise such control, but appears to have been move from ITV to ETV research and a move from comparative
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12. Learning from Television 259

studies to the study of specific variables and effects via the apti- message design was not used in the literature until the 1970s,
tude treatment interaction paradigm. There was also a method- although the general principles of message design were being
ological shift to qualitative, descriptive, and developmental synthesized from research on perception, psychology, and in-
studies in addition to traditional empirical studies. struction. Early researchers focused primarily on visual percep-
During the 1980s and 1990s, variables began to be catego- tion (Fleming, 1967; Knowlton, 1966; Norberg, 1962, 1966);
rized into a viewing system consisting of programming, environ- however, later researchers addressed auditory and print me-
ment, and behavior, all of which interrelated. We turn now from dia as well. Fleming and Levie (1978, 1993) first defined the
a chronological consideration of the historical context of film term message design and comprehensively articulated its gen-
and television research to findings in the major areas of interest eral principles for instructional designers. Today, the concept
to researchers. of message design in television includes all of the scripting, pro-
duction, and editing decisions that are made separate from the
actual content of the program.
The design of the instructional television message has be-
come increasingly important as a greater understanding of in-
PROCESSING structional and cognitive principles has emerged from the study
of learning and psychology, and with the growing sophistication
The vast majority of early instructional films and television pro- of television production technology, particularly in broadcast
grams were essentially documentary works that were developed television. The intentional use of various video effects such as
by commercial, noneducational producers. At this early point zooms, cuts, dissolves, and the designers manipulation of pro-
in the evolution of instructional technology, little attention was gram pacing and use of various audio and graphic effects became
given to the use of instructional techniques or design princi- a standard procedure among instructional designers wishing to
ples. Similarly, the technology of film or television was still in maximize the effectiveness of television programming. For the
its infancy, and few, if any, editing or special visual effects were most part, however, these production effects* were not system-
available to the producers of such materials. In light of this, it atically investigated, and, consequently, the television producer
is not surprising that most of the earlier research focused on had few reliable research guidelines on which to base produc-
simple comparisons between the technology and some form tion decisions.
of standard instruction. Since the two technologies did not in- During the mid-1970s, Aletha Huston and John Wright used
corporate many of the production elements that have become the term formal features to collectively describe the various
part of their unique symbol systems as we understand them to- production techniques employed in designing and producing
day, little attention was given to assessing the effects of specific the television message (Huston & Wright, 1983). They describe
media characteristics on student learning. television as being distinguished by its unique forms, rather than
simply by the content of the programming. These researchers
and their associates at the University of Kansas began a system-
12.3.1 The Evolution of Message Design atic investigation of the formal attributes or features* of televi-
sion, particularly with respect to how these techniques interact
During the period of the Pennsylvania State University film stud- with cognitive processes, such as attention and comprehension
ies, however, some research was directed at determining how (Rice, Huston, & Wright, 1982).
the intentional incorporation of instructional techniques and By the late 1970s, much of the television research focused on
media characteristics interacted with learner achievement from how children view television and those processes that relate to
the materials. The variables studied included: the use of inserted attention and comprehension of the televised information. This
questions, color, subjective camera angle, sound track modifi- era of research can be best characterized as the conjunction of
cations, and the use of visual cueing devices (Greenhill, 1956; interest in both the developmental aspects of learning and in
Hoban & van Ormer, 1951). Similar studies were further con- cognitive processing of information. Two events in the area of
ducted on instructional television in the late 1950s and early childrens television prompted this research: the initial success
1960s, generally on adult audiences in controlled environments of Sesame Street and associated programming by the Childrens
(Chu & Schramm, 1967; Greenhill, 1967). From this time on, Television Workshop (Mielke, 1990), and the increased criticism
a growing number of researchers have investigated, in increas- of television and its alleged negative effects by a number of
ingly greater levels of detail, the instructional effectiveness of popular writers (Mander, 1978; Postman, 1982; Winn, 1977).
television productions incorporating specialized features that With the advent of The Childrens Television Workshop and
are intended to facilitate learning. The process of specifying Sesame Street, a number of researchers began to explore the
and organizing these components has come to be called mes- value of using many of these production techniques. These stud-
sage design. ies were typically formative in nature, intended for in-house
Fleming and Levie (1993) define an instructional message use to assess the adequacy of particular techniques, and con-
as a pattern of signs (words, pictures, gestures) produced for sequently did not appear regularly in the research literature
the purpose of modifying the psychomotor, cognitive, or affec- (Sammur, 1990). Thus, researchers began to focus on those
tive behavior of one or more persons (p. x). Grabowski (1991) unique features that promote childrens attention and compre-
describes message design as planning for the manipulation of hension during television viewing. In this research, the cogni-
the physical form of the message (p. 206). The concept of tive effects of formal features such as pacing, audio cues, camera
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effects, animation, and editing techniques were also explored science and educational technology have not supported these
with regard to the role that they played in attention and com- assertions, which remain, to a large degree, open to definitive
prehension (Meyer, 1983). and methodologically rigorous research (Anderson & Collins,
During this time, public interest was also drawn to the pos- 1988).
sible negative effects of television programming on children in
addition to the continuing public concern for the effects of tele- Empirical Research. For the most part, research
vision violence on children, interest increased into the possibly related to this aspect of television effects has been drawn from
debilitating effects on childrens cognitive processing abilities. studies done in the area of advertising and marketing or in elec-
In her book, The Plug-in Drug, Winn (1977) charged that televi- troencephalography (EEG). Krugman (1970, 1971) compared
sion and the formal features inherent in the programming were the EEGs of subjects viewing rear projected visual images and
causing excessive cognitive passivity* and depressed processing those of subjects reading, and concluded that television viewing
capabilities.* resulted in different brain wave patterns than did reading. It is
Organized research, which was prompted by these events important to note that these studies were conducted on a single
and criticisms, investigated the general effects on both atten- subject and only used the subjects EEG obtained while brows-
tion and comprehension, as well as on the specific effects of ing a magazine as a baseline index. The length of time the EEG
televisions formal production features in a fairly comprehen- was recorded was also only 15 minutes, and readings were taken
sive manner. Such research has given us a remarkably thorough at only one location on the head. The two brain wave patterns
understanding of how television promotes cognitive activities of interest were the alpha rhythm, which is associated with an
(Anderson & Collins, 1988). inactive or resting brain state, and the beta rhythm, which is
As interest in the cognitive aspects of childrens television usually indicative of cognitive activity. These experiments were
grew, hypotheses were developed to account for these effects repeated by Krugman, using actual television images with sim-
in a broad manner, irrespective of particular types of program- ilar results (Krugman, 1979). Similar findings were produced
ming. While a number of these theoretical perspectives are un- by several other researchers who indicated that television view-
confirmed, they have provided the impetus and base for sub- ing produced more alpha activity than reading, which resulted
stantial, systematic research. in greater beta activity (Appel, Weinstein, & Weinstein, 1979;
Featherman, Frieser, Greenspun, Harris, Schulman, & Crown,
1979; Walker, 1980; Weinstein, Appel, & Weinstein, 1980). In
these cases, alpha activity was associated with periods of low
12.3.2 The Effects of Television
cognitive activity, which was interpreted to be the mesmerizing
on Cognitive-Processing Abilities effect described by critics.
Drawing from the work of Krugman (1979), Emery and
Television has been both lauded and criticized for the ways in
Emery (1975, 1980) criticized television images as habituating
which it presents information to the viewer, irrespective of the
because the continuously scanned image emitted an overload
information itself (Anderson & Collins, 1988). It is this area, that
of light-based information, potentially resulting in an overload
of the relationship between the ways in which information is
of the processing system. This claim was substantially refuted,
presented on television and the effect of that presentation on
however, in studies by Silberstein, Agardy, Ong, and Heath
the cognitive-processing abilities of the viewer, which has con-
(1983), who, in methodologically rigorous experiments with
tinued to attract a great deal of theoretical as well as supporting
12-year-old children, found no differences in brain wave activ-
research interest (Huston et al., 1992).
ity between projected text and text presented on the television
screen. Furthermore, differences were found between text pre- Theoretical Orientations. One critical view that sented on the television screen and documentary or interview
has persisted over the years, despite contrary research findings, programming whereas no differences were found between the
is that the television image and associated presentation effects two types of programming. A third interesting finding was that
are cognitively debilitating (Mander, 1978; Winn, 1977). The both the text and interview program produced right and left
central assertion of this viewpoint is that the rapidly chang- hemisphere effects, while the documentary alone resulted in
ing television image-enhanced by production features such as greater right hemisphere activity. A comprehensive and criti-
cuts, zooms, animation, and special effects-is cognitively mes- cal review of most of the EEG research was published by Fite
merizing. This is hypothesized to result in cognitive passivity, (1994). In this report, Fite found virtually no substantiation of
shortened attention spans, and, paradoxically enough, hyperac- the detrimental effects of television evidenced by EEG-based
tive behavior (Dumont, 1976, cited in Winn, 1977, Winn, 1977). studies.
Such a view is more conjecture than substantiated fact or artic- Focusing specifically on viewer attention, Rothshild, Thor-
ulated theory and has been drawn substantially from subjective son, Reeves, Hirsch, and Goldstein (1986) found that alpha activ-
observation rather than from extensive empirical research. The ity dropped immediately following the introduction of a scene
notion, however, has appealed to many who associate these be- change or formal feature in the program material, which in these
havioral manifestations with general, adult entertainment forms studies were commercial advertisements. Winn (1977) has fur-
of television and who are more critical of the content of tele- ther criticized childrens television and Sesame Street, in partic-
vision programming rather than the presentation formats. It ular, for contributing to shortened attention spans and hyper-
should be noted that most researchers in the area of cognitive active behavior. A study by Halpern (1975) has been frequently
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12. Learning from Television 261

cited as providing evidence that programming such as Sesame cognitive activities in two ways (Salomon, 1979). The first func-
Street contributed to hyperactive and compulsive behavior. This tion of symbolic or filmic codes is that they can call on or activate
study has been seriously criticized on methodological grounds cognitive skills within the learner and can become internalized
by Anderson and Collins (1988), and the findings have not been into the learners repertoire of processing skills (Salomon & Co-
successfully replicated by Halpern. Other studies related to chil- hen, 1977). In this way, such production features as montage*
drens concentration and tolerance for delay reported moderate or cuts can activate respective cognitive processes such as in-
decreases in tolerance for delay associated with action programs ferencing and sequencing. The second role of filmic codes lies
(Friedrich & Stein, 1973) and actually increased concentration in the assumption that these codes, which model cognitive pro-
resulting from television viewing among children rated as low cesses, can actually stand in for or supplant the cognitive
in imagination (Tower, Singer, Singer, & Biggs, 1979). Anderson, skills themselves, thereby facilitating learning (Salomon, 1974).
Levin, and Lorch (1977) investigated the effect of program pac- In this manner, features such as zooms and dissolves can be used
ing on attention, activity, and impulsivity levels and found no to model the cognitive skills they represent and consequently
differences in 5-year-old childrens degree of activity, impulsiv- enhance the processing skills of the viewer.
ity, or perseverance levels. Salomon (1979), however, found that Rice, Huston, and Wright (1983) further differentiated the
Sesame Street viewing, when compared to other general types types of representation within the television code into three
of childrens programming, produced a decrease in persever- levels. These include at the most basic level, literal visual or audi-
ance in a laboratory task. This effect may have been related to tory portrayal of real-world information. At the second level are
differences in the audiences age and the intended target age media forms and conventions that have no real-world counter-
of the Sesame Street programming and the relative ease of the part, such as production effects and formal features. The third
task. level consists of symbolic code that is not distinctive to the
television medium. These third level codes consist of linguis-
tic, nonlinguistic, and auditory code such as language, which
12.3.3 The Television Symbol System or Code may be used to double encode or describe the visual codes
presented on the screen. Of the three, the media forms and con-
For the most part, research into the cognitive effects of tele- ventions are of most interest to the researcher because they are
vision has focused more specifically on how televised informa- idiosyncratic to the media of television and film and relate most
tion is processed rather than on how television affects cognitive specifically to the childs processing of the television message
processing abilities (Anderson & Collins, 1988). This research (Rice, Huston, & Wright, 1983).
is based on theory related to both the symbol system or for-
mal features used in television and the ways that information is Research on Filmic Codes. There is not a great
attended to and comprehended. deal of empirical work related to the cognitive effects of tele-
vision code. However, the work of Gavriel Salomon constitutes The Role of Filmic Codes in Processing. One the most comprehensive series of empirical studies focused on
of the most universal views of television as a medium was de- the symbol system and code of television. Drawing on his theo-
scribed by McLuhan (1964) when he suggested that the for- retical position, he devised a series of experiments that explored
mal attributes of a medium, such as television, influence how the use of filmic codes to model or supplant cognitive skills and
we think and process information. Furthermore, McLuhan put to call on or activate specific cognitive skills. He conducted the
forth the idea that different media present information in unique first group of studies with Israeli eighth-graders to determine if
ways that are idiosyncratic to the individual medium. Goodman the camera effect of zooming could indeed model the relation
(1968) and Gardner, Howard, and Perkins (1974) further elab- of the part to the whole (Salomon, 1974). The results indicated
orated on the function of such symbol systems,* implying that that the children exposed to the experimental treatment per-
similarities between the symbol system and mental represen- formed significantly better than did those students either shown
tations of the content will facilitate comprehension of the in- the individual close-up and overall pictures or those receiving
structional message. More recently, Kozma (1991) suggests that no treatment. In this case, the use of explicit modeling of the
different media are defined by three characteristics: the tech- cognitive skill improved the students ability to focus attention
nology,* the symbol systems employed, and the methods of on the detailed parts of the overall display. A second experi-
processing information. Of these, the symbol system is cru- ment, using fewer visual transformations, was not as effective
cial to the mental processing of the person interacting with as the first possibly indicating that extensive modeling of these
the medium. The individual symbol systems may be idiosyn- skills is necessary for this effect to occur. In a third experiment,
cratic to the particular medium and consequently may need to Salomon confirmed that the internalization of the filmic codes
be learned by the user. This thesis has been elaborated on by could enhance the cognitive skills of the viewer by presenting
Gavriel Salomon, who has attempted to test it empirically with scenes where the three-dimensional unfolding of an object was
regard to television (Salomon, 1972, 1974, 1979; Salomon & compared with the same representation in two dimensions. In
Cohen, 1977). He suggested that different symbol systems or this case, the three-dimensional animation effect modeled the
codes can represent information in different ways during en- cognitive analog of mentally unfolding the object from three di-
coding in memory, making it necessary to process the informa- mensions to two dimensions more effectively than did simple
tion in unique ways. Salomon contended that children learn to presentation of the two-dimensional object. A study conducted
interpret these filmic codes, which can be incorporated into by Rovet (1983) using a spatial rotation task with third-grade
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children further confirmed Salomons findings, although conclu- to this perspective, but rather drew on what was, at that time,
sive confirmation of this theory has not been provided through a popular theory of memory that described the human infor-
research. mation processing system as one in which information was pro-
The second assertion made by Salomon suggested that filmic, cessed in the sensory store, received further processing in short-
codes could also activate or call upon specific cognitive skills. term memory, and was then transferred to long-term memory,
In a series of studies, Salomon (1979) tested this hypothesis on all without a great deal of active or purposeful selection, pro-
groups of preschool, second-grade, and third-grade Israeli stu- cessing, or coding by the learner.
dents using Sesame Street programming as the content. After It is generally accepted today that the reactive theory requires
6 months, the groups of school-aged children demonstrated sig- much revision, particularly with regard to the learners role in
nificantly higher comprehension scores. This was interpreted by initiating and actively processing new information in relation to
Salomon to indicate that students were able to learn the mean- prior knowledge. For these reasons, little substantiation of the
ings of the filmic codes, and in so doing activated the respective theory can be put forth, especially in light of the support that
cognitive skills. However, the effects were limited to the older current research provides to the opposing theory, the active
children and have been qualified by Salomon to suggest that theory.
these mental skills can be activated by the appropriate filmic The alternative theory, the active theory, defines the child
codes, but are not necessarily always activated in this manner. as an active processor who is guided by previous knowledge,
expectations, and schemata* (Anderson & Lorch, 1983). In this
way, the child does not merely respond to the changing stim-
12.3.4 Childrens Attention to Television uli presented, but rather actively applies strategies based on
previous experience with the content and formal features, per-
The effect of the television symbol system on learning has been sonal knowledge structures, and available cognitive skills. Key
addressed through two areas of cognitive processing: attention to this view is the assumption that the child will apply existing
and comprehension. For each of these areas, we discuss theo- schemas to the perception and processing of the televised in-
retical approaches and empirical research. formation. Anderson and Lorch (1983) suggest that a number of
premises underlie the functioning of the active theory. These in- Reactive/Active Theory. Two approaches to un- clude consideration of competing stimuli, the need to maintain
derstanding the way in which children attend to television have a reasonable level of stimulus unfamiliarity, the role of auditory
emerged. These positions include the reactive theory* which cues to refocus attention, and the effect of attentional inertia*
generally views the child as passive and simply a receptor of in- to maintain cognitive involvement (Anderson, Alwitt, Lorch, &
formation or stimuli delivered by the television, and the active Levin, 1979). Additionally, a key component of the active the-
theory* which suggests that children cognitively interact with ory is the role of viewing schemata, which Anderson and Lorch
the information being presented as well as with the viewing suggest develop through increased interaction with television
environment (Anderson & Lorch, 1983). These two viewpoints forms, as well as with general cognitive growth.
generally parallel theoretical orientations to human information The notion of representational codes or formal features and
processing in that early concepts of the human information their role and effects in the processing of television informa-
processing system were reasonably linear and viewed attention tion has become an area of particular interest and the central
as a relatively receptive process where the learner merely re- focus of much research regarding how children attend to and
acted to stimuli that were perceived (Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968). process the television message. Formal features are defined by
Later conceptions of how we process information took the po- Anderson and Collins (1988) as characteristic attributes of the
sition that we are active participants in selecting and processing medium, which can be described without reference to specific
incoming stimuli (Anderson, 1980). content. In reality these include, but are not limited to, the
The first theoretical orientation, the reactive theory, is de- visual features of zooms, camera movements, cuts and dissolves,
rived from Banduras Social Learning Theory* (Bandura, 1977). montage techniques, animation, ellipses, program pace, and
In this conceptualization, the salient formal features of the tele- special visual effects, as well as the auditory features of music,
vision programming gain and maintain the viewers attention. sound effects, and unusual voices. A fairly comprehensive tax-
Continued attention and comprehension occur more or less au- onomy of formal features has been developed by the research
tomatically as the childs information processing system func- group at the Center for Research on the Influence of Television
tions reactively. Singer (1980) describes this process as one on Children (CRITC) (Huston & Wright, 1983; Rice, Huston, &
where the continually changing screen and auditory patterns Wright, 1983).
create an ongoing series of orienting reflexes in the viewer. Two constructs related to the visual message and the forms
Key to this orientation is the role of the viewer as a passive, of television have emerged and become important to an un-
involuntary processor of information that is absorbed from the derstanding of how these forms function in the processing of
screen. The reactive theory of attention to television is sup- the television message. These constructs, which include visual
ported by little direct research, with most of the foundation complexity or the amount and degree of change of informa-
for the theory being based on the early human information tion (Watt & Welch, 1983; Welch & Watt, 1982) and per-
processing theories such as those described by Atkinson and ceptual salience* or those attributes of the stimulus that
Shiffrin (1968, 1971), Broadbent (1959), and Neisser (1967). increase its intensity, contrast, change, or novelty (Berlyne,
The work of Singer (1980) included little direct research relative 1960; Rice, Huston, & Wright, 1983), relate to both quantitative
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12. Learning from Television 263

and qualitative characteristics of the message. Researchers asso- remain true today because of changes in programming and the
ciated with each of these positions have developed or adapted increased viewing sophistication of children. In laboratory set-
models that can be used to conceptualize the effects of these tings, where more control over outside distractions could be
attributes on the message and how it is processed by the viewer. maintained, it was found that children still were frequently dis-
Watt and Welch employed an information theory model for en- tracted and demonstrated only sporadic attention to the pro-
tropy to explain the relationship between static and dynamic gram (Becker & Wolfe, 1960). In several studies, preschool chil-
complexity and learning from television content (Watt & Welch, dren were observed to look at and away from the television 150
1983; Welch & Watt, 1982). Rice, Huston, and Wright (1982) to 200 times per hour (Alwitt, Anderson, Lorch, & Levin, 1980;
presented a model that described the relationship between at- Anderson & Levin, 1976; Field, 1983). The lengths of looks
tention and stimulus complexity. For the most part, however, were also seen as important characteristics of attention. Ander-
the effects of the formal features of television have been consid- son, Lorch, Smith, Bradford, and Levin (1981) found that looks
ered with regard to the particular cognitive processes or skills of more than 30 seconds were infrequent and that the majority
with which they are associated, attention and comprehension, of look lengths were less than 5 seconds.
and consequently, they are best examined from that perspec- The viewing context was also identified as an influential fac-
tive. tor in attention. Sproull (1973) suggested that toys and other ac-
tivities were strong attention-diverting stimuli, in the absence of Research on Attention. The variable of attention which attention rose to 80 percent. Studies by Lorch, Anderson,
to the television program has received extensive research in- and Levin (1979) concluded that attention is strategic in chil-
terest, of which the most comprehensive group of studies has dren, because audio cues were used heavily to monitor program
been conducted by Daniel Anderson and his associates at the content and indicate instances when attention should be redi-
University of Massachusetts. This group of researchers was the rected to the television. The presence of other children with
first to propose that the process of attending to television pro- whom they could discuss the program and use as models of
gramming was active rather than simply a reaction to the stimuli attention was also shown to be a strong factor contributing to
presented. attentional control (Anderson et al., 1981).
One of the first questions relative to attention to television The factor of viewer age has frequently emerged as a variable
is a qualification of exactly what attention is and how it can ap- of significance, particularly with regard to determining at what
propriately be measured. Anderson and Field (1983) describe age children begin to attend to and comprehend the content
five methodologies that may constitute an effective measure of of the television program. Very young children (6 to 12 months
this attention. These include (a) visual orientation, the physical of age) appear to direct attention to the television screen about
orientation of the viewer toward the television screen; (b) eye half the time in controlled situations (Hollenbeck & Slaby, 1979;
movements and fixations; (c) comprehension and recognition Lemish & Rice, 1986), with a dramatic increase between 12 and
testing, which measures attention through inferences drawn 48 months (Anderson & Levin, 1976). In their study, Anderson
from objective recognition and comprehension tests; (d) inter- and Levin observed an increase in look lengths by a factor of
ference methods, which pinpoint attention as that time when a 4 at approximately 30 months of age. Other researchers have
viewer responds to and removes some form of interfering infor- reported similar findings (Carew, 1980; Schramm, Lyle, & Parker,
mation from the message; and (e) physiological measures that 1961).
include cardiac, galvanic skin response, and electroencephalo- Attention appears to increase continuously beyond this age
graphic records of arousal. Of these, the most frequently em- to about 12 years, at which point it plateaus (Alwitt et al., 1980;
ployed have been visual orientation and the use of recognition Anderson, 1983; Anderson, Lorch, Field, Collins, & Nathan,
and comprehension tests. 1986; Anderson, Lorch, Field, & Sanders, 1981; Calvert, Hus-
Anderson and Field (1983) identify a number of settings and ton, Watkins, & Wright, 1982).
contexts for viewing that impinge on the attentional process. The unique role of the formal features of television has been
They differentiate between the home viewing environment and the focus of much research on childrens attention. Such fea-
laboratory settings in terms of the accuracy of data obtained. tures include both visual and auditory production effects that
Home viewing generally results in overly inflated estimates of are integral to the television program composition and presenta-
attentional time (Bechtel, Achepohl, & Akers, 1972). The use tion. Formal features have significant implications for attention,
of monitoring cameras revealed that attention does not con- comprehension, and, as has been discussed previously, mod-
tinue for long periods of time but rather consists of frequent eling and activating cognitive skills. In terms of attention, the
interruptions, conversations, distractions* and the viewers ex- research has indicated that only some formal features, specifi-
its and returns to the room (Allen, 1965; Anderson, 1983). Allen cally special visual effects, changes in scene, character change,
used time-lapse movie cameras, and Bechtel, Achepohl, and Ak- and high levels of action, are reasonably effective at eliciting at-
ers videotaped in the home. The results of these studies appear tention, while conventional camera effects such as cuts, zooms,
consistent, indicating that children up to age 10 averaged about and pans have substantially less power to gain attention (Rice,
52 percent of the time in the viewing room actually attending Huston, & Wright, 1983). The visual feature that most inhib-
to the program, while children aged 11 to 19 years showed an ited attention was the long zoom effect. Other program com-
average attention of about 69 percent (Bechtel et al., 1972). ponents, such as animation, puppets, and frequent changes
In all cases, attention to childrens programs was substantially of speaker, while not actually production features, were also
higher than to adult-level programming, although this may not found to promote attention. Those components that decreased
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attention were live animals, song and dance, and long speeches of childrens attentional behavior, all formal features should be
(Alwitt et al., 1980; Anderson & Levin, 1976; Calvert, Huston, effective at virtually all ages, because they should all automati-
Watkins, & Wright, 1982). cally elicit an orienting reaction due to their movement, stimulus
Several researchers have observed that the sound track of the change, or salient visual patterns. Since the research consistently
television program plays a major role in attention, particularly identifies only certain features at particular ages as attention
in gaining the attention of the nonviewing child (Anderson & gaining and conversely finds that other features are inhibiting
Field, 1983). With respect to the generalized use or effect of the to attention, this hypothesis is strongly rejected (Anderson &
audio track to direct attention, Lorch et al. (1979) found that Field, 1983). With regard to the active theory, they describe the
auditory attention parallels visual attention* and increases with viewing child as actively and selectively in command of his or
age at a rate similar to that of visual attention. When the audio her own attentional strategies. For this reason, the child could
message was experimentally degraded so as to be unintelligi- be expected to respond differentially to the various stimuli and
ble, either through technical reversal or substitution, children features, which is the case made by current research findings
at ages 2, 3, 31/2, and 5 years evidenced significant drops in at- (Hawkins, Kin & Pingree, 1991). Alwitt et al. (1980) conclude:
tention to Sesame Street programs, with the most significant
drop being observed with the older children (Anderson, Lorch, An attribute (feature) comes to have a positive or negative relationship
Field, & Sanders, 1981). It has also been reported that children to attention, we hypothesize, based on the degree to which it predicts
employ the audio message to monitor the program for critical relevant and comprehensible content. A child can thus use an attribute
or comprehensible content, which they can then attend to visu- to divide attention between TV viewing and other activities: Full atten-
ally (Anderson & Lorch, 1983). Auditory attention to television tion is given when an attribute is predictive of understandable content
is, to a large degree, mediated by the formal attributes of the and terminated when an attribute predicts irrelevant, boring, and in-
auditory message, including type, age, and gender of voice, and comprehensible content. (p. 65)
the novelty of particular sound, sound effects, or music. Re-
search conducted by Alwitt et al. (1980) revealed that certain
audio effects were effective in gaining attention from nonview- 12.3.5 Childrens Comprehension of Television
ing children. These included auditory changes, sound effects,
laughter, instrumental music, and childrens, womens, and pe- Anderson and Field (1983) explain that formal features per-
culiar voices; alternatively mens voices, individual singing, and form two significant functions: First, they mark the beginning
slow music inhibited attention (Anderson & Lorch, 1983). The of important content segments, and second, they communicate
researchers concluded that auditory devices such as those de- producer-intended concepts of time, space, action, and charac-
scribed cued the children that an important change was tak- ter (Anderson & Field, 1983). The notion that the formal fea-
ing place in the program which might be of interest, thereby tures, which comprise such television effects as montage, are
prompting attention. They also reported that audio effects do able to convey changes in time, place, or movement is integral to
not appear to have any significant effect before the age of 24 a viewers ability to comprehend story content and plot as well
to 30 months, which parallels approximately the beginning of as simply to gain or hold attention. It is in the area of compre-
general attending behavior noted previously. hension that formal features appear to play the most important
When all types of formal features, both visual and auditory, role.
are considered in terms of their ability to facilitate attention,
it becomes apparent that those, which are most obvious, are Relationship of Comprehension to Attention.
generally most effective (Wright, Huston, Ross, Calvert, Rolan- The basic theory related to childrens comprehension of tele-
delli, Weeks, Raeissi, & Potts, 1984). These researchers contend vision relates to and derives from theoretical bases for attention
that the more perceptually salient a feature is, such as fast ac- (Anderson & Lorch, 1983). They cite the reactive theory for
tion or pace, the more effectively it will gain attention. This was suggesting that once attention has been gained, comprehension
partially confirmed in research they described in which those will automatically follow as a natural consequence. Interestingly,
programs identified as high in feature saliency also had larger Singer (1980) and Singer and Singer (1982), proponents of the
viewing audiences. Interestingly, Sesame Street, which has a reactive theory, suggest that the rapid pace or delivery of most
high viewership and attention gaining power, has been found television messages that gain or hold attention, may not per-
to be slower paced (in terms of shot length) than other entertain- mit the viewer to process adequately the information at a deep
ment programs (Bryant, 1992). Evidence was also found which enough level to ensure high levels of comprehension. The ac-
suggests that violence per se is not necessarily attention gain- tive theory, on the other hand, maintains that attention itself is
ing, but rather the high saliency of formal features in violent directed by childrens monitoring* of the program for compre-
programs may be responsible for the higher viewer numbers hensible content, which serves as a signal to focus more direct
(Huston & Wright, 1983; Wright et al., 1984; Wright & Huston, attention to the message (Anderson & Lorch, 1983). To repre-
1982). sent the relationship, Rice, Huston, and Wright (1982) offered
The differential effects of both visual and auditory formal the attentional model presented in Fig. 12.1. In this model, both
features have been cited by several researchers as significant high and low levels of comprehensibility inhibit attention. At the
evidence supporting the active theory of attention to television high end (incomprehensibility), the content is complex and not
(Anderson & Field, 1983; Rice, Huston & Wright, 1983). They understood by the child and consequently elicits little interest
contend that for the reactive theory to be an apt descriptor or attention. At the low end (boredom), the content is familiar
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12. Learning from Television 265

FIGURE 12.1. A model of developmental changes in interest and attention. (From Rice, Huston & Wright, 1982.)

and lacking in information, making it less attention gaining. In Research on Comprehension. Substantial re-
this way, comprehension is interpreted to drive attention (Rice, search has addressed the interrelationship between compre-
Huston, & Wright, 1983). hension and attention and the resultant support of the active
A good deal of the theory related to the formal features of theory suggested by Anderson and Lorch (1983). Lorch et al.
television has relevance for the area of comprehension as well as (1979) compared different experimental attention situations in
attention. Of particular interest is the concept of montage, one terms of recall of Sesame Street content by 5-year-olds. Their
of the formal features previously described. A montage is a series findings revealed that variations in the amount of attention a
of scenes interrupted by special effects such as cuts, dissolves, child demonstrated did not differentially affect comprehension
changes in point of view, and overlays, the purpose of which scores. However, a significant positive correlation was found be-
is to show various shifts in time, place, or personal point of tween the comprehension scores and the amount of attention
view. Such actions call on the viewer to maintain a sequence of exhibited during the specific program content that was related
events, infer changes of scene or time, and to relate or integrate to the comprehension test items. These findings were further
individual scenes to one another (Anderson & Field, 1983). In supported in research reported by Krull and Husson (1979)
this way, any two scenes can be joined together to generate a and Pezdek and Hartman (1981) who also identified the signif-
new idea or suggest a relationship that has not been explicitly icance of audio cues in promoting comprehension as well as
shown. directing visual attention. A later study, however, by Anderson,
Piaget (1926) suggested that younger children (under 7 Lorch, Field, and Sanders (1981, Study 2), which controlled for
years) were limited in story comprehension because of weak extraneous confounding effects of formal features inserted in
seriation abilities and the inability to infer and comprehend the programs, produced data that fully supported the earlier
transformations between events in a story that differ tempo- findings of Lorch et al. (1979). All in all, these studies provided
rally. These limitations reduce the ability to develop complete strong support for the active theory over the reactive theory,
schemas and consequently impair comprehension. Inconsisten- in that attention appeared to be significantly directed by the
cies across theories such as these, however, have produced a comprehensibility of the program content.
dilemma among researchers concerning the ability of children Understandably, the role of formal features in comprehen-
to comprehend fully information presented in this manner via sion is directly related to the active theory of television view-
television (Wartella, 1979). ing. Anderson and Field (1983) suggest that the employment of
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formal features in a montage serve the purposes of the produc- programming content was of much longer duration, such as in
ers of the program to convey or infer changes in time, space, commercially broadcast programs, older viewers were generally
action, or point of view. They further contend that the active able to discriminate central content better than younger view-
comprehension hypothesis is consequently supported, in that ers (Collins, 1983). Collins further suggested that an inability
if children did not actively make the inferences, they would per- to make inferences contributed to comprehension difficulties,
ceive the program as meaningless segments of video and would, although this research was conducted using entertainment pro-
therefore, not attend to it. gramming that was intended primarily for adult audiences. An-
The earliest research on comprehension of film montage derson and Collins (1988) concluded, however, that the poor
suggested that young children were incapable of comprehend- comprehension of both central and implied content should be
ing the elements of montage (Piaget, 1926). Empirical research attributed primarily to less developed knowledge bases rather
supported these contentions (Baron, 1980; Noble, 1975; Tada, than to any cognitive disability. More recent research (Sell, Ray,
1969). In these cases, assessment of childrens comprehension & Lovelace, 1995) suggests, however, that repeated viewing of
was made via verbal explanations of what had occurred, a pro- the program results in improved comprehension by 4-year-old
cess that has been criticized as being extremely difficult for children. They attribute this effect to more complete processing
younger children (Smith, Anderson, & Fisher, 1985). In research of the formal features that enabled children to focus on essential
that employed nonverbal testing methods such as reconstruct- information critical to understanding the plot.
ing the story using dolls and the original television sets, these
researchers found that children aged 3 and 5 years showed sub-
stantial comprehension of program content. It is interesting to 12.3.6 Current Issues
note that no differences were found between treatments that
employed the formal features of pans, zooms, fades, and dis- Contemporary research in the cognitive effects of the televi-
solves and those treatments that relied solely on still photo- sion medium has generally continued along the same agendas
graphic representation. Montage that incorporated formal fea- as in previous decades. Additional research into the nature of
tures was apparently not necessary for comprehension of the the television viewing act has further confirmed the active the-
story. Rather, children were able to comprehend the message oretical approach. Recent researchers have explored the role
presented via either montage or still pictures with equal ability. of the auditory message and reported findings that demonstrate
In a second experiment, Smith et al. (1985) examined the ef- the power of audio cues in helping children identify critical
fects of specific montage elements in terms of the outcomes information in the visual track which direct their attention to
(ellipsis, spatial relationships, character point of view, and comprehensible program content. Research has shown that the
simultaneity of action) intended by the producer. In this case, relationship between attention and comprehension, previously
both 4- and 7-year-olds demonstrated good comprehension via identified, is a complex and interactive process which relies on
the nonverbal evaluation technique, with 7-year-old children both visual and auditory information as well as prior knowledge
showing greater comprehension. The researchers attribute this of content (Bickham, Wright, & Huston, 2000).
result to a greater amount of life experience on the part of the Researchers have also addressed the variable of comprehen-
older children. A later study conducted by Huston and Wright sion in recent research. Studies by Clifford, Gunter, and McAleer
(1989) indicated that formal features used in montage, such as (1995) found that children demonstrate different information
those used to depict distorted perceptions, memory flashbacks, processing and conceptualizing abilities than do older individ-
and instant replays were not comprehended well by school uals, and they caution that much of this area has received little
age children. Anderson and Collins (1988) have generally con- research attention. Further work by Kelly and Spear (1991) in-
cluded that the features incorporated in montage are well com- dicated that comprehension could be improved by the addition
prehended by children, particularly those who are older and of viewing aids such as synopses, which are placed at strategic
have greater prior experience and knowledge. Anderson and points in the program.
Field (1983) contend that the results of these studies indicate Research involving the use of closed captioning for deaf stu-
that young children make frequent, active inferences as they dents demonstrated the critical nature of the audio track in facil-
interpret montage effects in television programming. Further- itating comprehension of television program content as well as
more, they suggest that this fact provides strong support for the the beneficial effects of such captioning for all students ( Jelinek-
active-comprehension hypothesis. Lewis & Jackson, 2001).
The comprehension of longer segments of programming
that necessitated integration and inferencing skills was inves-
tigated by Lorch, Bellack, and Augsbach (1987). In two experi- 12.3.7 Summary and Recommendations
ments, they determined that both 5-year-olds and 4- and 6-year-
olds were capable of selectively recalling 92 percent of ideas Two theoretical orientations have emerged with regard to the
that were central to the television stories. Much lower recall cognitive processing of television program content and the ef-
rates were found for incidental or noncentral information. In fect of the formal production features on that processing. The
an earlier study, however, Calvert, Huston, Watkins, and Wright earlier, reactive theory suggested that the child was a passive
(1982) found that children recalled central content that was entity that could only react to the stimuli being presented. A
presented by means of highly salient formal features better than number of writers accepted this theory and employed it to fur-
that which used low-salience features. In studies in which the ther describe the viewer as not only passive but also mesmerized
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12. Learning from Television 267

by the flickering stimuli presented on the screen. Only modest on scholastic achievement, including a brief review of the body
data, however, reflect a negative effect of certain types of tele- of research and methodological issues. A summary of the in-
vision programming on attention and cognitive processing, and tervening variables that have been studied with regard to the
virtually no reliable research confirms the strong, deleterious television/achievement association and the current conclusions
effects claimed by a number of popular writers and critics of about that relationship will follow.
A second opposing position, the active theory (or the active
comprehension theory), drew on more contemporary cognitive 12.4.1 Theoretical Assumptions
views of the learner and described the child as actively explor-
ing and analyzing the program content being presented. This Research on televisions impact on scholastic achievement
theory suggests that attention to the television program is not a hinges on two assumptions. The first is the belief that an objec-
reaction to stimuli but rather a monitoring and comprehension tive measurement of television viewing can be obtained. The
process to identify meaningful content requiring more directed second concerns the assessment and measurement of achieve-
attention. ment. The methods used to gather data on both are similar.
Research has generally supported the active hypothesis, de- Television viewing is often defined by hours of viewing per
scribing the attentional and comprehension processes as highly day or week. This information is primarily gathered through self-
interrelated, with comprehension being a precondition to atten- reporting instruments or parental diaries. Rarely is a distinction
tion. Comprehension is further facilitated through the effects made about how the student is relating to the television set,
of formal features that function as elements of montage to infer whether or not others are in the room, or if there are concur-
meaningful changes in space, time, and point of view. rent activities being performed. A few studies record the type
The television image has been shown to incorporate a unique of programming watched, but again, these data are usually gath-
symbol system that has certain specifiable capabilities it shares ered from the subjects within a self-reporting context instead
with no other medium. The modes of symbolic representation of by direct observation.
in television exist as a singular language that must be learned by Scholastic achievement is overwhelmingly defined in the lit-
the child. The specific effects of formal features have received erature as reading. Reading assessments in the form of achieve-
substantial research attention with regard to both attention and ment tests on vocabulary and comprehension are the primary
comprehension processes, as well as to their ability to model source of comparison. Some studies measure other school-
and activate cognitive skills. The importance of formal features related achievement such as mathematics but commonly dis-
as they interact with content has also been underscored by many cuss their study results mainly in terms of the reading scores.
findings; however, their interaction with other variables has not While this may be limiting in terms of our understanding of
been pursued sufficiently by researchers. Any research agenda scholastic achievement, it has allowed for more comprehensive
should include continuing investigation of formal features, es- meta-analyses and comparisons between studies than otherwise
pecially their complex interactions with other variables. would have been possible.
The simple act of a child viewing television has been demon-
strated not as a response to stimuli but as a complex, purposeful
cognitive activity that becomes progressively sophisticated as 12.4.2 Major Theories
the child matures to adulthood. The cognitive effects of such
activity have far-reaching consequences for both formal and in- Research in this arena of televisions effects has had two major
formal educational activities. thrusts. Researchers first sought to discover if there was an as-
sociation between television and scholastic achievement. Many,
having concluded that there was such an association, expanded
12.4 SCHOLASTIC ACHIEVEMENT their studies to search for the nature of the relationship. A num-
ber of theories attempt to explain and account for the often
Television viewing has gained the widespread reputation of be- conflicting and confusing results of studies.
ing detrimental to scholastic achievement. This perception of
many teachers, parents, and researchers stems primarily from Frameworks for Theory. Homik (1981) sug-
the negative statistical relationship sometimes found between gested a number of hypotheses for the relationship between
amount of time spent watching television and scholastic perfor- television viewing and achievement. Television may (a) replace
mance (Anderson & Collins, 1988). The relationship between study time, (b) create expectation for fast paced activities,
television and scholastic achievement is much more compli- (c) stimulate interest in school-related topics, (d) teach the same
cated and complex than such a simple inverse relationship sug- content as schools, (e) develop cognitive skills that may rein-
gests (Beentjes & Van der Voort, 1988; Comstock & Paik, 1987, force or conflict with reading skills, and (f ) provide information
1991; Neuman, 1991). A review of the research on scholastic concerning behaviors. Except for the first hypothesis, Reink-
achievement, focusing particularly on that produced since the ing and Wu (1990), in their meta-analysis of studies examining
early 1980s, reveals the likelihood of many interacting variables television and reading achievement, found little research sys-
influencing the impact of television. tematically investigating Homiks theories.
This section of the chapter will first discuss some theoret- Beentjes and Van der Voort (1988) grouped potential the-
ical assumptions and major theories about televisions impact ories by impact. The facilitation hypothesis asserts a positive
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association, while the inhibition hypothesis asserts a negative school students during their sophomore and their senior years
association, and the no-effect hypothesis asserts no association. attempted to ascertain whether television viewing was impact-
They found the most support for the inhibition hypothesis but ing achievement by replacing more enriching activities. He
noted that heavy viewers, socially advantaged children, and in- found no significant correlations when other variables were
telligent children are most vulnerable to the negative impact of controlled, nor did he find that television viewing rates predict
television. 2-year reading-skill changes. Gaddy hypothesized that other re-
In her book Literacy in the Television Age, Neuman searchers have found significant results due to their failure to
(1991) examined four prevailing perspectives of the televi- consider important intervening variables.
sion/achievement relationship: the displacement theory,* the The displacement theory received more rigorous support
information processing theory, the short-term gratifications from quasi-experimental studies typified by the analysis of the
theory, and the interest stimulation theory. Her analysis of the impact of televisions introduction into a community or the com-
evidence supporting and refuting each of these hypotheses is parison of children in households with and without a television
one of the most accessible and comprehensive to date. She also set (Greenstein, 1954; Hornik, 1978). Corteen and Williamss
includes practical suggestions to help parents and teachers de- 1986 study of three British Columbia communities, one without
lineate situations where television can be beneficial for scholas- television (Notel), one with a single television channel (Unitel),
tic achievement and literacy development. Through Neumans and one with multiple channels (Multitel), is a classic example of
framework, we can examine the body of literature on the asso- this design. In the first phase, the 217 children in all three com-
ciation between television viewing and scholastic achievement. munities attending grades 2, 3, and 8 were tested for reading flu-
ency before the Notel community received television transmis- Displacement Theory. The displacement theory sions. Two years later when the children were in grades 4, 5, and
emerged in the late 1950s out of studies demonstrating that chil- 10, they were retested. In the second phase, 206 new second-,
dren watch many hours of television weekly. The displacement third-, and eighth-graders were tested. In a connected data-
hypothesis* has been proposed by many theorists and critics gathering activity, a reading assessment of vocabulary and com-
to explain the effect of television viewing on other activities. prehension was administered to students in grades 1 through 7
This hypothesis states that, television influences both learning in all three communities 6 months after television came to Notel.
and social behavior by displacing such activities as reading, fam- The cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses of these data
ily interaction, and social play with peers (Huston et al., 1992, sets produced very complex findings: (a) Over the 2 years,
p. 82). Since children are not spending those hours doing some- those Notel children who started the study in second and third
thing else, television is displacing other activities. Theorists sug- grades showed gains in reading fluency that were not signif-
gested that the negative relationship sometimes found between icantly different from their Unitel and Multitel counterparts;
television and achievement occurs because the activities be- (b) the eighth-graders showed less progress if they lived in
ing replaced are those that would enhance school performance Notel; (c) Phase 1 second- and third-graders had higher fluency
(Williams, 1986). This theory is the most consistently present scores than Phase 2 second- and third-graders; and (d) Notels
construct in achievement research. second- and third-grade scores were higher than those in Unitel
Research supports the displacement hypothesis to some ex- and Multitel on the assessment of reading comprehension and
tent. The functional displacement hypothesis* holds that one vocabulary.
medium will displace another when it performs some of the Corteen and Williamss somewhat conflicting results also
functions of the displaced medium (Himmelweit, Oppenheim, epitomize the difficulty and complexity of studies of television
& Vince, 1958, cited in Comstock & Paik, 1991). Therefore, effects. Although not unequivocal, as a whole their data sug-
television does displace other activities, but mostly similar ac- gested that television might hinder the development in reading
tivities such as use of other media (Huston et al., 1992). More- skills for children at certain ages (Beentjes & Van der Voort,
over, when children watch television together, their play is less 1988).
activethat is, they are less talkative, less physically active, and A number of correlational studies, which focused on the
less aggressive than during play without television (Gadberry, same two variablesamount of time spent watching television
1974, cited in Huston et al., 1992, p. 86). and cognitive development as measured by reading achieve-
Trend studies, which analyze the change in scholastic (read- ment test scoreshave also found support for the displacement
ing) achievement over the decades of televisions diffusion into theory. However, the data, on the whole, from such simple cor-
everyday life (Stedman & Kaestle, 1987; M. Winn, 1985), have relational studies have been shown to be conflicting, finding
generally supported the displacement theory. Their results pro- negative, positive, or no significant relationship between tele-
vided weak evidence of the existence of a negative television/ vision viewing and reading achievement (Bossing & Burgess,
achievement relationship, since societal changes during the 1984; Quisenberry & Klasek, 1976; Zuckerman et al., 1980).
time periods studied include much more than the advent of Further analysis of more recent studies with larger sample sizes
television. suggests that the relationship is likely to be curvilinear rather
Another type of longitudinal research design uses surveys than linear, with achievement rising with light television watch-
to measure a link between television viewing and achievement ing (1 to 2 hours per day), but falling progressively with heavier
using measures of the same subjects media use and achieve- viewing (Anderson et al., 1986; Feder, 1984; Searls et al., 1985).
ment (Gaddy,1986; Gortmaker, Salter, Walker, & Dietz, 1990; This curvilinear view of the negative association between
Ritchie, Price, & Roberts, 1987). Gaddys analysis of 5,074 high television and achievement has been addressed by researchers
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12. Learning from Television 269

using meta-analysis, a technique that attempts to discover trends der Voort, 1988). Data from this form of research permit more
through arithmetic aggregation of a number of studies. A key precise analysis of variables that are involved in the complex
study of this type is Williams, Haertel, Haertel, and Walbergs interaction of television watching and scholastic achievement.
1982 analysis of 23 studies that examined the relationship be- Neuman argued that the two pieces of evidence needed
tween scholastic achievement and television viewing. The re- to validate the displacement theory, proof that other activities
sults of these meta-analyses were the basis for Comstock and are being replaced and a demonstration that those activities
Paiks discussion of scholastic achievement (1991). The five are more beneficial to scholastic achievement than television,
large-scale studies that became their major sources include: have not been adequately established in the literature (Neuman,
1991). Neither leisure reading at home nor homework activi-
1. The 1980 California Assessment Program (including Feder ties were found to have been displaced consistently by televi-
& Carlson, 1982) that measured 282,000 sixth-graders and sion. Instead, functionally equivalent media activities such as
227,000 twelfth-graders for mathematics, reading, and writ- movies or radio seem to have been affected by television view-
ing achievement, and for television viewing ing (Neuman, 1991). Since other activities have not been proved
2. The 1980 High School and Beyond study (Keith, Reimers, to be more beneficial than television, Neuman found the dis-
Fehrman, Pottebaum, & Aubey, 1986) that compared 28,000 placement theory unsubstantiated. The body of literature on
high school seniors television viewing in terms of achieve- achievement supports the need for a much more complex and
ment scores in mathematics and reading sophisticated model than the simplistic one represented by pure
3. The 19831984 National Assessment of Educational Progress displacement theory. Another trend in achievement research
data (Anderson, Mead, & Sullivan, 1988) that described the re- identified by Neuman is information processing theory that ex-
lationship between viewing and reading for 100,000 fourth-, amines the ways televisions symbol system impacts mental pro-
eighth- and eleventh-graders across 30 states cessing. This theory was discussed in the section on message
4. Neumans synthesis of eight state reading assessments that in- design and cognitive processing.
cluded measures of attitudes toward television representing
nearly 1 million students from fourth through twelfth grades Short-Term Gratification Theory. Short-term
(1988) gratification theory deals primarily with affective and motiva-
5. Gaddys data from several thousand students who were stud- tional components of the learner: enthusiasm, perseverance,
ied during their sophomore and senior years (1986). A small and concentration. Proponents of this theory, many of whom
average negative effect was obtained for the relationship be- are teachers, believe that televisions ability to entertain a pas-
tween television and scholastic achievement by Williams and sive viewer has fundamentally changed childrens expectations
his associates. Interestingly, effects were slightly positive for toward learning, creating a generation of apathetic spectators
lighter viewers (up to 10 hours weekly) and grew increas- who are unable to pursue long-term goals (Neuman, 1991,
ingly negative as students viewed more television. p. 105). They argue that students have come to believe that
all activities should be as effortless as watching television and
Comstock and Paik (1991) noted that for students who are that students attention spans are shorter due to such fast-paced
not fluent in English, the opposite is true, with some important programming as Sesame Street (Singer & Singer, 1983). This is-
qualifications: (a) Family socioeconomic status has a stronger sue was presented in the section on mental processing and will
negative correlation with achievement than the negative cor- be discussed in the section on Programming and Utilization.
relation between television viewing and achievement; (b) as Writers in the 1970s claimed that the childrens program
socioeconomic status rises, the inverse association between Sesame Street had a number of undesirable unintended effects,
amount of television viewed and achievement increases; (c) this namely, increased hyperactivity (Halpern, 1975) and reinforced
relationship is stronger for older students; and (d) for low so- passivity (Winn, 1977), especially when compared to its slower-
cioeconomic status families there is only a slight rise in achieve- paced competition Mister Rogers Neighborhood (Tower,
ment associated with television viewing, especially for younger Singer, Singer, & Biggs, 1979, cited in Neuman, 1991). These
students. unintended effects gave credence to the short-term gratifica-
A number of researchers augmented our understanding of tion theory and the general bias against the television medium.
the characteristics of televisions impact on scholastic achieve- However, further investigations shed doubt on the accuracy of
ment by controlling for variables suspected of intervening these conclusions (Anderson, Levin, & Lorch, 1977; Neuman,
(Anderson, Mead, & Sullivan, 1988; Feder & Carlson, 1982; 1991) by discovering that individual differences, family-viewing
Keith, Reimers, Fehrmann, Pottebaum, & Aubey, 1986; Morgan, context, and other intervening variables were interacting within
1982; Morgan & Gross, 1980; Neuman, 1988; Potter, 1987; the association between television and achievement.
Ridley-Johnson, Cooper, & Chance, 1982). In these studies, one Salomons theory of amount of invested mental effort
or more third variables, often intelligence and socioeconomic (AIME*) suggested that children approach television as an easy
status, are controlled. As a result, the relationship measured source of information and, therefore, tend not to expend much
between achievement and television is not confounded by the mental effort to understand, process, and remember the infor-
third variable. For instance, controlling for intelligence tends to mation in television programs (Salomon, 1983, 1984). He ex-
reduce the degree of negative association. However, the rela- plained that this caused most to perform below their capabilities
tionship remains intact for certain viewers and some content, unless they were specifically directed or encouraged to learn
such as adventure or entertainment programs (Beentjes & Van from the source. He further speculated that this effort-free
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experience became the expectation for other sources of infor- television stimulates the sensory imagination of the young much
mation as well. more successfully than it generates the abstract, conceptual
Gaddys (1986) theory of diminishing challenge concurred lines of thought important to older viewers creativity.
with the concept that as children grow older they find television Other researchers have found evidence of televisions stim-
less cognitively challenging; thus, they need less effort to under- ulation of imaginative play. Alexander, Ryan, and Munoz (1984)
stand the information. Typical teenagers will spend less time found brothers who used television-generated conversation to
watching television. Gaddy concluded that those who continue initiate fantasy play. James and McCain (1982) recorded chil-
to watch at high levels are therefore spending an inordinate drens play at a daycare center and observed that many games
amount of time in cognitive laziness. created by those children were taken from television charac-
ters and plots. They noted that the themes occurring in such Interest Stimulation Theory. The fourth trend in television-activated play were similar to those in play not stimu-
achievement research discussed by Neuman is the interest stim- lated by television. Commercials in particular have been demon-
ulation theory. This hypothesis suggests that television can po- strated in certain circumstances to contribute to imaginative
tentially spark a students interest in or imagination about a activity (Greer, Potts, Wright, & Huston, 1982; Reid & Frazer,
topic, fostering learning and creativity. 1980.)
Examples of televisions initiating interest, as demonstrated A considerable amount of research in the area of televisions
by increased reading and study around a topic, can be taken from impact on the imagination of the viewer, particularly that of
most of our lives. For instance, after the broadcast of the minis- children, has been conducted by Jerome and Dorothy Singer
eries Roots, Fairchild, Stockard, and Bowman (1986) reported and various associates. They have concluded that television can
that 37 percent of those sampled indicated increased interest present general information, models for behavior, themes, sto-
and knowledge about issues of slavery. Similarly, Hornik (1981) ries, and real and make-believe characters who are incorporated
has shown that adult book sales will boom after a special pro- into creative play (Singer & Singer, 1981, 1986). This process
gram airs on television. Morgan (1980) found that children who is not guaranteed, nor is it always positive. Rather, a pattern
watch more television when they are younger are likely to read emerges of a conditional association between television and de-
more when they are older. While this phenomenon has been veloping imagination.
measured, the arousal of interest and generation of incidental The first condition is the type of programming viewed. A
knowledge about subjects broadcast on television has been de- number of studies have linked high-violence action adventure
scribed as fleeting (Comstock & Paik, 1991; Leibert & Sprafkin, programs to decreased imagination, and low-violence situation
1988; Neuman, 1991). comedies or informative programs with increased imagination
Neuman (1991) summarized three reasons to account for the (Huston-Stein, Fox, Greer, Watkins, & Whitaker, 1981; J. Singer
ephemeral nature of incidental learning from ordinary entertain- & Singer, 1981; Singer, Singer, & Rapaczynski, 1984; Zuckerman,
ment viewing. First, most people who casually view television Singer, & Singer, 1980). Singer and Singer have also argued that
lack the intention to learn. Therefore, they do not engage in the pacing of television can impact the amount of imaginative
active cognitive processing of the material. Second, the redun- play, with slower, carefully designed programs, such as Mister
dancy of plot and character and the low intellectual level in most Rogers Neighborhood, generating conditions for optimal cre-
television programming increases the likelihood that any infor- ative thought and play (Singer & Singer, 1983). Dorothy Singer
mation intended for learning was previously mastered. Finally, reported two studies on the effect of Sesame Street and Mister
unless the material has direct relevance to the viewer, any inci- Rogers Neighborhood on childrens imagination (Friedrich &
dental information learned is quickly forgotten due to lack of re- Stein, 1975, cited in Singer, 1978; Tower, Singer, Singer, & Biggs,
inforcement and practice. She suggests a series of concomitant 1978). Mister Rogers Neighborhood produced a significant in-
strategies of parental and teacher mediation that can activate, crease in imagination. Sesame Street did not.
broaden, and focus televisions potential to stimulate interest The type of programming watched may also affect the nature
in school-related topics under natural home-viewing conditions of fantasy activities. Rosenfeld, Heusmann, Eron, and Torney-
(Neuman, 1991). Purta (1982) used Singer and Antrobuss (1972) Imaginal Pro-
cesses Inventory to categorize types of fantasy. They found Theories Related to Imagination. The idea of three types: (a) fanciful play around fairy tales and implausi-
television as a stimulator of imagination and creativity has been ble events, (b) active play around heroes and achievement, and
an area of debate among scholars and researchers. Admittedly, (c) aggressive negative play around fighting, killing, and being
studying the imagination is a difficult prospect at best. Tech- hurt. Children, chiefly boys, who demonstrated aggressive neg-
niques to do so have ranged from observations and self-reports ative fantasy were those who tended to watch violent action ad-
to imagination tests using inkblots or inventories to teacher venture programs regularly (Singer & Singer, 1983). McIlwraith
and parental descriptions. In his work Art, Mind and Brain: and Schallow (1982, 1983) and Schallow and McIlwraith.
A Cognitive Approach to Creativity (1982), Howard Gardner (1986, 1987) investigated various media effects on imaginative-
recounts observations and research that support the idea that ness in children and undergraduates and found connections
television is a rich medium for imaginative activity. The childs between programming genre and type of imaginative think-
imagination scoops up these figures from the television screen ing. For instance, pleasant, constructive daydreams came from
and then, in its mysterious ways, fashions the drawings and watching drama, situation comedies, or general entertainment
stories of his own fantasy world (p. 254). He purports that programs.
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12. Learning from Television 271

The second condition of televisions association with doubt on the veracity of those early findings. These include
imagination is the amount of time spent viewing television. (a) small sample size, (b) lack of control for intervening vari-
Heavy viewers have been shown to be less imaginative (Peter- ables, (c) less powerful analysis techniques, (d) relative inat-
son, Peterson, & Carroll, 1987; Singer & Singer, 1986; Singer, tention to the content of programming, and (e) unreliable self-
Singer, & Rapaczynski, 1984). Children who watch television reporting instruments, whereas subsequent studies with larger
many hours weekly tend to also exhibit traits within their fan- sample sizes, better controls, and more rigorous analysis have
tasies similar to those who watch action adventure programs. continued to discover consistently significant relationships be-
This is evidenced by the fact that they tend to be aggressive and tween television viewing and scholastic achievement (Anderson
violent in their play (Singer & Singer, 1983). et al., 1986; Feder & Carlson, 1982; Gaddy, 1986; Keith et al.,
The final condition within the television and imagination 1986; Neuman, 1988).
association is that of mediation or family viewing context. Ritchie, Price, and Roberts (1987) postulated that television
Singer, Singer, and Rapaczynskis (1984) study found parental might have the most profound impact during the preschool
attitudes* and values about imagination to be a stronger indica- years. Another concern they raise is the question of long-term
tor of child imaginativeness than type or amount of television exposure to the effects of television. This is a dilemma for re-
viewing. D. Singer and Singers (1981) year-long examination searchers that can be addressed by more rigorous longitudinal
of 200 preschoolers within three treatment groups found that studies.
the greatest gains in imaginativeness were associated with adult Neuman (1991) itemized additional concerns about the tele-
mediation. The first group had television exposure and teacher- vision and achievement literature: (a) The majority of the re-
directed lesson plans designed around 2- to 3-minute televised search lacks a driving theory; (b) many studies purport to be
segments intended to improve the childs cognitive, social, and qualitative but are actually anecdotal; (c) scholastic achievement
imaginative skills. The second group received the specialized has been narrowly defined and measured, focusing on reading
lesson plans without television exposure. The final group re- achievement scores; and (d) due to an assumption that print is
ceived the ordinary school curriculum. The results from the the intellectually superior medium, a negative bias pervades the
first group showed gains in imagination and other social skills literature.
such as leadership and cooperation.
Though the results of these studies examining televisions
effects on imagination are not universal, they reveal a pattern 12.4.4 Intervening Variables
of conditional benefit. Children who are exposed to a limited
amount of television, who watch carefully selected programs in A brief look at the variables that have been studied for their po-
terms of content and pacing, and who engage in conversations tential differential effects throughout the research will help illus-
with adults who mediate that exposure are likely to use their trate the complexity of the interaction between the individual
television experience as a springboard to positive, creative, and and television in terms of subsequent scholastic achievement.
imaginative activities. Age. As with many other variables, there is conflict- Future Directions for Theory. Neuman (1991) ing evidence regarding bow the variable of age affects scholastic
concluded that we need a conceptual model to account for achievement. The literature suggests that the negative correla-
(a) the many uses for television, (b) the spirited interplay be- tion between television viewing and achievement is stronger for
tween various media including television, and (c) the impact of older students, which implies that older students may replace
television on scholastic achievement. The writings of Comstock study time with television viewing, while younger children are
and Paik (1991), Beentjes and Van der Voort (1988), and Reink- monitored more closely by parents with regard to studying
ing and Wu (1990) support the need for a conceptual model that (Anderson et al., 1986; Neuman, 1988; Roberts, Bachen,
links research variables. The difficulty researchers have encoun- Hornby, & Hernandez-Ramos, 1984; Searls, Mead, & Ward,
tered in finding consistent, definitive evidence about the magni- 1985).
tude and shape of an association and a functional description of
such an association between television viewing and scholastic Gender. Studies comparing the effects of television
achievement may be due to the presence of negative bias toward viewing on the scholastic achievement of boys and girls have
television. Additionally, there is the aforementioned difficulty of produced conflicting findings. Morgan and Gross (1980) found
the lack of a conceptual model that adequately explains the com- a negative relationship for boys between television viewing and
plex interactions of variables such as age, socioeconomic status, scholastic achievement. In contrast, Williams, Haertel, Haertel,
family viewing context, and intelligence. and Walbergs (1982) meta-analysis identified a negative rela-
tionship for girls.

12.4.3 Methodological Concerns Intelligence. Morgan (1982) and Morgan and Gross
(1980) found that the negative association between television
While many early studies found significant negative correla- and achievement was strongest for children of higher abilities.
tions between television viewing and achievement, reviewers They found no significant effect for low and medium levels of in-
(Beentjes & Van der Voort, 1988; Homik, 1981; Neuman, 1991; telligence. As with older children, television may have a greater
Reinking & Wu, 1990) note that severe flaws in design shed impact on highly intelligent students because it displaces more
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cognitively stimulating activities (Beentjes & Van der Voort, more undifferentiated measure of viewing timeone uncon-
1988). nected with the content of sequences or programshad been
used, the findings may have been different. What is the rela- Home-Viewing Environment. Researchers have tionship of intentional and incidental learning conditions to the
found that television-watching and leisure-reading patterns of interaction of viewing time and achievement? Is it important
children often reflect those of their parents (Morgan, 1982; Neu- to distinguish between viewing as a primary activity and view-
man, 1986). Many factors of the home environment are statis- ing as a secondary activity? Questions such as these need to be
tically significant indicators of television watching, especially raised when researchers study the interaction of viewing time
for younger children (Roberts et al., 1984). Behavioral patterns and achievement.
of leisure reading and television watching seem to persist into
adulthood (Reinking & Wu, 1990; Ritchie et al., 1987).
12.4.5 Current Issues Reading Skills. Research on various levels of read-
ing skill is inconclusive, due mainly to the habit of measuring
Researchers continue to investigate how television watching af-
reading skill with one overall score (Beentjes & Van der Voort,
fects childrens use of time, the affect of viewing on ability to
1988). Corteen and Williams (1986) found a connection to com-
read, and the extent to which television stimulates imagination.
prehension, but not vocabulary, in their study of three Canadian
In addition, there is burgeoning interest in the effect of televi-
sion on obesity and body image and whether there is a related Socioeconomic Status. Although heavy viewers effect on school achievement.
universally have lower scholastic achievement, for light and
moderate viewers socioeconomic status seems to have a place in Time. Within the last five years, two major studies
the interaction. Contrary to high socioeconomic status children related to childrens use of time have been reported: Kids and
who demonstrate a negative correlation, low socioeconomic Media @ the New Millennium (Kaiser Family Foundation, 1999)
status children can improve achievement with television view- and Healthy Environments, Healthy Children (Hofferth, 1999).
ing (Anderson et al., 1986; Feder, 1984; Searls et al., 1985). Com- The University of Michigans Institute for Social Research con-
bined with findings on the effect of intelligence, many scholars ducted the latter. The Kaiser Foundation study reported that
have reached a conclusion that supports the displacement the- the typical American child spends an average of more than
ory in specific situations. The pattern invites a proposition: tele- 38 hours a week and nearly five and a half hours a day consum-
vision viewing is inversely related to achievement when it dis- ing media outside of school. For children age eight and older,
places an intellectually and experientially richer environment, the amount of watching rises to six and three fourths hours a
and it is positively related when it supplies such an environ- day. The study investigated childrens use of television, comput-
ment (Comstock & Paik, 1987, p. 27). ers, video games, movies, music and print media. Drew Altman,
President of the Kaiser Foundation, concluded that, watching Type of Programming Watched. Purely enter- television, playing video games, listening to music and surfing
taining television programming such as cartoons, situation the Internet have become a full-time job for the typical American
comedies, and adventure programs have a negative correlation child (Kaiser Family Foundation, 1999).
with school achievement (Neuman, 1981; Zuckerman, Singer, The University of Michigan Institute for Social Research gath-
& Singer, 1980). News programs and other highly informa- ered information on a group of families from 1981 to 1997. This
tive shows, on the other hand, have a positive relationship to data allowed a comparison of the way children 12 and under oc-
achievement (Potter, 1987). cupied themselves in 1981 and what activities dominate now.
While television still consumes more time than any other ac- Various Levels of Viewing Time. Many studies tivity than sleep, total watching time was decreased about two
have found different levels of viewing time to be an im- hours for 912 year olds. The study did not determine whether
portant element in televisions relationship to achievement these two hours are now devoted to using computers. Children
(Anderson et al., 1986; Feder, 1984; Neuman, 1988; Potter, 1987; have less leisure time and the time they have is more structured.
Searls et al., 1985). In their discussion of Williams et al. (1982), These findings are attributed to some extent to society placing
Comstock and Paik (1987, 1991) concluded that there was a more value on early childhood education and the working fam-
good possibility of curvilinearity at the intermediate and pri- ily crunch because everyone is busier. Time away from home
mary grades, especially for households of lower socioeconomic has limited the hours some children spend watching television
status or using English as a second language. For these groups, (Study Finds Kids . . . , 1998; Hofferth, 1999a, 1999b; Research
television can have a beneficial effect at moderate levels of view- Uncovers How . . . , 1998).
One of the problems of interpreting studies of the effect of Reading. Another continuing issue is: To what ex-
viewing time on achievement is that the content or context tent is television viewing related to the increasing gap in reading
of that viewing time is often ignored, yet may have an effect. ability between the best and worse readers? Over the years re-
For example, in the early evaluations of Sesame Street, viewing search has indicated small positive or negative correlations to
time was positively correlated with learning outcomes when watching television depending on the amount of viewing. It
it was measured as an approximation of time on task. If a is clear that when there is an effect, television is not a major
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12. Learning from Television 273

variable. The amount of time parents spend reading to children There has been a call by many for television to cease be-
is a more significant variable (Zemike, 2001). ing seen as intrinsically bad or good (Gomez, 1986; Hatt, 1982;
Neuman, 1991; Reinking & Wu, 1990). The perception of televi- Imagination. Two important articles extend the sion as detrimental has colored the attitudes of researchers and
debate about the effect of television on imagination. Ruben- educators alike. Jankowski said:
stein (1999) investigated the effect of content and the medium
on creativity. The results suggest that content has more effect It is a source of constant amazement to me that the television set, an
on creativity and attitude than the medium. The study com- inert, immobile appliance that does not eat, drink, or smoke, buy or sell
pared high and low content television and print. Valkenberg anything, cant vote, doesnt have a job, cant think, cant turn itself on
or off, and is used only at our option, can be seen as the cause of so
and Beentjes (1997) tried to find evidence to support the visu-
much of societys ills by so many people in education. (cited in Neuman,
alization hypothesis. This hypothesis states that viewers have 1991, p. 195)
more difficulty disassociating themselves from ready-made tele-
vision images; therefore, imagination may be adversely affected.
The last decade of research has shown that the relationship
If this hypothesis is supported, radio is likely to stimulate imagi-
of television viewing to scholastic achievement is a complex
nation more. The results support the visualization hypothesis. In
proposition with many interacting variables, not just a simple,
the older age group, radio stories elicited more novel responses
negative relationship. The impact of this medium on achieve-
than television stories.
ment remains far from clear. However, research continues to
improve our understanding of how each individual may be in- Obesity. Another new direction is the study of how fluenced by television.
the television viewing environment is related to childhood obe- Future research should seek to avoid these obvious prob-
sity (Horgen, Choate, & Brownell, 2001). Studies on obesity may lems while building on the body of literature available. Emphasis
relate to learning from television because they address childrens on mulitvariate relationships through correlation and on meta-
use of time and the effect of this on physical fitness. Physical analyses seems the most direct route to increasing our under-
fitness, in turn, affects achievement in sports and physical edu- standing of the nature of the television/ achievement relation-
cation (Baranowski, 1999; Armstrong et al., 1998; Durant, An- ship.
derson, et al., 1998).


12.4.6 Summary and Recommendations
By the late 1970s, two reviews of research on child development
Few researchers today doubt that there is a relationship between had concluded that television was more than a communicator
television viewing and scholastic achievement. The debate cen- of content because it organized and modified the home envi-
ters instead around the nature of that association. Regardless of ronment (Atman & Wohlwill, 1978; Majoriebanks, 1979). Con-
the seeming disparity of results, some patterns are emerging: versely, it was known that the home environment organized
and modified television viewing. For example, Frazer (1976)
1. Heavy television viewers of all intellectual abilities and home found that the family routine established the viewing habits* of
environments tend to have lower scholastic achievement and preschoolers, not vice versa. Today we know that demographic
demonstrate less imaginativeness when compared to their differences, such as ethnicity (Tangney & Feshbach, 1988) and
lighter-viewing peers. This effect is especially severe among individual differences, such as genetics (Plomin, Corley, DeFries,
students with high IQs and otherwise stimulating home en- & Fulker, 1990), also influence the family-viewing context. This
vironments. section deals with variables that mediate the effects of television
2. For light-to-moderate viewers, a number of intervening in the home setting, including the home environment, coview-
variables come into play: age, ability, socioeconomic sta- ing, and viewing habits. For television viewing occurs in an
tus, home-viewing environment, and type of programming environmental context that influences what and when viewing
watched. It has been shown that light television viewing may occurs, as well as the ways in which viewers interpret what they
increase scholastic performance for children of lower abili- see (Huston et al., 1992, p. 98).
ties and lower socioeconomic status.
3. Within certain stages of intellectual and emotional devel-
opment, television viewing can have a greater impact on 12.5.1 Variables That Mediate
4. Parental attitudes and viewing patterns* are strong indicators The variables in the family context for television viewing can be
of the childs current and future television viewing and its grouped into three categories: (a) the environment, which en-
effect on scholastic achievement. compasses the number and placement of sets, the toys and other
5. Home-viewing environment and adult mediation of viewed media available, options for other activities, rules for viewing,
material are significantly related to the incidental and inten- and parental attitudes and style; (b) coviewing, which includes
tional learning and imaginative play that come from television the nature and frequency of interactions, the effect of attitudes,
viewing. and the effect of age and roles; and (c) viewing habits, which are
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based on variables such as amount of viewing, viewing patterns low level of involvement (Bryant, Zillmann, & Brown, 1983;
or preferences, and audience involvement.* These variables in- Huston & Wright, 1989; Krendl & Watkins, 1983; Krull, 1983;
teract to create a social environment that mediates the effects Lorch, Anderson, & Levin, 1979; Meadowcroft & Reeves, 1989;
of viewing. Thorson, Reeves, & Schleuder, 1985). As previously noted in the
Mediating variables can be separated into two types of vari- section on message design and cognitive processing, the notion
ables: direct and indirect. Direct mediating variables are those of hypnotic watching of television has been largely discredited
that can be controlled, such as the situation or habits. Indirect (Anderson & Lorch, 1983; Bryant & Anderson, 1983).
mediating variables are those that are fixed, such as educational Three studies by Argenta, Stoneman, and Brody (1986),
or socioeconomic level. Wolf (1987), and Palmer (1986) reinforce this conclusion. Wolf
The research on television as a socializing agent is extensive and Palmer interviewed children about their viewing to deter-
and will be discussed later in this chapter. Although research mine interest, thoughtfulness, and insight. Their study, there-
on family context abounds, many findings are contradictory or fore, is susceptible to the biases of self-reporting. Argenta et al.
inconclusive. Nevertheless, there is enough research to suggest (1986) analyzed the visual attention of preschoolers to cartoons,
some important interactions. Sesame Street, and situation comedies. They observed social in-
One approach to visualizing the relationship between pro- teraction, viewing, and use of toys. With Sesame Street and
gram variables (e.g., formal features, content), context variables situation comedies, attention was divided among social inter-
(e.g., environment, habits, coviewing), and outcome variables action, viewing, and toys. Only with cartoons did social inter-
(e.g., attention, comprehension, attitudes) was presented by action decrease. The image of children mesmerized in front
Seels in 1982 (see Fig. 12.2). of the television set, forsaking social interaction and active in-
Another approach to conceptualizing visually the relation- volvement with their object environment, held true for only one
ship of some of these mediating variables to exposure and out- type of programming, namely, cartoons (Argenta et al., 1986
comes was presented by Carolyn A. Stroman (1991) in Fig. 12.3, p. 370). Thus, findings will differ depending on how viewing is
which appeared in the Journal of Negro Education. defined.
Another assumption is that incidental learning and inten-
tional learning are separate during the television experience.
12.5.2 Theoretical Assumptions Yet, if an adult reinforces or intervenes while coviewing a
program for children, intentional learning will increase. Ad-
At the level of operational investigation of these variables, ditionally, if a child learns indirectly through informative pro-
assumptions are made that affect the questions researched, gramming, incidental learning will increase. The nature of the
methodologies used, and interpretation of findings. One such television experience today, especially with cable and video-
issue is how television viewing should be defined. As discussed cassette recorder (VCR) technology, may be that incidental and
in the message design and cognitive-processing section, clas- intentional learning happen concurrently and may even inter-
sic studies by Allen (1965) and Bechtel, Achelpohl, and Akers act or reinforce each other. Coviewing with discussion may be
(1972) found there was a great deal of inattention while the a way to join incidental and intentional learning. In an article on
television set was turned on. If viewing is defined as a low Family Contexts of Television, Leichter et al. (1985) point out
level of involvement, i.e., nothing more then being in the room that ways of representing and thinking about time may be
when the television set is on, the result is estimates of the big learned from the television experience. Children can inciden-
role of television in childrens lives. When estimates of viewing tally learn to recognize the hour or the day from the program-
by 5-year-olds made from parent-kept viewing diaries and time- ming schedule. They can intentionally learn time concepts by
lapse video recordings are compared, diaries yield estimates of watching Mister Rogers Neighborhood and Sesame Street
40 hours a week and time-lapse video recordings analyzed for A methodological assumption underlying much research on
attentive viewing yield 31/2 hours per week (Anderson, Field, the television viewing environment is the acceptability of self-
Collins, Lorch, & Nathan, 1985, cited in Comstock & Paik, 1987). reporting instruments and diaries. Although these techniques
Viewing is often defined as including entering and leaving the are valid, often they need to be compared with research results
room while intermittently monitoring what is unfolding on the from other methodologies. This may be especially true in televi-
screen (Comstock & Paik, 1991, p. 19). sion research, because self-reporting techniques are used so ex-
On the other hand, current research on mental activities that tensively, particularly in studies on the family-viewing context.
occur during the television experience suggests that a great deal
of mental activity can occur while viewing. Comstock and Paik 12.5.3 The Television Viewing Environment
(1991) suggest that a distinction be made between monitoring
(paying attention to audio, visual, and social cues that indicate The television viewing environment is part of the television
the desirability of attention to the screen) and viewing (paying viewing system, which results in a television viewing experi-
attention to what is taking place on the screen). ence. This section will next address several categories and sub-
The issue of whether the viewer is active or passive arises categories of mediating variables starting with the viewing en-
from differing conceptions of viewing and from the fact that vironment.
research has established that the viewer can be either, depend-
ing on programming and the mediating variables. Comstock Number and Placement of Sets. Leichter and her
and Paik (1991) cite several classic and recent studies that colleagues (1985) discuss the temporal and spatial organization
established a high level of mental activity despite an often of the television viewing environment. According to Leichter
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12. Learning from Television 275

FIGURE 12.2. Relationship among variable in the family-viewing context. (From Seels, 1982.)

et al., there are symbolic meanings associated with the place- naturalistic data gathering through a variety of observation tech-
ment of television sets in the home. In their discussion of the niques was best. Therefore, they used participant observation,
methodological approaches to the study of family environments, interviewing, recording of specific behaviors, and video and au-
they stress the need to obtain a detailed picture of the ways dio recording of interactions. To gather data over a sufficient
in which television is interwoven with the underlying organiza- time span, one observer moved in with the family. Leichter and
tion of the family (p. 31). They decided that ethnographic or her colleagues generated research questions through a study
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FIGURE 12.3. Hypothesized model for understanding televisions so-

cializing impact. (From Stroman, C. A., (1991). Televisions role in the
socialization of African American children and adolescents. Journal of
Negro Education, 60(3), 314327. Copyright 1991
c by Howard Univer-
sity. All rights reserved.)

of three families followed by a study of ten families. They com- placed can inhibit the amount of time someone spends viewing.
pared the data generated with a similar cross-cultural study done This conclusion is supported by research on use of dormitory
in Pakistan (Ahmed, 1983) and concluded that placement varies viewing areas in college (Preiser, 1970, cited in Ross, 1979),
with the architecture of the home and with family perceptions. Young children engage in many other activities in the televi-
As a result, a set can be fixed or static in terms of its place- sion area even if the television isnt in a desirable location for
ment, just as individual position for viewing can be fixed or other activities (Rivlin, Wolfe, & Beyda, 1973, cited in Ross,
static. The area of placement can be close to traffic patterns 1979).
or places of activity, or it can be set in out-of-the-way places Winn (1977) argues that the television should be put in an
reserved just for viewing. Where the set is placed may lead to out-of-the-way area such as the basement in order to minimize
conflict because of other activities. its dominance. Others argue that the more centrally located the
Even though television is a magnet, especially for young set, the more likely viewers will be influenced by other powerful
viewers, the physical design of the area where the set is variables such as coviewing.
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12. Learning from Television 277

One concept that could be used in research on placement is was no difference between the groups in comprehension of
household centrality.* Medrich et al. (1982, cited in Comstock television content. Thus, toys may be seen as positive elements
& Paik, 1991) proposed that families can be classified on a di- of the viewing environment in that they can reinforce viewing
mension reflecting behavior and norms* that favor viewing. If and provide a basis for interaction with others about television
there is high use by parents and children and there are few rules and other topics. On the other hand, toys can decrease atten-
governing viewing, the household can be said to have central- tion, but this phenomenon does not seem to affect cognitive
ity of television. Research is needed on the effect of placement learning.
of set(s) on centrality. Generally, if there is only one set, it is in It is commonly believed that children learn about life through
a living or group recreational area. If there is a second set, it is forms of play and social interaction (D. Winn, 1985). Although
usually placed in a bedroom (Leichter et al., 1985). The more television can model prosocial forms of interaction, the time
central the location, the greater is the likelihood that social in- spent watching television results in less time for play, practice,
teraction or coviewing will mediate the effects of television. and real interactions with other children or family members.
The majority of households in the United States have two or
more sets, subscribe to cable, and own a VCR (Huston et al., Television has no sign on it: Trespassers will be prosecuted. Television
1992). Children in multiple-set homes tend to watch more is living made easy for our children. It is the shortest cut yet devised, the
television than those in single-set homes (Webster, Pearson, & most accessible back door to the grown-up world. Television is never
Webster, 1986). Christopher, Fabes, and Wilson (1989) found too busy to talk to our children. Television plays with them, shares its
that parents who owned one television set tended to exert more work with them. Television wants their attention, needs it, and goes to
control over their childrens viewing than did parents owning any length to get it. (Shayon, 1950, p. 9)
multiple sets. They also found that parents who owned three or
more sets were more positive about their childrens watching It is likely that children watching television in an environ-
television and spent twice as much time watching as those with ment rich with toys and the opportunity for other activities will
fewer sets. Webster et al. (1986) cautioned that multiple sets not be as mesmerized by television programming. Opportuni-
could lead to decreased parentchild interactions. ties for elaboration, interaction, and creativity that extend the
Since additional sets are used to resolve conflicts over pro- effect of the television stimulus should be richer in such an en-
gram choices, children may view more since they have more vironment. However, research is not available at this time to
control over their own viewing. In sum, one obvious guideline support such suppositions.
is that young children should not have access to more sets than
parents can monitor. The experience of resolving conflicts over Relationship to Other Activities. Television im-
who watches what can provide valuable lessons in sharing. pacts other activities, and other activities impact television. A
study on televisions impact conducted by Johnson in 1967 Availability of Toys. Children develop strategies (cited in Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988) showed that of those sur-
for viewing, including strategies that allow for competing ac- veyed, 60 percent changed their sleep patterns, 55 percent al-
tivities, such as playing with dolls (Levin & Anderson, 1976). tered meal times, and 78 percent used television as an electronic
Rapid television pacing has no effect on the number of toys used babysitter. Liebert and Sprafkin also cite a study by Robinson in
during a play period (Anderson, Levin, & Lorch, 1977). Family 1972 that showed reductions in sleep, social gatherings away
rules govern the placement and use of toys during viewing. from home, leisure activities, conversation, household care, and
Some families forbid toys in the television room; others per- newspaper reading.
mit toys to be available during viewing (Leichter et al., 1985). Television is frequently secondary to other activities, or there
Where the set is placed may affect the use of toys during view- is frequently another activity even when viewing is primary
ing. If the set is in the living room where no toys are permitted, (Comstock, Chaffee, Katzman, McCombs, & Roberts, 1978).
the use of toys as distracters or reinforcers during viewing will Krugman and Johnson (1991) report that compared to tradi-
be less than if the set is in the playroom or recreation room tional programming, VCR movie rental is associated with less
where toys and games are available. time spent on other activities.
The availability of toys may distract young children from the Parental mediation and the incorporation of other activities
television set. In a study by Lorch, Anderson, and Levin (1979), as adjuncts to the viewing process may be beneficial for chil-
when attractive toys were available to 5-year-olds, attention to dren. Friedrich and Stein (1975) concluded that when adults
Sesame Street dropped from 87 to 44 percent. One of the meth- provide discussion after viewing or read storybooks that sum-
ods employed in the earliest research on Sesame Street was marize important concepts conveyed in programming, children
to conduct formative evaluation by having children watch a increase their understanding of concepts and are able to gener-
sequence while seated at a table filled with toys. If the chil- alize them to new situations better than children not provided
dren played with the toys rather than watching, the sequence with summaries. Singer, Singer, and Zuckerman (1981) reached
was deemed ineffective in holding attention. Among these now the same conclusion when they had teachers lead discussions
classic studies were studies by Lesser in 1972 and 1974, and following viewing of prosocial programs.
by Lorch and his colleagues in the late 1970s. When Lorch, An- Some families engage in orienting activities prior to view-
derson, and Levin (1979) showed a version of Sesame Street ing that lead to awareness of program options. According to
to two groups, one group of children surrounded by toys and Perse (1990), heavy viewers tend to use television guides and
one group with no toys in the environment, the children in the newspaper listings to select programs. They reevaluate during
group without toys attended twice as much. However, there exposure by grazing* (quickly sampling a variety of programs
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using zapping* techniques with remote controls) while they present. This puts children more at risk from the negative ef-
are viewing. fects of television (Wright, St. Peters, & Huston, 1990).
Some studies have shown that television viewing reduces Lull (1990) describes the many roles television can play in
time devoted to other activities (Murray & Kippax, 1978; family interaction. The roles are structural (time and activity
Williams, 1986). Murray and Kippax collected data from three cues) or relational (facilitation of either shared communication
towns in Australia: a no-television town, a low-television town, or avoidance of communication and demonstration of compe-
and a high-television town. The low-television town was defined tence or authority). Thus, television is an important variable in
as one receiving television for only 1 year, and the high as one how family members relate to each other. Using surveys, Bower
receiving television for 5 years. Comparisons between the no- (1988) has compared parents use of rules for viewing in 1960,
television town and the low-television town showed a marked 1970, and 1980. The results indicated a trend toward an increase
decrease in other activities for all age levels when television was in the restrictions and prescriptions parents impose on viewing.
available. Television led to a restructuring of childrens time use This increase in rules about amount of viewing and hours for
(Himmelweit, Oppenheim, & Vince, 1958, cited in Comstock & viewing was indicated for 4- to 6-year-olds and 7- to 9-year-olds.
Paik, 1994; Murray & Kippax, 1978). The displacement theory For younger children, this also included an increase in rules
discussed in the section on school achievement attempts to ex- about changing the channel or grazing. Bower found that the
plain the relationship of other activities to television viewing in higher the educational level of parents, the more likely they
the family context. had rules about viewing. This confirms the findings of Medrich
et al. who also found that the likelihood of rules increased with Rules for Viewing. The National Center for Edu- parental education for all households, but African-American
cational Statistics conducted the National Education Longitudi- households at every socioeconomic level were less restrictive
nal Study (NELS) of 1988. The study surveyed 25,000 eighth- about television viewing (Bower, 1985; Medrich, Roizen, Rubin,
graders, their parents, principals, and teachers. & Buckley, 1982, cited in Comstock & Paik, 1991).
A follow-up study was undertaken in 1990 when the same Several studies discuss the effects of new technology, such
students were tenth-graders. Results of these surveys are given as cable and VCRs, on parental restrictions. Comstock and Paik
in two reports (National Center for Education Statistics, 1991; (1991) reviewed these studies. Lin and Atkin (1989) found that
Office of Educational Research and Improvement, 1991). Ac- several variables interact with rulemaking* for adolescent use
cording to these reports, 69% of parents reported monitor- of television and VCRs, including school grades, child media
ing their eighth-graders television viewing, 62% limited televi- ownership, child age, and gender. They point out the difficulty
sion viewing on school nights, and 84% restricted early or late in separating the research on rulemaking, parental mediation,
viewing (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1992, p. 1). and coviewing:
These statistics are not as reassuring as one would hope:
Within this realm of parental guidance, the relationship between medi-
ation and rulemaking is, itself, worthy of separate consideration. Few
Two-thirds of the parents reported they did enforce rules limiting televi-
researchers have considered mediation (e.g., encouraging, discourag-
sion viewing, while the same number of students reported their parents
ing, discussing viewing) apart from the notion of rulemaking (estab-
did not limit their television viewing. In fact, these eighth-graders spent
lished guidelines about acceptable and/or prohibited behaviors). Those
almost 4 times as much time watching television each week as they did
making mediationrulemaking distinctions (Brown & Linne, 1976; Reid,
doing their homework. (Office of Educational Research and Improve-
1979; Bryce & Leichter, 1983) found a fair degree of correspondence be-
ment, Fall 1991, p. 5)
tween the two. Although these two concepts may appear as indicators
of the same general process, we maintain that they should be theoreti-
Generally, research does not support the myth that children cally distinguished. Actual mediation isnt necessarily contingent upon
watch more television because their parents are absent. Even established rules. Clearly, one can have mediation without making ex-
parents who are present rarely restrict childrens viewing. The plicit rules (and vice versa). (Lin & Atkin, 1989, p. 57)
older the child, the less influence the parents have (Pearl, 1982).
This pattern is disturbing in light of evidence that heavy viewers Even so, Lin and Atkin found that mediation and rule making
(4 hours a day or more) do less well in school and have fewer were predicted by each other.
hobbies and friends (Huston et al., 1992). Gadberry (1980) did There is also the question of whether information or train-
an experimental study in which parents restricted 6-year-olds to ing can increase parental involvement. Greenberg, Abelman,
about half their normal viewing amount. When compared with a and Cohen (1990) provided television guides that reviewed
control group whose viewing was not restricted, the treatment programs to parents who did not use them. However, the chil-
group improved in cognitive performance and time spent on dren used them to find programs with the warning parental
reading. discretion is advised so that they could watch them (Greenberg
Parents who are selective viewers are more likely to encour- et al., 1990, cited in Comstock & Paik, 1991). The jury is out,
age or restrict viewing and to watch with their children. Parents however, on whether training can help parents guide children
who believe television is a positive influence watch more tele- in using television wisely. There are many books available for
vision with children (Dorr et al., 1989). The least-effective po- parents, including the Corporation for Public Broadcastings
sition for parents to take is a laissez-faire one, because children Tips for Parents: Using Television to Help Your Child Learn
whose parents neither regulate or encourage viewing watch (1988); the more recent American Psychological Associations
more adult entertainment television, usually without an adult (APA) Suggestions for Parents (Huston et al., 1992); Chens
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12. Learning from Television 279

The Smart Parents Guide to KIDS TV (1994a); and the USOE discussed character motivations and plot/story lines. Parents
Office of Educational Research and Improvement publication with an unfocused style were characterized by one or two of
TV Viewing and Parental Guidance (1994). these actions: (a) coviewed with the child, (b) encouraged the
There has been little training of parents and almost no re- use of a television guide, (c) used television as reward or pun-
search on the effectiveness of such training. There have been ishment, and (d) talked about characters (Abelman & Rogers,
many materials for television awareness training, such as critical- 1987).
viewing teaching materials, which have been evaluated forma- Singer and Singer and their colleagues have studied parental
tively. These will be discussed later in this chapter. communication style as it interacts with television viewing and
affects comprehension of television (Desmond et al., 1985, Parental Attitude and Style. Several studies found 1990; Singer, Singer, & Rapaczynski, 1985, cited in Sprafkin
that parents did not mediate or enforce rules about television et al., 1992). In a summary of these research findings, Desmond
viewing because they did not believe television was either a et al. (1990) suggest that, general family communication style
harmful or beneficial force (Messaris, 1983; Messaris & Kert, may have been more critical than specific television rules and
1983, cited in Sprafkin, Gadow, & Abelman, 1992; Mills & discipline for enhancing a range of cognitive skills, including
Watkins, 1982). There is some research that reports that a par- television comprehension (p. 302). Children are helped by an
ents positive attitude towards television is an important medi- atmosphere that promotes explanation about issues instead of
ator (Brown & Linne, 1976; Bybee, Robinson, & Turow, 1982; just comments on people and events. Similarly, Korzenny et al.
Doff, Kovaric, & Doubleday, 1989). In 1991, St. Peters, Fitch, conducted a study at Michigan State University to determine un-
Huston, Wright, and Eakins concluded that attitudes about tele- der what conditions childrens modeling of antisocial portrayals
vision were correlated with parents regulation and encourage- on television was strongest. They found that parents who disci-
ment of viewing. The next year, they reported that parents plined by reasoning and explanation had children who were less
negative attitudes about television were not sufficient to mod- affected by antisocial content than children whose parents dis-
ify the effects of television viewing. To reach their conclusions, ciplined through power (Korzenny et al., 1979, cited in Sprafkin
the researchers collected data from 326 children and their fam- et al., 1992).
ilies through diaries, questionnaires, standardized instruments,
and one-way mirror experiments. This research led to a finer de-
lineation of the variable parental attitude toward television: 12.5.4 Coviewing as a Variable
Positive attitudes were positively associated with parents en-
couragement of viewing certain types of programs. Negative at- Coviewing refers to viewing in a group of two or more, such as
titudes were positively related to regulating childrens television a child and parent or three adolescent peers. Since discussion
viewing. Those parents who both regulated and encouraged dis- has been shown in many studies to be an important variable in
criminating viewing had children who viewed less television learning from television (Buerkel-Rothfuss, Greenberg, Atkin, &
than parents who were high on encouragement of viewing. Neuendorf, 1982, cited in Comstock & Paik, 1991; Desmond,
However, the present analysis shows that while parents appear Singer, & Singer, 1990), one would expect coviewing to be a
to criticize and regulate televisions content because of its nega- significant variable in the home viewing context. Unfortunately,
tive influence and coview violent programming (news and car- studies suggest that although coviewing is an important variable,
toons) with their children, parents may not be taking advantage there are few effects due to coviewing. The reasons for this
of the opportunity to discuss the programs they watch with their conclusion will be explained in this section. Three categories
children and moderate the effects of content either directly or in- will be discussed: the nature and frequency of interaction, the
directly. Parents education and attitudes about television were effect of attitudes, and the effects of age and roles.
not associated with childrens social behavior towards others
(St. Peters, Huston, & Wright, 1989, p. 12). Nature and Frequency of Interaction. Based on
Abelman found that parents who were more concerned with a review of several articles, Comstock and Paik (1991) speculate
cognitive effects were more likely to discuss and criticize televi- that the time adolescents and adults spend coviewing is declin-
sion content, whereas parents who were more concerned about ing. The greatest concern in the literature is that most parents
behavioral effects were more likely to mediate by restricting dont spend time coviewing, and when parents do coview, their
viewing (Abelman, 1990, cited in Sprafkin, Gadow & Abelman, level of involvement is usually low. It is not just the amount of
1992). Earlier, Abelman and Rogers (1987) presented findings time spent coviewing; the type of interaction during coviewing
that compared the television mediation of parents of excep- is critical. Most conversation during coviewing is about the
tional children. Parents of nonlabeled (no disability* identified) television medium itself, the plots, characters, and quality of
children were restrictive in style; parents of gifted children were programs (Neuman, 1982, cited in Comstock & Paik, 1991).
evaluative in style; and parents of emotionally disturbed, learn- These conversations help educate young viewers and make
ing disabled, or mentally retarded children were unfocused in them more critical. According to Comstock and Paik, however,
style. The actions of parents with restrictive styles included for- they are not as crucial as conversations that deal with the reality
bidding certain programs, restricting viewing, specifying view- of the program or the rightness or wrongness of the behavior
ing time, specifying programs to watch, and switching channels portrayed.
on objectionable programs. Parents with an evaluative style ex- The evidence suggests that parental mediationwhen it em-
plained programs and advertising, evaluated character roles, and ploys critical discussions and interpretations of what is depicted
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and sets some guidelines on television usecan increase the Effect of Age and Roles. Coviewing is usually de-
understanding of television, improve judgments about reality scribed in terms of whether the viewers are children, adoles-
and fantasy, and reduce total viewing (Comstock & Paik, 1991, cents, or adults, and whether the social group is of mixed age
p. 45). or not. The usual roles referred to are siblings, peers, and par-
Nevertheless, parental coviewing is not always a positive in- ents.
fluence. Parents can give implicit approval to violence, preju- Haefner and Wartella (1987) used an experimental design to
dice, or dangerous behavior (Desmond, Singer, & Singer, 1990, test hypotheses about coviewing with siblings. By analyzing ver-
cited in Comstock & Paik, 1991). After surveying 400 second-, bal interactions in coviewing situations, they determined that
sixth-, and tenth-graders, Dorr, Kovaric, and Doubleday (1989, relatively little of the interaction helped younger children in-
cited in Comstock & Paik, 1991) found that coviewing basically terpret the content. Some teaching by older siblings did occur
reflected habits and preferences, rather than parental mediation but was limited to identifying characters, objects, words, and
or conversational involvement. In 1989, Dorr et al. reported filmic conventions. The result was that older siblings influenced
only weak evidence for positive consequences from coview- evaluation of characters and programs in general, rather than
ing. They concluded that coviewing is an imperfect indicator of interpretation of content. Haefner and Wartella (1987) noted
parental mediation of childrens viewing. In their review, they that other variables needed to be accounted for, such as gen-
identify several methodological problems that make it difficult der, birth order, viewing style, and attitude, because they could
to use the literature, including differing definitions of coviewing, affect differences in learning from siblings. Pinon, Huston, and
overestimates by parents, and the assumption that coviewing is Wright (1989) conducted a longitudinal study of family viewing
motivated by parents desire to be responsible mediators of chil- of Sesame Street using interviews, testing sessions, and diaries
drens interactions with television. They report that coviewing with 326 children from ages 3 to 5 and 5 to 7. The presence
with young children is infrequent (Hopkins & Mullins, 1985, of older children was found to reduce viewing, the presence
cited in Dorr et al., 1989). Moreover, several studies have found of younger children to increase it. Alexander, Ryan, and Munoz
that parentchild coviewing decreases as the number of sets in (1984, cited in Pinon et al., 1989) found that younger children
the house increase (Lull, 1982; McDonald, 1986, cited in Dorr imitated the preferences of older children and that coviewing
et al., 1989). Dorr and her colleagues investigated several hy- with older siblings promoted elaboration of program elements.
potheses about coviewing using data from seven paper-and- Salomon (1977) conducted an experimental study on moth-
pencil instruments given to both parents and children. Their ers who coviewed Sesame Street with their 5-year-olds. He
subjects included 460 middle-class second-, sixth-, and tenth- found:
grade children and one parent for each of 372 of these children.
The results indicated that coviewing by itself had little relation- Mothers co-observation significantly affected the amount of time that
ship to childrens judgment of reality. It did predict satisfaction lower-SES children watched the show, as well as their enjoyment of the
with family viewing. program, producing in turn an effect on learning and significantly atten-
Thus, research shows that most coviewing takes place be- uating initial SES differences. Co-observation effects were not found in
cause parents and children have similar viewing interests and the middle-class group, except for field dependency performance where
tastes. Little of the coviewing has been planned by the parent encouragement of mothers accentuated SES differences. (p. 1146)
to aid with the childs understanding and comprehension of
the show (MacDonald, 1985, 1986, cited in Dorr et al., 1989; Salomon speculated that the performance of lower-class chil-
Wand, 1968). Nevertheless, it is possible that coviewing may dren is more affected, because the mother as coviewer acts as
help parents deal with difficult issues. Through viewing scenar- a needed energizer of learning.
ios on television, the child may discuss the television characters On the other hand, television viewing activity may restrict
dilemma with a parent, or the child may simply accept the tele- parentchild interaction. Gantz and Weaver (1984) reviewed
vision portrayal as the appropriate solution. the research on parentchild communication about television.
They used a questionnaire to examine parentchild television
viewing experiences. They report conflicting research, some of Effect of Attitudes. Dorr and her colleagues also which revealed a decrease in family communication, and some
found that parental attitudes toward television were predictors of which revealed facilitation of communication. Generally, they
of coviewing. Parents who were more positive coviewed with found that when parents and children watched together, con-
children more frequently. Coviewing also correlated moderately versations were infrequent. Moreover, there seems to be a so-
with parents belief that children can learn from television and cioeconomic variable interacting with coviewing, because more
with parents encouragement of viewing. They concluded that effective mediation of the viewing experience occurs with
it has a greater effect when motivated by parents determination higher socioeconomic and educational levels. When viewing
to mediate television experiences. This is an important finding, occurs with the father present, he tends to dominate program
because coviewing occurs least with those who need it most, selection (Lull, 1982, cited in Gantz & Weaver, 1984).
young children. Children are willing to discuss television con- Hill and Stafford (1980) investigated the effect of working on
tent with their parents. Gantz and Weaver (1984) found that chil- the time mothers devote to activities such as childcare, leisure
dren initiate discussions of what they view with their parents; television viewing, and housework. The addition of one child
however, children did not initiate discussions about programs increased the time devoted to housework by 6 to 7 hours a
unless the programs were coviewed. week. Mothers who worked took this time from personal care
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12. Learning from Television 281

time, including sleep and television watching. Because early enforce fewer family rules about appropriate programs (Roder-
childhood may be an important time for the establishment of ick & Jackson, 1985). The amount of viewing changes over a
long-term patterns of television use, it becomes essential that life span. Teenagers are relatively light viewers when compared
parental patterns of viewing continue to include coviewing with with children and adults (Comstock & Paik, 1987). Some stud-
children, even when family routine mandates changes. ies reported that children of mothers who work outside the
Collett (1986) used a recording device to study coviewing. home watch no more or less television than children of moth-
The device, a C-Box,* consisted of a television set and video ers at home (Brown, Childers, Bauman, & Koch, 1990; Webster,
camera that recorded the viewing area in front of the television. Pearson, & Webster, 1986); yet Atkin, Greenberg, and Baldwin
In addition, subjects were asked to complete a diary. He pointed (1991) summarized research that concluded that children view
out that: more in homes where the father is absent (Brown, Bauman,
Lenz, & Koch, 1987, cited in Atkin, Greenberg & Baldwin, 1991)
It is a sad fact that almost everything we know about television has come and where the mother works (Medrich, Rozien, Rubin, & Buck-
from asking people questions about their viewing habits and opinions, ley, 1982, cited in Atkin, Greenberg, & Baldwin, 1991).
or from running them through experiments. The problem with asking Using a questionnaire, Roderick and Jackson (1985) iden-
people questions is that they may not be able to describe their actions tified differences in television viewing habits between gifted
reliably, or they may choose to offer accounts which they deem to be and nongifted viewers. More nongifted students were found to
acceptable to the investigator. (p. 9) have their own television sets, which may account for the heav-
ier viewing habits of nongifted students. Gifted students pre-
In 1988, Anderson and Collins examined the research liter- ferred different programs (educational, documentaries) from
ature on the relationship between coviewing by parents and nongifted students (sitcoms, soaps, game shows). Gifted stu-
critical-viewing skills programs, school achievement, and learn- dents were more likely to have VCRs in their home. They did
ing outcomes. The review concluded that there was little sup- not engage in the wishful thinking or fantasizing about tele-
port for most of the beliefs about the negative influence of tele- vision characters that was common with nongifted students.
vision on children. This opinion contrasts to some extent with Roderick and Jackson had nongifted students respond in their
conclusions of Haefner and Wartella (1987) and Winn (1977). classrooms and gifted students respond at home, which may
Anderson and Collins concluded that adults can be helpful to have introduced bias.
childrens comprehension through coviewing, but that it is not The CPB participated in the 1993 Yankelovich Youth Moni-
clear that interactions are common. tor in order to answer some questions about viewing patterns
in the 1990s (Corporation for Public Broadcasting, 1993). The
Youth Monitor survey studied 1,200 children ages 6 to 17 with
12.5.5 Viewing Habits an in-home interview in randomly selected households. Today
50 percent of children have a television set in their bedroom.
Another factor in the family viewing context is the viewing They watch 3 hours per weekday and 4 hours per weekend day.
habits or patterns of the household. Because television viewing Less than 20 percent watch an hour or less per day. Viewing
is often a social as well as a personal act, viewing habits both decreases as income increases. African-American and Hispanic
effect and are affected by other family variables. The factors that children view the most. Television viewing is the number one
seem to emerge from research on viewing habits are the amount activity in the hours between school and dinner time. Nearly
of viewing, viewing patterns, and audience involvement. half the children reported viewing television with their family
each evening. This is especially true for children who watch The Amount of Viewing. So far research related to public television.
this variable centers around the effects of heavy viewing. Esti-
mates for the typical number of hours television is watched in Viewing Patterns. Viewing patterns refers to
the American home each day vary from 7 hours (Who are the content preferences, but content does not dictate viewing, be-
biggest couch potatoes?, 1993) to 21 hours (Would you give cause, with few exceptions, other variables have more effect
up TV for a million bucks?, 1992). Those over age 55 watched on preferences. This concept can be misleading, because, al-
the most; teenage girls, who averaged 3 hours a day, watched though there are few discernable patterns of preferences by
the least (Who are the biggest couch potatoes?, 1993). If heavy program types, viewers would be unlikely to watch test pat-
viewing is defined as more than 3 to 4 hours a day, many Ameri- terns or the scrolling of stock market reports. Research supports
cans are heavy viewers, which makes it difficult to research and the conclusion that viewers are relatively content indifferent.*
draw conclusions about heavy viewing. Research does indicate Huston, Wright, Rice, Kerkman, and St. Peters (1990) conducted
that heavy viewing is associated with more negative feelings a longitudinal investigation of the development of television
about life. Adults who watch television 3 or more hours daily viewing patterns in early childhood, focusing on types and
are twice as likely to have high cholesterol levels as those who amounts of viewing from ages three to seven. They were inter-
watch less than an hour daily according to Larry Tucker, di- ested in developmental changes resulting from maturation or
rector of health promotion at Brigham Young University, who cognitive development, individual and environmental variables
examined the viewing habits of 12,000 adults. affecting viewing patterns, and the stability of individual dif-
Children who are heavy viewers often have parents who ferences in viewing patterns over time. Viewing was measured
are heavy viewers. Such parents are usually less educated and from diaries kept by parents who were instructed to record as a
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viewer anyone who was present for more than one-half of a 15- lyzed. Traditional television viewing remains the dominant video
minute interval when the television was on. While there were media form for preadolescents and adolescents. New video me-
many individual differences, these differences tended to be sta- dia are a relatively small part of their lives. However, the per-
ble over time. As they grew older, children watched programs centage of time spent alone with the new media is growing,
that required more cognition, such as programs with less redun- perhaps because they offer chances for adolescents to be more
dancy and increasing complexity. Nevertheless, the researchers independent of the family. Boys had more positive attitudes to-
concluded that family patterns and external variables are more wards the new media. There could be many reasons for this,
important determinants of viewing than individual or develop- including gender differences or the content of the new media.
mental differences. They also found that boys watched more
cartoons, action-adventure, and sports programs than did girls.
Boys watched more television overall. Viewers of humorous 12.5.6 Current Issues
childrens programs evolve into viewers of comedy at a later
age. Viewers of adventure stories become viewers of action- Ratings. A new component of the viewing environ-
adventure by age seven. In comparison to this study, Lyle and ment is use of ratings as guides. Originally, age-based ratings
Hoffman (1972, cited in Comstock & Paik, 1991) documented were established (e.g., TV-M for mature audiences). These rat-
through questionnaires that preferences change with age. ings were criticized for being vague and confusing. To revamp
Plomin, Corley, DeFries, and Fulker (1990) conducted a lon- the ratings, content ratings were introduced using symbols such
gitudinal study of 220 adopted children from age three to five. as V for violence and L for coarse language. Researchers have
Evidence for both significant genetic and environmental influ- investigated whether parents use the ratings guide (Greenberg
ences on television viewing patterns was found. Neither intelli- & Rampoldi-Hnilo, 2001). A study by Elkoff (1999) reported the
gence nor temperament was responsible for this genetic influ- strength of the relationship between parental socioeconomic
ence. status and childrens television viewing. Contrary to expecta-
McDonald and Glynn (1986) examined adult opinion about tions based on previous research, parental attitudes seemed to
how appropriate it is for children to view certain kinds of con- be a stronger variable in parental regulation of viewing than
tent. Telephone interviews were conducted with 285 respon- parental style. The parenting style most associated with us-
dents. Adults did not approve of crime detective and adult- ing the ratings was a communication-oriented, discussion-based
oriented programming for children. style. Discussions helped children to understand parental regu-
Over 4 years, Frank and Greenberg (1979) conducted per- lations and created a positive viewing environment. The success
sonal interviews with 2,476 people aged 13 years or older. They of the V-chip technology will affect the success of the ratings
found support for their thesis that viewing audiences are more system (Ableman, 1999). Strasburger and Wilson (2002) sug-
diverse than usually assumed. From the information collected, gested that one way to increase the power of parental mediation
they constructed profiles of 14 segments of the television audi- was to have the same rating system across media. Krcmar and
ence. Their study is an example of research that clusters vari- Cantor (1997) compared the effect of the ratings on parents and
ables. More of such research is needed, because so many vari- children. Parent-child dyads avoided choosing programs with
ables interact in the television environment. restrictive ratings, but the ratings increased stress in the deci-
sion making process. Parents gave more commands when dis- Audience Involvement. Research shows that se- cussing programs with restricted ratings. Children spoke more
lectivity and viewing motives can affect viewing involvement positively of programs with restrictive ratings.
(Perse, 1990). Using factor analysis techniques with data gener-
ated from questionnaires, Perse investigated viewing motives Coviewing. There seems to be a consensus that
classified as ritualistic* (watching for gratification) or instru- models of coviewing need refinement. Current studies distin-
mental* (watching for information). The study included four guish between coviewing and mediation. Coviewing is now de-
indications of audience involvement: (a) intentionality, or antic- scribed as a condition where an adult does not give comments
ipating television viewing; (b) attention, or focused cognitive and shows a neutral attitude towards the program watched. Al-
effort; (c) elaboration, or thinking about program content; and ternatively, mediation occurs when an adult provides children
(d) engaging in distractions while viewing. Ritualistic television with additional comments and shows a positive attitude towards
use, which indicates watching a broad variety of programs, is the program (Valkenburg, Kremar & deRoos, 1998). Previous
marked by higher selectivity before watching but lower levels studies tended to lump coviewing with varying types and lev-
of involvement while viewing. The study confirms the value of els of mediation. For children to benefit from viewing with an
the Levy-Windahl Audience-Activity Typology (Levy & Windahl, adult, the adult must discuss the program to clear up any mis-
1985, cited in Perse, 1990). conceptions (Austin, Bolls, Fujioka, & Engelbertson, 1999). The
The Experience-Sampling Method* was used to study me- current trend reflects a need to be more specific about coview-
dia habits and experiences of 483 subjects aged 9 to 15 years ing and mediation. Parental mediation seems to make children
(Kubey & Larson, 1990). Respondents carried electronic paging less vulnerable to the negative effects of television, for example,
devices, and whenever contacted, they reported on their activ- to aggressive behavior (Nathanson, 1999).
ities and subjective experiences. The utilization of three new
forms of video entertainment (music videos, video games, and Viewing Habits. A decade ago not much research
videocassettes) and traditional television was subsequently ana- was done on the viewing habits of adolescents and college
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12. Learning from Television 283

students. Today, there is evidence of increasing interest in how values and behaviors of their children (Huston et al., 1992).
television influences adolescents and college students and their Attention has also been directed to televisions potential for cul-
needs for self-monitoring (Granello & Pauley, 2000; Haferkamp, tivating prosocial behavior.* The causeeffect relationship be-
1999; Kunkel, Cope, & Biely, 1999). To some extent this interest tween televised violence and violent behavior has not been con-
arises from a concern about programming and how it influences clusively supported by the research literature. Although there
behavior that may negatively affect school achievement. A stu- have been significant correlations in certain groups, such as
dent who is a heavy viewer because of fascination with formal those predisposed to aggressive behavior, the effects cannot
features or content is likely to achieve less. be easily generalized to all children. As reported in the section
on family viewing context, there are many mediating variables
that influence the effects of television on attitudes and behav-
12.5.7 Summary and Recommendations iors.
As in other areas of television research, methods vary be-
In 1978, Wright, Atkins, and Huston-Stein listed some charac- tween laboratory experiments, field studies, and surveys. Vari-
teristics of the setting in which a child views television: ables studied can include subject characteristics such as age,
sex, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, aggressive tendencies or
r Presence of others who are better informed or who can an- predispositions, parental style, or amount of viewing. Other
swer questions raised by a child studies focus on the type of content that is presented, such
r Behavior of others, who through well-timed comments and as aggression that is realistic, rewarded, or justified. Still other
questions model elaboration of content studies focus on the influence of the physical and social context
r Preparation of the child through previous reading, viewing, by manipulating variables such as parental approval (Hearold,
1986). More complex interactions may exist among these vari-
or discussion
r Opportunity to enact or rehearse, role play plots, characters, ables as well. Outcomes can be measured through observing
spontaneous play, through teacher and peer ratings, or through
and situations viewed monitoring the intensity of responses that presumably produce
r Distractions in the environment.
pain. Treatments and behaviors can be delineated as antisocial,*
prosocial,* or neutral.* As defined, each of these categories en-
Much is known today about each of these aspects of the fam- compasses many variables.
ily viewing context. In addition, new variables and interactions During the seven hours per day that the television set is typi-
have been identified such as rulemaking, parental communica- cally turned on, it plays a subtle role as a teacher of rules, norms,
tion style, socioeconomic level, and ethnicity. and standards of behavior (Huston et al., 1992). This section
Nevertheless, many gaps exist in the research literature, es- will examine how television can impact beliefs and attitudes.
pecially about interactions. The well-supported conclusion that It will also look at issues of desensitization,* oversensitization,*
learning from television increases when an adult intervenes to and disinhibition.* Finally, it will review what has been learned
guide and support learning, even if the program is an entertain- about the effects of television on both antisocial and prosocial
ment one ( Johnston, 1987), suggests that much more needs to behavior.
be done to relate the findings of mass media research to research
from instructional television and message design. Therefore, it
is essential to relate findings about learning from television with 12.6.1 Major Theories
findings about the family context for viewing* in order to design
interventions that will ensure the positive benefits of television. Socialization is the process of learning over time how to function
Findings need to be related theoretically in order to develop rec- in a group or society. It is a set of paradigms, rules, procedures,
ommendations for interventions. and principles that govern perception, attention, choices, learn-
St. Peters et al. (1991) summarized the situation: ing, and development (Dorr, 1982). Although there have been
hundreds of studies conducted that examined the socialization
Whatever the effects of parental coviewing, encouragement, and regu- effects of television, a consistent theoretical basis is lacking.
lation, it is clear that the family context is central to the socialization of Social learning theory,* catharsis theory,* arousal or instigation
young childrens television use. Families determine not only the amount theory,* and cultivation theory* are commonly cited when re-
of television available to children, but also the types of programs, and searchers examine the effects of television on attitudes, beliefs,
the quality of the viewing experience. (p. 1422)
and behaviors. Social Learning Theory. Many studies of televi-

12.6 ATTITUDES, BELIEFS, AND BEHAVIORS sion effects are based on Banduras social learning theory, which
assumes that modeling influences operate principally through
Since the early days of broadcast television, educators, parents, their informative function, and that observers acquire mainly
and legislators have been concerned about the effects of tele- symbolic representations of modeled events rather than specific
vised messages on the socialization of children. In 1987, a Louis stimulus-response associations (Bandura, 1971, p. 16). Accord-
Harris poll indicated that more than two-thirds of the adults sur- ing to Bandura and Walters (1963), the best and most effective
veyed were concerned about the effects of television on the way to teach children novel ways of acting is to show them
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the behavior you want them to display. Children can imitate television (Sprafkin, Gadow, & Abelman, 1992). Children who
modeled behaviors almost identically (Bandura, Ross, & Ross, view violence experience it vicariously and identify with the
1961). Bandura (1971) states that although much social learn- aggressive action, thereby discharging their pent-up aggression
ing is fostered through observation of real life models, television (Murray, 1980).
provides symbolic, pictorially presented models. Because of the Scheff and Scheele (1980) delineated two conditions needed
amount of time that people are exposed to models on television, for catharsis*: stimuli that give rise to distressful emotion and
such models play a major part in shaping behavior and in mod- adequate distancing from the stimuli. They suggested that char-
ifying social norms and thus exert a strong influence on the be- acters in violent cartoons may provide enough distancing and
havior of children and adolescents (Bandura & Walters, 1963, detachment for catharsis to occur, but that realistic violence
p. 49). may be too overwhelming to feel and subsequently discharge.
Bandura and others conducted a series of studies known pop- Since catharsis involves a particular type of emotional re-
ularly as the Bobo doll studies. In each of them, a child saw sponse, viewing television may or may not elicit that response
someone assaulting a Bobo doll, a five-foot tall inflated plastic depending on characteristics of the stimuli, viewers, and other
clown designed to be a punching bag. In some experiments, conditions (Scheff & Scheele, 1980). Feshbach and Singer
the model was in the room; in others, a film of either the model (1971) took a slightly different theoretical approach to their in-
or a cartoon figure was projected onto a simulated television vestigations of the relationship between fantasy aggression and
(Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1961, 1963; Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988). overt behavior. They stated that specific types of fantasies could
Different treatment groups saw the model receiving different cause either arousal, which leads to an increase in activity, or
consequences. A model who acted aggressively was either re- inhibition, which in turn leads to drive reduction. In looking
warded, punished, or received no consequences. Some groups at the effects of televised violence over a 6-week period, they
saw a nonaggressive model. After exposure, trained observers studied approximately 400 boys who were divided into two
counted the childrens spontaneous, imitative aggressive acts treatment groups based on whether they watched aggressive or
during play with toys. nonaggressive television. Feshbach and Singer found no signif-
The results showed that (a) children spontaneously imitated icant differences between these groups. However, when they
a model who was rewarded or received no consequences; analyzed the data by type of residential school (private vs. boys
(b) children showed far more aggression than children in other home), they found that in the boys home the nonaggressive
groups when they observed an aggressive model who was re- television group became more aggressive, while the aggressive
warded; (c) children showed little tendency towards aggres- television group became less aggressive. When they analyzed
sion when they saw either the aggressive model who was pun- private schools, they found the opposite to be true. Thus, the
ished or a nonaggressive model who was inhibited; and (d) boys catharsis theory was supported in the boys home setting only.
showed more imitative aggression than girls (Bandura, Ross, & Other factors, such as the boys resentment of not being al-
Ross, 1961, 1963; Bandura & Walters, 1963; Liebert & Sprafkin, lowed to watch preferred programming, may have been more
1988). influential than the nonaggressive television treatment. The re-
Bandura also found that children could learn an aggressive searchers also suggested that, violence presented in the form
behavior but not demonstrate it until motivated to do so. Af- of fiction is less likely to reinforce, stimulate, or elicit aggressive
ter children were told they would receive treats if they could responses in children than is violence in the form of a news
demonstrate what they had seen, children in all treatment con- event (p. 158).
ditions, even those who saw the model punished, were able In general, catharsis theory has failed to receive support in
to produce a high rate of imitation (Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988; studies on children (Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988) but has found
Sprafkin, Gadow, & Abelman, 1992; Wolf, 1975). some support in studies on adolescents (Sprafkin, Gadow, &
Although these studies provided evidence that modeled Abelman, 1992). More research is needed on the effects on dif-
or mediated images can influence subsequent behavior, they ferent populations. Scheff and Scheele (1980) cautioned that
are criticized for being conducted in laboratory conditions catharsis theory has never been adequately tested due to the lack
and for measuring play behavior toward a toy that was de- of a careful definition and of systematic data collection. They
signed to be hit (Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988). Consequently, recommended that studies be conducted that identify and sepa-
the results may not transfer to real life situations. Environ- rate viewers of violent programming who experience a cathartic
mental variables, such as parental approval or disapproval, emotional response from those who do not.
also played an important role in eliciting or inhibiting aggres-
sive behavior in naturalistic settings (Bandura, Ross, & Ross, Instigation or Arousal Theory. Arousal theory*
1963). is related to catharsis theory only in its emphasis on an increase
in a physiological state. This theory suggests that generalized Catharsis Theory. In contrast to social learning emotional arousal influences subsequent behaviors rather than
theory, catharsis theory suggests that viewing televised violence just resulting in drive reduction. Televised messages about emo-
reduces the likelihood of aggressive behavior (Murray, 1980). tion, sexuality, or violence can lead to nonspecific physiologi-
The basic assumption is that frustration* produces an increase cal and cognitive arousal that will in turn energize a wide range
in aggressive drive, and because this state is unpleasant, the per- of potential behaviors (Huston et al., 1992, p. 36). For exam-
son seeks to reduce it by engaging in aggressive acts or by view- ple, increased aggression following televised violence would
ing fantasy aggressions such as those seen in action-adventure be interpreted as the result of the level of arousal elicited by
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12. Learning from Television 285

the program, not as a result of modeling (Liebert & Sprafkin, with cultivation theory, neither model explains the cognitive
1988). In over a dozen studies, Tannenbaum (1980) varied the mechanisms that operate.
content in film clips to include aggressive, sexual, humor, music,
and content-free abstract symbols and movement. He compared
subjects who viewed more arousing (using physiological mea- 12.6.2 Attitudes and Beliefs
sures) though less aggressive (in content) film clips to those
who viewed less arousing, more aggressive clips. Subjects were Television is just one of many sociological factors that influence
required to make some form of aggressive or punitive response, the formation of beliefs and attitudes. Many of the poorest and
usually the administration of alleged electric shocks. The sub- most vulnerable groups in our society such as children, the el-
jects could only vary the intensity, frequency, or duration of the derly, ethnic minorities, and women are the heaviest users of
shocks. Tannenbaum found more aggression after subjects had television in part because it is used when other activities are
seen the more arousing though less aggressive films. He cau- not available or affordable (Huston et al., 1992; Stroman, 1991).
tioned, however, that a necessary feature of these studies was a In general, people with low incomes and with less formal ed-
target, the researchers accomplice, who had earlier angered the ucation watch more television than people with high incomes
subjects and, therefore, may have been considered as deserving and with higher education (Huston et al., 1992).
an aggressive response. Liebert and Sprafkin (1988) reported that heavy viewers
This theory suggests that when aroused, people will behave (those who watched more than 3 to 4 hours per day) are more
with more intensity no matter what type of response they likely than light viewers to have outlooks and perceptions con-
are called upon to make (Tannenbaum, 1980). An important gruent with television portrayals, even after controlling for in-
implication of this theory is that behavior may be activated come and education. They cautioned that some groups, such as
that is quite different from what was presented (Huston et al., adolescents with low parental involvement, were more suscep-
1992). Thus, arousal may stimulate a predisposition towards tible than others. Huston et al. (1992) concluded that children
aggression. and adults who watched a large number of aggressive programs
Arousal levels can be measured by pulse amplitudes, a type also tended to hold attitudes and values that favored the use of
of heart response measured by a physiograph (Comstock & Paik, aggression to resolve conflicts, even when factors such as so-
1991). With this method the measurement of effects is not influ- cial class, sex-role identity, education level, or parental behavior
enced by extraneous factors such as observer bias or counting were controlled.
errors. The beliefs and attitudes learned from television can also
be positive. Bandura and Walters (1963) stated that exemplary Cultivation Hypothesis and Drip Versus models often reflect social norms and the appropriate conduct
Drench Models. Cultivation theory predicts that the more a for given situations. Children can acquire a large number of
person is exposed to television, the more likely the persons scripts and schemes for a variety of social situations based on
perceptions of social realities will match those represented television prototypes (Wright & Huston, 1983). Television can
on television . . . (Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988, p. 148). In other also impact childrens understanding of occupations with which
words, a persons view of the world will be more reflective they have no experience (Comstock & Paik, 1991). Viewing pos-
of the common and repetitive images seen on television than itive interactions of different ethnic groups on Sesame Street led
of those actually experienced (Signorielli, 1991; Signorielli & to an increase in positive intergroup attitudes among preschool
Lears, 1992). children (Gom, Goldberg, & Kamungo, 1976, cited in Huston
Television may influence viewers by the drip model, the et al., 1992) Unfortunately, many television producers continue
subtle accumulation of images and beliefs through a process of to rely on stereotypes due to the desire to communicate images
gradual incorporation of frequent and repeated messages (Hus- and drama quickly and effectively.
ton et al., 1992). George Gerbner conducted a number of studies
that demonstrated a cultivation effect. He found that individ- Stereotypes. A group is described as stereotyped
uals who watch greater amounts of television, and therefore whenever it is depicted or portrayed in such a way that all
see more crime-related content, develop beliefs about levels of its members appear to have the same set of characteristics, at-
crime and personal safety that reflect those risks as portrayed titudes, or life conditions (Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988, p. 189).
on television (Gunter, 1987). Durkin (1985) described stereotypes as being based on extreme
Greenberg (1988, cited in Williams & Condry, 1989) asserted characteristics attributed to the group, with usually negative
that critical images that stand out or are intense may contribute values attached to that group. The less real-world information
more to the formation of impressions than does the frequency people have about social groups, the more inclined they are to
of images over time. Huston et al. also found support for the accept the television image of that group. According to Gross
drench model where single programs or series may have a (1991), nonrepresentation in the media maintains the power-
strong effect when they contain particularly salient portrayals. less status of groups that possess insignificant material or power
For example, programs designed to counteract stereotypes,* bases. He stated that mass media are especially powerful in cul-
such as The Golden Girls, can change childrens attitudes and tivating images of groups for which there are few first-hand
beliefs about older women. opportunities for learning.
The drip versus drench models illustrate a common prob- Many studies assess stereotypes both quantitatively, with
lem in theory building. Even though the drip model is associated counts of how many and how often subgroups are portrayed,
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and qualitatively, with analyses of the nature and intent of the to them by a patriarchal society (Craig, 1991). Davis (1990) also
portrayals. Recognition* refers to the frequency with which a found that the television womans existence was a function of
group receives TV roles at all. Respect* refers to how characters youth and beauty. Women were younger than men by 10 years,
behave and are treated once they have roles (Liebert & Sprafkin, and those aged 35 to 50 were not apparent. They were also five
1988, p. 187). Television can reflect and affect the position of times more likely to have blond hair and four times more likely
groups in society, since the number and types of portrayals of to be dressed provocatively. They were also frequently defined
a group symbolize their importance, power, and social value by their marital or parental status.
(Huston et al., 1992). For example, when Davis (1990) studied A higher proportion of working women were portrayed in
network programming in the spring of 1987, he concluded that professional and entrepreneurial roles than actually existed.
television women are more ornamental than functional. They were rarely shown to combine marriage and employment
Huston et al. (1992) cautioned, despite extensive docu- successfully (Signorielli, 1991). Furthermore, television women
mentation of television content, there is relatively little solid ev- rarely experienced problems with childcare, sex discrimination,
idence about the effects of television portrayals on self-images, harassment, or poverty (Huston et al., 1992).
or on the perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors of other groups Although many studies identified female role stereotypes,
(p. 33). As with other areas of television research, it may be fewer examined male stereotypes and their characteristics
too difficult to isolate the effects of television from other (Craig, 1991; Langmeyer, 1989). In general, men on television
social effects. On the other hand, programs that are designed tended to be active, dominant, governed by reason, and gen-
specifically to produce positive images of subgroups appear to erally powerful (Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988). Meyers (1980) ex-
be successful. amined how men were portrayed in 269 television commer-
cials. Her analysis found four main characteristics: authoritative- Gender Stereotypes. The effects of television in sex dominant, competitive/success hungry, breadwinner, or emo-
role* socialization is another area of concern (Signorielli & Lears, tionless male. Commercials aimed at men are more likely to
1992). According to Durkin (1985), The term sex role refers stress the importance of being capable, ambitious, responsi-
to the collection of behaviours or activities that a given soci- ble, and independent and physically powerful, and of seeking
ety deems more appropriate to members of one sex than to accomplishment, physical comfort, and an exciting and prosper-
members of the other sex (p. 9). Television viewing has been ous life (Scheibe & Condry, 1984, cited in Craig, 1991, p. 11).
linked with sex-stereotyped attitudes and behaviors. Correla- Craig (1991) found that portrayals differed according to the
tional studies show a positive relationship between amount of time of day. For example, daytime television commercials that
viewing and sex-stereotyped attitudes, and experimental studies were aimed at women portrayed men from the perspective of
demonstrate that even brief exposure to television can increase home and family. Men appeared in the home, were hungry,
or decrease sex-stereotyped behaviors, depending on the type were potential partners for romance, were rarely responsible for
of program viewed (Lipinski & Calvert, 1985). Several studies childcare, and were portrayed as husbands or celebrities (Craig,
showed that in the United States, women were portrayed on 1991). During the weekends, ads were replete with masculine
television as passive, dominated by men, deferential, governed escapist fantasy (Craig, p. 53). Men were primary characters
by emotion or overly emotional, dependent, younger or less in- 80 percent of the time and appeared in settings outside the
telligent than men, and generally weak (Davis, 1990; Higgs & home. In contrast, women were completely absent in 37 per-
Weiller, 1987; Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988; Pryor & Knupfer, 1997; cent of the ads, and when they did appear, they were sex objects
Signorielli & Lears, 1992). During prime time, dramas feature or models 23 percent of the time.
two to three men for every woman (Pryor & Knupfer, 1997). In examining effects, heavy television viewing was associ-
Additionally, women comprised only 30 percent of starring char- ated with stronger traditional sex role development in boys and
acters (Kimball, 1986). girls (Comstock & Paik, 1991; Gunter, 1986; Liebert & Sprafkin,
The formal features of television could contribute to stereo- 1988; Murray, 1980). Signorielli and Lears (1992) found a sig-
typing by gender. Commercials aimed at women used soft back- nificant relationship between heavy television viewing and sex-
ground music and dissolves, and employed female narrators stereotyped ideas about chores for preadolescent children. They
primarily for products dealing with female body care (Craig, found that children who watched more television were more
1991; Durkin, 1985; Signorielli & Lears, 1992; Zemach & Cohen, likely to say that only girls should do the chores traditionally as-
1986). In the meantime, male narrators were used in 90 per- sociated with women, and only boys should do those associated
cent of all commercials (Zemach & Cohen, 1986). Commer- with men. Jeffery and Durkin (1989) found that children were
cials aimed at men more often incorporated variation in scenes, more likely to accept a sex role transgression (i.e., a man doing
away-from-home action, high levels of activity, fast-paced cuts, domestic chores) when the character was presented as a power-
loud and dramatic music and sound effects, and fantasy and ful executive than when he was shown as a cleaner/custodian.
excitement (Bryant & Anderson, 1983; Craig, 1991; Durkin, When Kimball (1986) studied three Canadian communities, she
1985). Additionally, men were shown as authority figures or found that 2 years after the introduction of television, childrens
experts even while at leisure (Pryor & Knupfer, 1997). perceptions relating to sex roles were more sex typed than be-
Presenting a group in a way that connotes low status deprives fore television was available. Although she recognized the influ-
that group of respect (Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988). Women were ence of peers, parents, school, and other media, she concluded
typically assigned marital, romantic, or family roles (Liebert & that the introduction of television to the Notel town added
Sprafkin, 1988) and were depicted in subservient roles allocated enough of an effect to produce an increase in sex stereotyping.
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12. Learning from Television 287

Additionally, Bryant and Anderson (1983) reported that viewing much attention as those related to sex roles (Comstock & Paik,
public television (which contained less stereotyping than com- 1991). Because children are less likely to have contact with peo-
mercial television) was characteristic of children who made less ple of different racial or ethnic backgrounds, television may be
stereotypical toy choices. the primary source of information about minorities (Takanishi,
According to Dambrot, Reep, and Bell (1988), the role played 1982; Williams & Condry, 1989). By 2080, Caucasians in the
by an actor or actress was more critical to viewers perceptions United States will no longer be the majority (Fitzgerald, 1992).
than their sex. In their study examining crime action shows, In response to the United States being more racially integrated
they found that viewers ascribe masculine traits to both female than at any other time in history, television is becoming more
and male characters (p. 399). When women were portrayed racially diverse.
in nontraditional roles and situations, viewers did not attribute According to Huston et al. (1992), television is particularly
traditional stereotyped traits to them. important for African-Americans because they watch more than
Hansen and Hansen (1988) studied the effect of viewing rock many other groups, have more favorable attitudes toward it, rely
music videos on perception. Subjects who viewed stereotypic more on it for news and information, and perceive it as reflect-
music videos were more likely to have a distorted impression ing reality, Additionally, young, well-educated African-American
of an interpersonal interaction than were subjects who viewed adults are heavy viewers. Furthermore, television may provide
neutral videos. Although research studies on the effects of sex minority children with important information about the world
role portrayals suggested a link to beliefs about gender roles, that is not available to them in their immediate environment
Gunter (1986) cautioned that many studies do not account for (Stroman, 1991). Therefore, the effects may be greater.
other variables, such as the effect of parental role modeling, nor Minority children on average spent more time watching tele-
do they measure precisely what viewers actually watch. vision regardless of socioeconomic status (Comstock & Cobbey,
Even in sports programming, television reinforced stereo- 1982; Dorr, 1982) and ascribed more reality or credibility to
types (Higgs & Weiller, 1987; Weiller & Higgs, 1992). Commen- television portrayals (Dorr, 1982). Stroman cited a study by Lee
tators described men as strong, aggressive, and unstoppable. and Browne (1981) that reported that 26 percent of third- and
They used surnames and provided technical information about fourth-graders and 15 percent of adolescents watched more than
male athletes. On the other hand, in the limited coverage of 8 hours of television per day. Since their families were less able to
womens sports, women were described by their pain and the afford alternative forms of entertainment, African-American chil-
difficulty of the competition, by their first names, and with de- dren relied more on television for entertainment and guidance
risive adjectives, such as the best little center in basketball and to learn about occupations (Stroman, 1991). The images of
(Higgs & Weiller, 1992, p. 11). successful African-Americans on television were as far removed
On a positive note, television altered expectations when from reality as negative portrayals were (Wilson & Gutierrez,
it purposely deviated from stereotypic portrayals in order to 1985, cited in Fitzgerald, 1992).
change beliefs (Comstock & Paik, 1987; Gunter, 1986). John- In the early days of television, African-Americans appeared
ston and Ettema (1982) conducted summative evaluations of in minor roles, frequently as servants or as comedians (Liebert
Freestyle, the 13-part public television program designed to & Sprafkin, 1988). According to Williams and Condry (1989),
change attitudes about sex roles among children aged 9 to in the 1970s, however, racism became subtle. Black characters
12. Their study included four experimental conditions spread were younger, poorer, and less likely to be cast in professional
among seven research sites. Although limited positive effects occupations, dramatic, or romantic roles. They often appeared
were seen with unstructured viewing, positive short-term and in segregated environments. From their study of 1,987 network
long-term effects were seen when the program was viewed in programs and commercials, Williams and Condry concluded
the classroom and discussion took place (Comstock & Paik, that minorities were portrayed with blue-collar or public-service
1987; Durkin, 1985). Effects with home viewers were small and jobs, appeared as children, or appeared as perpetrators or vic-
were found only for the heaviest viewers. Among female chil- tims of criminal and delinquent acts.
dren who viewed the programs in school, however, there were Ethnic identity* is the attachment to an ethnic group and
significant changes in beliefs, attitudes, and interests. While a positive orientation toward being a member of that group
there were few changes in boys beliefs, attitudes, or inter- (Takanishi, 1982, p. 83). Children are particularly vulnerable
ests, there were no cases of negative effect on males or fe- to negative portrayals of African-Americans. Black children are
males ( Johnston & Ettema, 1982, cited in Johnson, 1987). The ambivalent about their racial identity, and studies still show that
program was particularly successful in promoting greater ac- many prefer whites, prefer to be white, and prefer white charac-
ceptance of (a) girls who displayed independence and abili- ters on television to characters like themselves (Comer, 1982,
ties in athletics, mechanical activities, and leadership; (b) boys p. 21). Graves (1982) cited several studies that demonstrated
who were nurturing; and (c) men and women who chose that preschoolers imitated televised Caucasian models more
nontraditional roles (Gunter, 1986; Johnston & Ettema, 1982). than African-American models, even when imitating toy selec-
Overall, Johnston and Ettema concluded that the programs tion. Other variables could be contributing to these studies,
could impact childrens beliefs and attitudes more than their however. The results could be interpreted as relating more to the
interests in nontraditional pursuits. perceived status of the models than to their ethnicity (Comstock
& Cobbey, 1982). Minority Stereotypes. The effects of television on Although he criticized situation comedies for their por-
beliefs and perceptions related to ethnicity have not received as trayals of African-Americans as frivolous and stupid, Comer
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(1982) commented that these programs helped Caucasian third- & Condry, 1989; Willis, 1990). Relatively little is known about
through fifth-graders gain positive images of minorities, and how television is used by other minority groups.
many African-American children gained positive images about
themselves. Graves (1982) found positive effects, including the Elderly Stereotypes. As a group, the elderly have
acceptance and imitation of minority role models. Additionally, been under-represented on television, occupying no more than
Mays and colleagues (1975) found that after viewing 16 episodes 3 percent of all roles (Bell, 1991; Huston et al., 1992; Liebert
of Vegetable Soup, a program that featured the interactions of & Sprafkin, 1988). Of that number, men outnumbered women
children of different ethnic backgrounds, children aged 6 to 10 two to one and were likely to be more powerful, active, and
years expressed greater friendliness toward those differing in productive. In a study of childrens Saturday morning programs,
ethnicity (cited in Comstock & Paik, 1991). Mays and colleagues Bishop and Krause (1984) found that over 90 percent of the com-
also found that those who were African-American expressed en- ments made about the elderly were negative (cited in Liebert &
hanced acceptance of their own ethnicity. Takanishi (1982) and Sprafkin, 1988). The elderly were also portrayed as unhappy and
Greenberg and Atkin (1982) cautioned that the effects of minor- having problems they could not solve themselves. According
ity character portrayals were complicated by the different val- to Davis and Davis (1986), they were shown as more comical,
ues, attitudes, and characteristics that children bring to viewing stubborn, eccentric, and foolish than other characters. They are
in addition to the effects of social influences and the attributes more likely to be treated with disrespect (cited in Bell, 1991,
of content. p. 3).
According to Davis (1990) and Berry (1982), minority group This image of the elderly may be changing as the media rec-
portrayals have improved in terms of frequency. In 1987, ognize that one out of every six Americans is over 60 years of
African-Americans comprised 12.4 percent of television charac- age, and marketing decisions begin to incorporate the elderly
ters and 12.9 percent of the population (Davis, 1990). Although into televisions prime time (Bell, 1991). According to Nielsen
African-Americans were appearing more on television, segrega- ratings, in 1989 the five most popular dramas for the over-age-
tion and isolation continued to be a problem (Berry, 1982). In 55 audience featured older characters: Murder She Wrote, The
1980, cross-racial interactions appeared in only 2 percent of dra- Golden Girls, Matlock, Jake and the Fatman, and In the Heat
mas and 4 percent of comedies (Weigel, Loomis & Soja, 1980, of the Night (Bell, 1991). Bell found that they portrayed elderly
cited in Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988). In their study of 1987 network who were at the center of the show as powerful characters, af-
programming, Williams and Condry found that 40 percent of mi- fluent, healthy, physically and socially active, quick witted, and
norities were in segregated environments with no contact with admired. He concluded that while the elderly were portrayed
whites. They did find an interesting trend in that cross-racial better than they had been in the past, there were still problems.
friendships among youth were commonplace. In contrast, they When men appear with women, the old stereotypes of male
found that cross-racial relationships among adults were limited prominence and power still operate (Bell, 1991, p. 11). In his
to job-related situations. observation, these shows depicted two worlds: one where there
Audience viewing patterns have the potential to counter- were older women but no men, and one where there were older
act the negative effects of televised stereotypes. Greenberg and men with young women but no older women.
Atkin (1982) stated that African-American parents were more Some evidence exists for the potential of television to pro-
likely than Caucasian parents to sit down and watch televi- mote positive outcomes regarding the elderly. Keegan (1983)
sion programs with their children, especially minority programs. found that a planned program, Over Easy, which was designed
Grayson (1979) and Stroman (1991) advised direct intervention to reach viewers over 55 years, was effective in fostering pos-
by parents to reduce the impact of negative portrayals, includ- itive attitudes about aging (cited in Huston et al., 1992). The
ing (a) selectively viewing programs and excluding those that effects of images of the elderly need to be researched further
portray minorities in distorted or stereotyped roles; (b) looking and with different populations.
for and coviewing programs that portray minorities in a posi-
tive, realistic, and sensitive manner; (c) viewing and discussing Disability Stereotypes. According to the World
the programs applicability and relevance to real-life people and Health Organization, disability is defined as any restriction or
events; (d) providing exposure to content beyond television and lack (resulting from an impairment) of ability to perform an
to activities that will promote physical and intellectual growth, activity in the manner or within the range considered normal
such as trips to zoos and museums; and (e) providing opportu- for a human being (cited in Cumberbatch & Negrine, 1992,
nities for children to be in real situations with minorities, elderly p. 5). Television tends to concentrate on the disability rather
persons, and others. than on the individual aspects of the character portrayed. Peo-
Other minority groups were rarely portrayed. By the mid- ple with disabilities wish to be treated as ordinary people on
1970s, however, other subgroups were complaining to the television, not as superheroes or villains or with sentimentality.
networks about their portrayals. Common stereotypes at the Cumberbatch and Negrine (1992) studied televised images of
time included Arabs as terrorists or oil sheiks, Italians as Mafia disability on programs produced in Great Britain from 1988 to
hoodlums, Asians as invaders, docile launderers, or karate ex- 1989 and compared them to shows produced in the United
perts, Chicanos/Hispanics as comics, banditos, or gang mem- States. By recording and coding 1,286 programs, they found
bers, homosexuals as effeminate, and Native Americans as sav- that characters with disabilities were shown to have locomotor,
ages, victims, cowards, or medicine men (Davis, 1990; Williams behavioral, or disfigurement disabilities since these are visible.
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12. Learning from Television 289

The wheelchair has apparently become a ready symbol of the over injurious actions, it presents discontinuities in the social-
experience of disability, a shorthand for a variety of difficulties ization of and boundaries for sexual behavior.
that someone suffering from disabilities may encounter (Cum- Although some viewers may become desensitized by what
berbatch & Negrine, p. 136). They concluded that in feature they watch on television, other viewers may become oversensi-
films, characters with disabilities were stereotyped most com- tive. Television may cultivate or intensify distorted perceptions
monly as criminals, as being barely human, or as powerless and of the incidence of crime in the real-world, especially for heavy
pathetic. In British programs, they were portrayed as villains, viewers (Gunter, 1987; Gunter & Wakshlag, 1988; Murray, 1980;
moody, introverted, unsociable, or sad. In the United States, NIMH, 1982). Heavy viewers may think the world is more dan-
however, characters with disabilities were shown more posi- gerous than it really is and perceive that the world is a mean and
tively and were more likely to be sociable, extroverted, moral, scary place (Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988). This may be the result of
and nonaggressive. Research on the effects of portraying char- a circular effect where greater fear of potential danger in the so-
acters with disabilities is needed. cial environment may encourage people to stay indoors, where
they watch more television, and are exposed to programmes Sensitization and Inhibition Issues. In addition which tell them things which in turn reinforce their anxieties
to effects on stereotyping, some modeled behaviors can desen- (Gunter & Wakshlag, 1988, pp. 208209).
sitize viewers, oversensitize viewers, or temporarily remove in- On the other hand, programs such as crime dramas in which
hibitions (disinhibition*). Variables include the type of behavior the antagonists end up being punished can have the counteref-
exhibited on screen as well as how victims responses are por- fect of providing comfort and reassurance in a just world (Gunter
trayed. & Wakshlag, 1988). Gunter and Wober (1983) found a positive
Repeated exposure to specific types of violent programming, relationship between beliefs in a just world and exposure to
especially sexual violence and sports, may result in some view- crime drama programming (cited in Gunter, 1987).
ers becoming desensitized or disinhibited. For example, Stein The amount of viewing may be less important than the types
(1972, cited in Friedrich & Stein, 1973) found that emotional of programs watched, the perception of and interpretation of
arousal declined with repeated exposure to violence, but it was content, and the actual level of crime where people live (Gunter,
unclear if behavioral responses also declined. 1987). More detailed analyses are needed before causal conclu-
Although exposure to erotic content does not appear to in- sions can be drawn,
duce antisocial behavior,* research on sexual violence suggests In addition to sensitization effects, another area of concern
that it can reinforce certain attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs is disinhibition. For example, disinhibition effects* that lead to
about violence toward women (Huston et al., 1992). After see- increased aggressive behavior have also been observed. In a
ing sexual assault modeled, men behaved toward women dif- study conducted by Bandura and Walters (1963), experimental
ferently than those shown sexual intimacy without aggression subjects were instructed to administer electrical shocks (sim-
(Donnerstein, 1980, cited in Bandura, 1986). Bandura (1986) ulated) to individuals who gave incorrect responses. In this
found: study, subjects who were exposed to aggressive content (a scene
of a knife fight) administered stronger electrical shocks than
Showing women experiencing orgasmic pleasure while being raped did their counterparts who were shown constructive or neu-
stimulates greater punitiveness than if they are depicted expressing pain tral films (Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988). They cautioned that many
and abhorrence. Depictions of traumatic rape foster less aggression even of the laboratory studies that supported disinhibition occurred
though they are as arousing and more unpleasant than depictions of rape in contrived circumstances with television segments that were
as pleasurable. (p. 295)
taken out of context. They also found a trend for disinhibition
effects among those who are initially more aggressive.
Bandura also suggested that since sexual modeling served as
Some evidence exists that disinhibition also occurs when
a source of arousal and disinhibition, it could also heighten ag-
violence is viewed in real-life settings. For adults, disinhibition
gressiveness. Both male and female viewers who were massively
may be a factor in the increase in violence against women
exposed to pornography:
that occurs after football games. White, Katz, and Scarborough
(1992) studied the incidence of trauma after National Football
. . . regard hard-core fare as less offensive and more enjoyable, they per-
ceive uncommon sexual practices as more prevalent than they really
League games. Although Walker found that calls to womens
are, they show greater sexual callousness toward women, they deval- shelters increased on the day that a team lost (cited in Nelson,
uate issues of importance to women, and they are more lenient to- 1994), White et al. found that women were more likely to be
ward rape offenses. (Zillmann & Bryant, 1984, cited in Bandura, 1986, hospitalized for trauma from assaults on the day after a team
p. 294) won. They concluded that violence against women could be
stimulated by some aspect of identification with an organiza-
Although broadcast television is usually sexually suggestive tion that dominates through violent behavior. In a domestic
rather than explicit, cable channels and videotape rentals can context, the example of being successful through violent
make violent and explicit sexual images readily available to chil- behavior may provide the male viewer with a heightened sense
dren. Huston et al. (1992) called for more research to be done of power and may increase domination over his spouse or
regarding the impact of these materials on children. Bandura partner. This feeling of power can act to disinhibit constraints
(1986) expressed concern that while society exercises control against violence (White et al., p. 167). Additionally, calls to
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womens shelters increased in the first four to five hours after a pain of being hurt or killed (NIMH, 1972, p. 3). Aggression*
Super Bowl game, with more calls being reported in some cities can be defined as an action intended to injure another person
than on any other day of the year (Nelson, 1994). The director or object (Friedrich & Stein, 1973), but its designation as an-
of a domestic abuse center stated that when men describe tisocial depends on the act as well as the circumstances and
battering incidents that involve sports, the men talk about participants (NIMH, 1972). In observational studies, these anti-
being pumped up from the game (p. 135). Other variables, social acts include physical assault, nonverbal teasing, verbal ag-
such as intoxication, may confound these data. gression, commanding vigorously, tattling, injury to objects, and
playful or fantasy aggression (Friedrich & Stein, 1973). Some lab-
oratory studies use a helphurt game in which the intensity,
12.6.3 Behaviors quantity, or length of pain-producing responses are measured
when the subjects believe they are affecting another child or a
A substantial body of research has been conducted relative to the
researchers accomplice.
positive and negative effects of television on behavior. Behavior
Two decades of content analysis show that violence remains
patterns that are established in childhood and adolescence may
at approximately 5 violent acts per hour in primetime television
affect the foundations for lifelong patterns that are manifested
and at 20 to 25 acts per hour in childrens Saturday morning
in adulthood (Huston et al., 1992). According to Wright and
programming. This translates into an average of 8,000 murders
Huston (1983), producers, advertisers, and broadcasters use
and over 100,000 acts of violence viewed by the time a child
violence in childrens programming largely because they believe
graduates from elementary school (Huston et al., 1992).
that dramatic content involving anger, aggression, threat, and
Initiated in 1994, the National Cable Television Association
conquest is essential to maintain the loyalty and attention of
funded the National Television Violence Study, a 3-year effort
child audiences (p. 838), even though the research on formal
that went beyond counting the number of violent incidents por-
features has suggested alternative ways of maintaining attention,
trayed on television. The study also assessed the contexts of vi-
such as with high rates of child dialogue, high pace, auditory
olence in entertainment and reality-based shows, examined the
and visual special effects, salient music, and nonhuman speech.
effect of ratings and content advisories, and explored the effec-
According to Hearold (1986), whether or not what is learned is
tiveness of antiviolence television messages and public service
ever put to use depends on a variety of factors:
announcements (Federman, 1998; Mediascope, 1996). Impor-
tant conclusions included:
There must be the capability to perform the act, sufficient motivation,
and some remembrance of what is viewed; performance also depends
on the restraints present, including the perceived probability of punish- r During the study, 60 percent of entertainment programs con-
ment and the values held in regard to violence (p. 68). tained violence compared to 39.2 percent of reality programs;
in these, on average six violent incidents per hour were
It is difficult to make definitive statements about the cause
of behaviors or about correlations between causes and effects r Most perpetrators of violence were presented as attractive
because of inconsistencies in the labels for gross treatment ef-
fects. Antisocial and prosocial are broad terms that can repre- role models and they rarely showed remorse or experienced
sent diverse treatments or outcomes. There is also ambiguity in negative consequences.
r About half of the violent incidents showed no harm or pain
more specific terms such as frustration or aggression (Bandura &
Walters, 1963). to the victim; less than 20 percent showed long-term damage
In her meta-analysis of 230 studies that were conducted to victims family or friends.
through 1977, however, Hearold (1986) made 1,043 treatment r Overall, 40 percent of violent scenes included humor.
comparisons. Overall, she found a positive effect for antiso- r For children under age seven, portrayals of violence were
cial treatments on antisocial behaviors and a positive effect found most often in cartoons where perpetrators were attrac-
for prosocial treatments on prosocial behaviors. When she tive role models, violence was justified or unpunished, and
looked at the most ecologically valid studies, Hearold found victims suffered few consequences.
that effect sizes* continued to be positive, although they were r Less than 5 percent of violent programs employed an antivio-
lower. She cautioned, however, that some of the differences lence theme (Federman, 1998).
might be understood by the intention of the treatments. For
example, antisocial programs are generally created to enter-
tain audiences. Alternatively, many prosocial programs have Early results showed that viewer discretion advisories and
prosocial instruction as their goal. Other moderating variables PG-13 or R ratings made programs more attractive for boys,
can be the degree of acceptance of antisocial and prosocial particularly those aged 10 to 14, while the opposite was true
behaviors. for girls, especially those aged 5 to 9 (Mediascope). Public ser-
vice announcements and antiviolence programming were not Antisocial Outcomes. For decades, people have effective in changing adolescents attitudes about using violence
been concerned about the effect of television on antisocial to resolve conflict unless they showed negative consequences
behavior*, particularly violence and aggression. Violence* can (Federman).
be defined as the overt expression of physical force against Antisocial outcomes have been shown to occur after ex-
others or self, or the compelling of action against ones will on posure to antisocial programming. Although Huston et al.s
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12. Learning from Television 291

review of the literature stated that there is clear evidence that ity of the values are trivially small, but the central tendency for
television violence can cause aggressive behavior and can culti- the values is clearly positive. En masse, they indicate a small
vate values favoring the use of aggression to resolve conflicts positive relationship between amount of violence viewing and
(1992, p. 136), this statement should be treated with caution be- aggressive behavior . . . (NIMH, 1972, p. 168). They also spec-
cause definitions of antisocial behavior, violence, and aggression ulated that the correlations could be the result of any of three
can vary from study to study. Results can also vary depending causal sequences: (a) viewing violence led to aggression, (b)
on other variables such as age, sex, parenting style, or environ- aggression led to violence viewing, or that (c) both viewing and
mental cues. For example, Bandura and Walters (1959) study aggression were the products of some unidentified conditions.
of childrearing practices found that parents of aggressive boys Such conditions could have included preexisting levels of ag-
were more likely to encourage and condone aggression than gression, underlying personality factors, or parental attitudes
the parents of nonaggressive boys (cited in Bandura & Walters, and behavior.
1963). A predisposition for aggressiveness may also be a catalyst The committee found the experimental evidence to be weak
that produces increases in mediated behavior (Murray, 1980). and inconsistent. However, they felt there was a convergence
Comstock and Paik (1987) list others factors that have been of evidence for short-term causation of aggression among some
identified as heightening televisions influence or contributing children, but less evidence for long-term manifestations. They
to viewers antisocial behavior. These include the portrayal of pointed out that the viewing-to-aggression sequence most likely
violence as: (a) justified, rewarded, not criticized, unpunished, applied to some children predisposed to aggressive behavior
or seemingly legal; (b) violence resulting in numerous victims and that the manner in which children responded depended
or mass killings; (c) violence among friends or gang members; on the environmental context in which violence was presented
(d) viewers who are angered or provoked prior to viewing; and and received (Atkin, Murray & Nayman, 19711972).
(e) viewers who are in a state of frustration or unresolved ex- Overall, the Surgeon Generals Advisory Committee con-
citement after viewing (Comstock & Paik, 1987). cluded that there was a tentative indication of a causal relation-
The accumulated research shows a positive correlation be- ship between viewing violence on television and aggressive be-
tween viewing and aggression, i.e., heavy viewers behave more havior. Any relationship operated only on some children, those
aggressively than light viewers (Huston et al., 1992, p. 54). But who were predisposed to be aggressive, and it operated only in
when a correlation is made between viewing televised violence some environmental contexts (NIMH, 1972).
and aggressive behavior, it does not mean that there is a causal In 1982, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) pub-
relationship. Alternate explanations are possible such as those lished another report that reviewed research conducted during
who are predisposed to being aggressive tend to watch more the ten years that followed the original report. In their summary,
violent television. Multiple factors including biological predis- they concluded that the convergence of evidence supported the
positions, family or peer characteristics, and situational variables conclusion that there was a causal relationship between viewing
can influence tendencies toward aggression (Bushman & Hues- televised violence and later aggressive behavior (NIMH, 1982).
mann, 2001). They cautioned that all the studies demonstrated group differ-
Although experimental studies such as the Bandura Bobo ences, not individual differences, and that no study unequivo-
doll studies have shown that aggression can increase after ex- cally confirmed or refuted the conclusion that televised violence
posure to televised violence, the research has not proved that ag- leads to aggressive behavior.
gression demonstrated in laboratory settings transfers to real-life As stated earlier in this section, Hearold (1986) found simi-
settings. Field studies show conflicting results, and naturalistic lar results when she conducted a meta-analysis of studies con-
studies are frequently confounded by uncontrollable environ- ducted through 1977 that measured antisocial and prosocial
mental factors. behaviors or attitudes of subjects assigned to film or video treat-
In an effort to find more precise answers, a major endeavor ment conditions. She included only those studies with valid
was sponsored by the Surgeon General of the United States to comparison groups such as pre/post comparison studies or
study the effects of television on social behavior with a focus on those with control groups. Hearold found that the most fre-
the effects of televised violence on children and youth (NIMH, quently measured antisocial behavior was physical aggression,
1972). From 1969 to 1971, 23 independent projects were con- and concluded that positive findings have not been confined to
ducted, a number of which were field studies that showed corre- a method, measure, or age group. While responses to television
lations ranging from .0 to .30 (Atkin, Murray, & Nayman, 1971). violence were undifferentiated by sex among young children un-
The end result was a very cautious report that stated, On the der the age of nine, they became more differentiated with age
basis of these findings . . . we can tentatively conclude that there as sex role norms were learned. Malefemale differences were
is a modest relationship between exposure to television and ag- greatest for physical aggression in the later teen years when
gressive behavior or tendencies . . . (NIMH, 1972, p. 8). Only effect sizes for boys markedly increased, while those for girls
two of the studies showed +.30 correlations between earlier decreased. When looking at outcome characteristics, Hearold
viewing and later aggression. found that physical aggression was a variable in 229 compar-
Finding positive correlations did not lead to statements of isons with a mean effect size of .31. She also found that when
causality. The advisory committee cautioned that a correlation subjects were frustrated or provoked, the effect size increased
coefficient of .30 would lead to the statement that 9% of the (Hearold, 1986).
variance in each variable is accounted for by the variation in Paik and Comstock (1994, cited in Bushman and Huesmann,
the other (NIMH, 1972, p. 167). They also wrote, The major- 2001) conducted a meta-analysis that looked at the results of
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217 studies of media violence and aggression. They also found imated programs. PORT has been found to be a reliable and
a .31 overall correlation between television violence and antiso- valid measure of childrens perceptions of reality on television
cial behaviors. They included both laboratory (.40 correlation) (Sprafkin, Gadow, & Abelman, 1992). Research on the applica-
and field (.30 correlation) experiments. bility of PORT to developing interventions in critical viewing
Other studies support the importance of individual predis- skills is needed.
positions and environmental contexts in predicting the negative At least three areas of concern arise from the literature about
effects of television. Because studying the effects of television violence on television. The obvious ones are the relationship be-
in naturalistic settings is so complex, researchers called for a tween television violence and aggression, even if the aggression
move away from determining if there are effects to seeking the is not directed against society, and the desensitization of chil-
explanations and processes responsible for causing effects ( Joy, dren to pain and suffering (Smith, 1994). The less obvious one
Kimball, & Zabrack, 1986; NIMH, 1982). For example, Friedrich is the potential for children who are sensitive and vulnerable to
and Steins (1973) study of 93 preschoolers found that children become more fearful and insecure upon exposure to violence
who were initially above average in aggression showed greater on television (Signorielli, 1991).
interpersonal aggression after exposure to aggressive cartoons In response to these concerns, the United States Congress
than when exposed to neutral or prosocial programs. They also included in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 a requirement
showed sharp declines in self-regulation such as delay tolerance for television manufacturers to install an electronic device in ev-
and rule obedience. Children who were initially below average ery set produced after 1998. This device, popularly referred to as
in aggression did not respond differently to the various treat- the V-chip, enables parents to identify and block programming
ment conditions. they determine is undesirable for their children (Murray, 1995;
In their longitudinal study, Joy, Kimball, and Zabrack (1986) Telecommunications Act of 1996). In order for this technol-
found that after 2 years of exposure to television, children in the ogy to work, the Telecommunications Act called for programs
formerly Notel town were verbally and physically more aggres- to be rated and encoded according to their level of sex and
sive than children in the Unitel and Multitel towns. They also violence.
found that boys were more aggressive than girls, and children Alfred Hitchcock was reputed to have said, Television has
who watched more television tended to be more physically ag- brought murder into the home, where it belongs (Elkind, 1984,
gressive. They speculated that this might have been due to a p. 103). Murders and crime occur about ten times more fre-
novelty effect rather than a cultivation effect. quently on television than in the real world. A third of all charac-
Special populations of children can react to and use televi- ters in television shows are committing crime or fighting it, most
sion differently from their nondisabled peers. When Sprafkin, with guns. It becomes, therefore, a chicken-and-egg question.
Gadow and Abelman (1992) reviewed field studies conducted Does television programming include more violence because
with emotionally disturbed and learning disabled children, they society is more violent, or does society become more violent
found that these children demonstrated more physical aggres- because people are desensitized to violence through television?
sion after viewing control material or cartoons with low levels The answer is probably both. Too many factors interact for the
of aggression than did nonlabeled children. In laboratory studies extent of each influence to be determined.
of exceptional children, however, they found that children who When one examines violence in films the trend towards in-
were naturally more aggressive were more likely to be reactive creased gore and explicit horror is easily documented. Rather
to televised violence. Other variables may have impacted the re- than reflecting the content and meaning associated with myths
sults, including the use of nonaggressive but highly stimulating and fairy tales, horror films today are pure sensation with little
or suspenseful treatment materials. serious content (Stein, 1982, cited in Elkind, 1984). If violence
There also seems to be a relationship between heavy viewing on television is controlled, children and adults will still be able
and restlessness. Studies conducted by Singer and colleagues to experience violence vicariously through other media such
and Desmond and colleagues (1990) found positive associations as films, books, and recordings. Research on television suggests
between heavy television viewing and greater restlessness for that the messages sent about violence do have an effect, but
children whose parents were not involved in coviewing (cited many other factors can mediate these effects.
in Comstock & Paik, 1991). Recognizing this, members of the television industry de-
Furthermore, most young children do not know the differ- cided to play an active role. In 1994, the Corporation for Public
ence between reality and fantasy (NIMH, 1982). Some of the Broadcasting (CPB) partially funded The National Campaign
negative effects of violence and stereotypes may be attenuated to Reduce Youth Violence The purpose of the campaign was
if children can separate fiction from reality (Wright & Huston, to identify and support interventions to counter the effects of
1983). Sprafkin, Gadow, and Dussault developed a test called violence on television. Its goals were (a) to focus on success-
the Perceptions of Reality on Television (PORT) to assess chil- ful, community-based solutions, (b) to collaborate with multi-
drens knowledge of the realism of people and situations shown ple community resources and organizations, and (c) to involve
on television (Sprafkin, Gadow & Abelman, 1992). It consisted youth in the problem-solving process (Head, 1994). Over an ini-
of showing a series of video excerpts about which children an- tial 2-year period, it was to have provided technical assistance
swered questions. The PORT questions were based on judging with telecommunications services, two program series, and ac-
the realism of aggressive content, nonaggressive content, and companying outreach programs. This campaign was designed
superhuman feats, on differentiating between the actor and the to involve television, print, radio, government agencies, and
role played, and on differentiating between cartoons and nonan- community, educational, and industrial organizations.
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12. Learning from Television 293 Prosocial Outcomes. Although concerns about Sprafkin (1979) compiled the following results of research
the negative effects of television are certainly valid, television on other prosocial programs: Sesame Street improved childrens
also can be used to teach positive attitudes and behaviors. Proso- racial attitudes toward African-Americans and Hispanics; Big
cial behaviors include generosity, helping, cooperation, nurtur- Blue Marble caused fourth- through sixth-graders to perceive
ing, sympathy, resisting temptation, verbalizing feelings, and people around the world as being similar and children in other
delaying gratification (Friedrich & Stein, 1973; Rushton, 1982; countries as healthier, happier, and better off than before they
Sprafkin, Gadow, & Abelman, 1992). Liebert and Sprafkin (1988) had viewed the program (p. 36); Vegetable Soup helped 6-
divided prosocial behavior into two categories: (a) altruism* to 10-year-olds become more accepting of children of different
which includes generosity, helping, cooperation, and (b) self- races; and finally, Freestyle helped 9- to 12-year-olds combat sex
control* which includes delaying gratification and resisting the role and ethnic stereotyping in career attitudes.
temptation to cheat, lie, or steal. Children must be able to com- Commercial television programs that reach larger audiences
prehend television content, however, if prosocial messages are can also promote prosocial behavior. First-graders who viewed
to be effectively conveyed. a prosocial Lassie episode were more willing to sacrifice good
Content analyses revealed an average of 11 to 13 altruistic prizes to help animals seemingly in distress than a control group
acts per hour, 5 to 6 sympathetic behaviors, and less than 1 act was (Sprafkin, Liebert, & Poulos, 1975, cited in Sprafkin, Gadow,
of control of aggressive impulses or resistance to temptation & Abelman, 1992). Children who viewed the cartoon Fat Albert
(Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988). Although viewers were exposed to and the Cosby Kids understood its prosocial messages and were
prosocial interpersonal behaviors, there were infrequent dis- able to apply them (Huston et al., 1992; Liebert & Sprafkin,
plays of self-control behaviors on television (Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988). Anderson and Williams (1983, cited in Stroman, 1991)
1988). Most of these prosocial behaviors appeared in situa- found that after African-American children viewed an episode
tion comedies and dramas. Additionally, many prosocial acts of Good Times, the children reported that they learned that
appeared in an aggressive context (Mares & Woodard, 2001). street gangs were bad and that family members should help
In her meta-analysis, Hearold (1986) found 190 tests for ef- each other. Television can also explain to children how to handle
fects of prosocial behavior. The average effect size for prosocial fearful events such as going to the dentist or demonstrate that
television on prosocial behavior (.63) was far higher than that frightening situations are not so bad (Stroman, 1991).
for the effects of antisocial television on antisocial behavior (.30) Forge and Phemister (1982) sought to determine whether a
(cited in Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988). The most frequently mea- prosocial cartoon would be as effective as a live-model proso-
sured prosocial behavior, altruism (helping or giving), had one cial program. Forty preschoolers were shown one of four differ-
of the strongest associations, with a mean effect size of .83 ent 15-minute videotapes. Subjects were then observed during
(Hearold, 1986, p. 105). Other noteworthy average effect sizes 30 minutes of free play. The prosocial cartoon was as effective
included .98 for self-control, .81 for buying books, .57 for a pos- as the live-model program in eliciting prosocial behavior.
itive attitude toward work, and .57 for acceptance of others Unfortunately, some commercial superhero cartoons and
(Hearold, 1986). Due to these large effect sizes, Hearold called crime/adventure programs may deliver prosocial or moral mes-
for more attention to and funding for the production of prosocial sages via characters who behave aggressively. Lisa, Reinhardt,
programs for children. and Fredriksen (1983, cited in Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988) used
One such prosocial program was Mister Rogers Neighbor- episodes of the cartoon Superfriends to compare a proso-
hood, which has been lauded for its ability to promote prosocial cial/aggressive condition to a purely prosocial condition. In their
behavior in preschool children. Field experiments showed that study of kindergarten, second-, and fourth-grade children, sub-
children increased self-control (Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988) and jects were put in a situation where they could hurt or help an-
learned nurturance, sympathy, task persistence, empathy, and other child within the context of a helphurt game. They found
imaginativeness from viewing it (Huston et al., 1992). Positive in- that children exposed to a purely prosocial condition helped
terpersonal behavior was enhanced when viewing was supple- more than they hurt, tended to hurt less, and understood the
mented with reinforcement activities such as role-playing and plot and moral lesson significantly better than those in the proso-
play materials, especially for lower socioeconomic status chil- cial/aggressive condition. Liebert and Sprafkin concluded that
dren (Huston et al., 1992; Sprafkin, Gadow & Abelman, 1992). prosocial behavior should not be presented in an aggressive
After exposing children to 12 episodes of Mister Rogers Neigh- context.
borhood over a 4-week period, Stein and Friedrich (1972, cited Prosocial television has its critics, too. There are legitimate
in Murray, 1980) found that preschool children became more co- moral objections to using a public medium to indoctrinate so-
operative and willing to share toys and to delay gratification than cially a whole nation of children (Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988,
children who watched antisocial cartoons. Friedrich and Stein p. 240). When Liebert and Sprafkin assisted with the produc-
(1973) also found that preschoolers showed higher levels of task tion of an internationally broadcast public-service announce-
persistence, rule obedience, and delay tolerance than subjects ment that modeled cooperation by showing children sharing
who viewed aggressive cartoons. These effects of increased self- a swing, they were accused of trying to manipulate childrens
regulatory behavior were particularly evident for children with behavior and moral values and were told that their efforts could
above-average intelligence. Paulson (1974) reported that chil- potentially be seen as a highly objectionable form of psycho-
dren who viewed Sesame Street programs designed to portray logical behavior control (p. 243).
cooperation behaved more cooperatively in test situations than Although television can influence children and does so in
did nonviewers. an indiscriminate manner, an important question is whether
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anyone should purposely try to harness its power for specific messages about their appearance, relationships, and careers
socialization goals. Even so, Hearold (1986) makes a good point: even though there were positive adult role models on televi-
sion. By numbers, women continued to be underrepresented in
Although fewer studies exist on prosocial effects, the effect size is so prime time, childrens programming, and music videos. When
much larger, holds up better under more stringent experimental condi- portrayed, they were usually younger than men, rarely over-
tions, and is consistently higher for boys and girls, that the potential for weight, and when thin, received numerous positive comments
prosocial effects overrides the smaller but persistent negative effects of about their appearances (Signorielli, 2001). Especially for ado-
antisocial programs. (p. 116) lescents, media usage has been associated with unrealistic ex-
pectations about body image and eating disorders (Botta, 1999,
2000; Harrison, 2000; Van Den Bulck, 2000). During the 1990s,
12.6.4 Current Issues some improvements were made in the occupational portray-
als of women and minorities, but these were inconsistent (Sig-
Since the first edition of this handbook was published, the re- norielli, 2001). Furthermore, women continued to rarely be
search on attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors has not seen major seen combining marriage and work successfully.
changes. In general, more recent analyses of program content Men on television also continue to be stereotyped, typically
and effects have served to reinforce the results of past investiga- shown as working in traditional roles and portrayed as the bread-
tions. The factors under investigation, however, are being more winners (Signorielli, 2001). Heintz-Knowles et al. (1999) polled
carefully defined and described. In the future, the displacement 1,200 youths aged 10 to 17. The children reported that the males
of television viewing by the Internet and the increased inte- they see on television are different from those they encounter
gration of the two technologies will likely impact research and in real life. Among other findings, the researchers content anal-
findings in this field. yses revealed that male characters rarely cried or performed
domestic chores, and that one in five used aggression to solve Stereotypes. In terms of respect and recognition, problems.
concerns continue to be raised about both the quality and quan-
tity of portrayals of specific groups on television. Among the Sensitization and Disinhibition. Instead of focus-
large number of cable channels now available are those devoted ing on dramatized or fantasy violence, some researchers have
to specific audiences such as women or ethnic minorities. Al- directed more attention to the effects of viewing real crime and
though this has lead to increased numbers of portrayals overall, violence on television. In the past, researchers found that news
little growth has been seen on the major networks. For exam- broadcasts could frighten people and lead to their becoming
ple, although Ryan (2001) found an increase in the number of oversensitized. More recently, developmental differences were
Hispanic programs on cable, Soriano (2001) found a decrease found to play a role in the reactions of children. For example,
in the number of Hispanics represented during prime-time pro- Cantor and Nathanson (1996) and Smith and Wilson (2000)
grams on the six major networks. Furthermore, in the 26 net- found that all age groups of children could be frightened by
work programs that premiered in autumn of 1999, no minority news stories. This was especially true for older children, how-
characters held a leading role (Berry & Asamen, 2001). Because ever, who better understood the reality of events and who were
of the lack of minority representation among news reporters more frightened by local stories about crime.
and in prime-time programs, the networks came under attack Over the past decade, researchers have also begun to pay
by minority advocacy groups. The National Association for the more attention to the impact of specific types of news stories,
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) even threatened to such as televised disasters and war coverage. When events like
boycott the four major networks unless more minorities were these are visually explicit and pervasive on television, their im-
employed as actors, as news reporters, and in production man- pact can be long lasting. Many parents are not aware of how
agement. much or how frequently their children are frightened by the
By 2001, some of the networks had slightly increased the news (Cantor, 2001). In particular, natural disasters frighten
number of minority actors (African-American, Hispanic, and young children more than older ones (Cantor & Nathanson,
Asian-American) and African-American shows (Allen, 2002). 1996). More recently, the live broadcasts and replays of the
The diversity and quality of those portrayals remained problem- September 11, 2001 acts of terrorism appeared to have affected
atic, however. According to Allen, many of the minority actors adults and children alike. Silver et al. (2002) found that 17 per-
appeared in secondary roles and not as lead characters. Addi- cent of the population outside New York City reported symp-
tionally, in 2000 the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts toms of posttraumatic stress 2 months after the attacks and that
found that Hispanic actors were still being cast as criminals or 5.8 percent continued to report these symptoms at 6 months.
blue-collar workers and, of the only 48 Hispanic actors seen The media attempted to address these issues with suggestions to
during prime time, 40 percent played token characters with no viewers to stop watching news coverage and by reporting tech-
relevance to the plot (Soriano, 2001). niques for coping with depression and connecting with family
In terms of gender representation, even though positive por- and friends.
trayals have become more frequent, negative stereotypes con-
tinue to be used widely. For example, Signorielli (1997, 2001) Prosocial and Antisocial Behavior. The impact
continued to find that girls were being exposed to stereotyped of television on behavior remains an important issue for
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12. Learning from Television 295

parents, teachers, and policy makers. Although many studies both short term and long term. For example, in their recontact
on prosocial behavior were published in the 1970s and 1980s, study of 570 adolescents, Anderson et al. (2001) found higher
few studies have been conducted recently even though many grades, more book reading, more value on achievement, greater
questions remain about how to best design content to achieve creativity, and less aggressive behavior among boys who viewed
prosocial outcomes (Mares & Woodard, 2001). The majority of educational programming during preschool.
attention continues to be directed toward the selection and ef- Although children continue to be the focus of most studies,
fects of antisocial programming, especially programs that show fewer studies have been conducted with adults. This leaves a
violence and aggression. Policy efforts to control viewing and, gap in the literature. Because adults viewing choices can influ-
hopefully, impact behavior have not been widely accepted even ence their children, research is needed on adult viewing habits,
though parents continue to complain about the amount of vio- their relationship to resultant attitudes and behaviors, and their
lence and sexual content on television. For example, the V-chip impact on children.
technology required in new television sets by the U.S. Telecom- Additionally, more longitudinal studies that range from child-
munications Act of 1996 has not gained wide spread use among hood to adulthood are needed. One such study conducted by
families. According to a 2001 survey conducted by the Kaiser Johnson et al. (2002) on 707 individuals assessed television view-
Family Foundation, although 40 percent of all parents had a ing and aggressive behavior from 1975 to 2000. They concluded
V-chip equipped television in their homes, 53 percent of those that the amount of television viewing by adolescents and young
with the chip didnt know about it. Of those who were aware of adults was significantly associated with subsequent acts of ag-
owning one, 30 percent chose not to use it while only 17 percent gression even after controlling for factors such as family income,
have used it. The report found greater use of the ratings systems: neighborhood violence, and psychiatric disorders. Viewing 3 or
56 percent of all parents said they used television ratings to more hours per day of television at mean age 14 was significantly
decide what programs their children could watch (Kaiser Fam- associated with aggression (according to self-reports and law en-
ily Foundation, 2001). Unfortunately, during the previous year forcement records) at mean ages 16 and 22. Of the total sample,
Woodard and Gridina (2000) found that parental awareness of 28.8 percent of those who watched 3 or more hours per day at
the ratings system had dropped from 70 percent in 1997 to age 14 committed aggressive acts against others at ages 16 or
50 percent in 2000. They also found that parents were confused 22. Compared to this, only 5.7 percent of those who watched
about the labels, especially regarding what was educational for less than 1 hour per day reported aggression. Youths who were
children. Although age ratings seem to be used and understood, considered aggressive at mean age 16 also watched significantly
both studies found that many parents dont understand the con- more television at age 22. Additionally, the researchers found
tent ratings. Training efforts are clearly needed for parents to that more than 3 hours of viewing per day at age 22 was associ-
make better use of the TV Parental Rating Guidelines and ated with aggression at age 30.
V-chip technology. More attention is being directed to the search for personality
The effects of specific types of programming on different factors that lead to the amount of viewing choices. For example,
populations continue to be of interest, especially when a new Krcmar and Greene (1999) examined the relationships among
genre becomes very popular. For example, OSullivan (1999) sensation seeking, risk-taking, and exposure to violent televi-
looked at the effects of professional wrestling programs and sion. They found that for adolescents, especially males, higher
found a correlation between viewing and subsequent aggres- disinhibition lead to greater exposure to contact sport and real
sive behaviors among first-grade boys. The popularity of tele- crime shows while higher levels of sensation seeking lead to
vised contact sports programs and their appeal to boys and less exposure. They concluded that televised violence did not
adolescent males is a concern, especially because preschool- compensate for exposure to real risk-taking. Therefore, for these
ers (Silva, 1996; Simmons, Stalsworth & Wentzel, 1999) and el- viewers television did not provide appropriate levels of stimu-
ementary school boys (OSullivan, 1999; Reglin, 1996; Singer lation to satisfy their social and psychological needs.
& Miller, 1998) frequently imitate violent and aggressive be- Although most of the studies mentioned in this section have
havior they see on television. In addition to concerns about been based in the United States, the international community
behavior, some of the formal features of sports programs and is also concerned about the effects of television viewing and
their commercials can be problematic. Messner et al. (1999) violent programming. A major study sponsored by the United
studied sports programming and found that aggression and Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization
violence among men were depicted as exciting and reward- (USESCO) questioned 5,000 12-year-olds from 23 countries and
ing, women were absent or portrayed as stereotypes, and com- analyzed the relationships between their media preferences, ag-
mercials often used images of speed, danger and aggression. gression, and environment (Groebel, 2001). The study found
The commentary aired during sports programming may also that, on average, the children watched 3 hours of television per
be contributing to the problem. Aicinena (1999) analyzed 355 day. Groebel reported that among the one third who lived in
comments about behavior in 102 editions of a sports news pro- high-aggression (war or crime) or problematic environments,
gram. He found few comments about good sportsmanship but one third believed that most people in the world are evil
352 comments about poor sportsmanship, violence, or immoral (p. 264). She also reported that a preliminary analysis showed
behavior. a link between a preference for media violence and the need
In contrast, viewing educational programs during the to be involved in aggression. For a compilation of additional
preschool years has been associated with positive outcomes, studies based in other cultures, also see Media, Sex, Violence,
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and Drugs in the Global Village edited by Kamalipour and need to be studied more extensively, especially on populations
Rampal (2001). of adolescents and adults, and the results communicated to me-
dia producers and advertisers. Media Convergence. At the turn of the century, The question remains: How do we best design effective inter-
about 98 percent of Americans had a television in their homes ventions and training for children and adults and, in particular,
(Nielsen Media Research, cited in Woodard & Gridina, 2000). counteract the effects of antisocial programming? First of all,
As of 2001, 72.3 percent of Americans also had access to the more research is needed on identifying the variables, psycho-
Internet and were spending about 9.8 hours per week online logical as well as contextual, that influence viewing choices.
(Lebo, 2001). Of note, The UCLA Internet Report 2001 found Additionally, we need to know more about what elicits or sup-
that Internet users watched 4.5 hours per week less television presses recall and imitation of the attitudes, beliefs and behav-
than did nonusers, and that the top reason for using the Internet iors that are portrayed and why. In the end, the results may help
was to obtain information quickly (Lebo, 2001). persuade the producers of programming and advertising to al-
Initially, it appears that television, considered to be primarily ter their use of violence and stereotypes. Currently, producers
a passive entertainment medium, is being partially displaced by believe they are providing what their audiences want and, more
the Internet, considered to be an interactive information and importantly for them, what their advertisers need. To persuade
communication medium. Some television programs, however, them to change, more evidence is needed such as Bushmans
are beginning to use these differences to their advantage and (1998) study that found television violence increased viewers
are attempting to foster simultaneous use. Many programs, es- anger, which in turn, impaired memory of commercials. This
pecially news programs, now direct viewers to their web sites suggested, therefore, that sponsorship might not be profitable
for more information. During live broadcasts, some encourage for the advertisers who currently value violent programs be-
viewers to log-on to their website and participate in surveys cause they attract younger viewers.
so they can report the results during the show. Many educa- In general, the research on antisocial programming needs
tional programs offer websites that provide enrichment activi- to be considered carefully. For example, many inferences of
ties and expanded information. This convergence of television causation tend to be based on correlational data. An additional
and the Internet offers rich opportunities for further investiga- problem with many studies is that they examine behavior im-
tion into media and selection effects. On the one hand, there mediately following exposure to a short program. As research
is tremendous potential for the users of blended technologies continues in this area, it is important to examine the long-term
to benefit from more active engagement and exploration of and cumulative effects of exposure, especially since television
content. Users can become exposed to a much wider range appears to negatively affect heavy users.
of information than by either medium alone and can receive The viewing environment and parental influence also need to
this information via preferred delivery formats and at their pre- be considered when results are examined. For example, child-
ferred pace. The flexible natures of the Internet and delayed- rearing practices are a factor that can interact with antisocial
delivery options for television allow viewers to explore top- programming. Korzenny, Greenberg, and Atkin (1979, cited in
ics either broadly or in depth, as they desire and when they Sprafkin, Gadow, & Abelman, 1992) found that the children of
choose. parents who disciplined with power were most affected by an-
On the other hand, users may only expose themselves to con- tisocial content while the children of parents who disciplined
tent with which they are familiar or with which they agree. Due with reasoning and explanation were less affected. Although
to the increase in the number of cable channels available, tele- Rushton (1982) speculated that television has become one of
vision audiences have already become more fragmented along the most important agencies of socialization for our society, it
lines of social, economic and personal interest (Putnam, 2000). is important to identify the other variables in the home, school,
Due to self-selection, the vast array of information on the Inter- and society that are more important than television to the so-
net might not be utilized and alternative viewpoints might re- cialization of children.
main unknown. In turn, this selectivity may support a viewers The type of experiment that is conducted is also a consid-
superficial or prejudicial worldview and could potentially rein- eration. Although some laboratory experiments have shown a
force sensitization or disinhibition effects. Once selection and positive correlation between television violence and antisocial
usage habits for both media are better understood and tracked, behavior, naturalistic studies are not as clear. In terms of cau-
their effects may be studied and, as necessary, mediated or rein- sation, it appears that some populations in specific settings are
forced. Literacy programs that address multiple types of media sometimes affected. Researchers need to continue to move away
may be key to these efforts. from determining if there is a relationship to determining the
causes, nature, and direction of that relationship. The identifica-
tion of the most influential variables will help inform the design
12.6.5 Summary and Recommendations of policy, programming, and interventions.
Another area that should yield fruitful research is the inter-
After decades of research, we know that television can teach action between formal features and the effects of television on
and change attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. The nature and aggression. If, as some research indicates, aggression increases
longevity of these effects, however, as well as their interactions in the presence of specific formal features such as fast-paced ac-
with other variables need to be identified and explored further. tion regardless of the violence of the content, then researchers
In particular, the beneficial impacts of prosocial programming need to explore such interactions.
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12. Learning from Television 297

As early as 1961, Schramm, Lyle, and Parker stated: observations, and written feedback. Part 2 of the study used the
programs plus accompanying materials for 5 months. To some
For some children, under some conditions, some television is harmful. extent, the success of the program is due to the use of supple-
For some children under the same conditions, or for the same children mentary materials, such as books, puppets, and tapes of songs
under other conditions, it may be beneficial. For most children, under on the show. Research has not determined the role of such ma-
most conditions, most television is probably neither particularly harmful
terials in the instructional effectiveness of the program.
nor particularly beneficial. (cited in Hearold, p. 68)
One issue that has been pursued in the research is the
Decades later, it remains important to conduct research that comparative effect of Sesame Street and Mister Rogers Neigh-
identifies the variables and conditions that do matter, and thus, borhood on attention span. Studies on the effects of pacing on
be able to apply the results to appropriate action. attention span are equivocal. Children who watched an hour
of fast-paced programming were compared with children who
watched an hour of slow-paced programming. No significant
12.7 PROGRAMMING AND UTILIZATION differences were found in effects on attention or perseverance.
Two other studies showed that children who watched typical
We now turn to programming and its effects and to utilization childrens programming had increased impulsiveness and
studies. This section will critically review: reduced perseverance. In another study, children who watched
the slow-paced Mister Rogers Neighborhood were found to
r Programming for preschoolers be increasingly persistent in preschool activities (Anderson &
r Programming for classrooms Collins, 1988; Friedrich & Stein, 1973, cited in Huston et al.,
r Programming for subject-matter teachers
1992). Anderson, Levin, and Lorch (1977) found no evidence
that rapid television pacing had a negative impact on preschool
r News programs childrens behavior. Nor did they find a reduction in persistence
r Advertising on television or an increase in aggression or hyperactivity. Their research
r Utilization studies was an experiment using slow-paced and rapid paced versions
of Sesame Street, followed by a free-play period in a room full
of toys.
12.7.1 Programming for Preschoolers Sesame Street. In a series of classic studies of cog- Mister Rogers Neighborhood. Fred Rogers has
nitive learning, Bogatz and Ball (1970,1971) found that children
stated that television can either facilitate or sabotage the devel-
who watched the most learned the most, regardless of age, view-
opment of learning readiness. According to Rogers, for a child
ing or geographic location, socioeconomic status, or gender. Not
to be ready to learn, the child must have at least six fundamen-
only did children who watched gain basic skills in reading and
tals: (a) a sense of self-worth, (b) a sense of trust, (c) curiosity,
arithmetic, they also entered school better prepared than their
(d) the capacity to look and listen carefully, (e) the capacity to
nonviewing or low-viewing peers. Encouragement to view was
play, and (f ) times of solitude. Television can help children de-
found to be an important factor in viewer gains. Paulson (1974)
velop the sense of uniqueness essential to their self-worth, or it
did an experiment to determine whether children learned social
can undermine this sense of uniqueness by teaching children to
skills from watching. When tested in situations similar to those
value things rather than people and by presenting stereotyped
presented on the program, children who watched learned to
characters (Rogers & Head, 1963).
cooperate more than children who did not. Reiser and his col-
Rogers program to develop learning readiness is the longest-
leagues conducted two studies (1988, 1984) and concluded that
running series on public television. Its goals are affective in that
cognitive learning increased when adults who watched Sesame
the programs are designed to increase self-esteem and valuing
Street with children asked them questions about letters and
of self and others. Research shows that the program is success-
numbers and gave feedback.
ful in achieving these goals (Coates, Pusser, & Goodman, 1976).
More recent research on the relationship of viewing by
Research has also shown that the program uses almost exclu-
preschool children to school readiness has been reported (Zill,
sively positive reinforcement to accomplish this goal (Coates &
Davies, & Daly, 1994). Zill et al. used data from the 1993 Na-
Pusser, 1975).
tional Household Education Survey to determine who viewed
In 1992, McFarland found that the program helped child-
the program and how regularly. Data from the survey were also
care teachers and providers enhance the emotional develop-
examined to determine the relationship between viewing and
ment of preschool children. Parents had positive attitudes to-
(a) literacy and numeracy in preschool children, and (b) school
ward the use of quality childrens programming in childcare.
readiness and achievement for early elementary students. The
She found that while the behavior of adult childcare providers
study found that the program reached the majority of children
could be positively affected by watching Mister Rogers Neigh-
in all demographic groups including the at risk children. The
borhood, there were ambiguous effects for childrens behav-
findings revealed:
ior. She concluded that Fred Rogers provided positive modeling
that helped childcare providers to develop attitudes and behav-
iors that enhance the emotional development of preschool chil- r Children of highly educated parents stopped watching the
dren. McFarland used a three-part study that included surveys, program earlier than children of less-educated parents.
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r Children from disrupted families were more likely to watch could fly. Older children described the characters more realisti-
the program. cally and were aware that physical ability doesnt ensure happi-
r Children whose parents did not read to them regularly were ness. The study concluded that young children might miss im-
less likely to watch the program. portant traits and consequences because visual effects heighten
r Children from low-income families who watched television the physical dimension (Fernie, 1981, cited in Meringoff et al.,
showed more signs of emerging literacy than children from 1983).
similar families who did not watch. One of the problems with research on cartoons is that it
r Children who watched the program showed greater ability
is commonly done and reported within the Saturday morning
childrens programming context. A cartoon is typically a fantasy
to read and had fewer reading problems in first and second
program with humor, mayhem, action, and drama. However, to-
day realism is often mixed with animation, and there are many
r First- and second-graders who watched the program did not types of content represented in cartoons for children. Further-
show less grade repetition or better academic standing. more, religious training or calculus lessons can be put within
an animated format that will influence children differently than
The established value of Sesame Street for children in poverty will a Saturday morning entertainment cartoon. There has been
is reviewed by Mielke (1994). In an article for a special issue of much debate about whether cartoons are violent. All of these
Media Studies Journal on Children and the Media, he argued questions suggest that it is difficult to generalize from the re-
that the program is reaching and helping low-income children search, because content becomes as important as format, and
who have a narrower range of educational opportunities in the often these two variables are not separated, nor is their interac-
critical preschool years and, therefore, it should be an important tion studied.
element in a national strategy for reaching our educational goals
by the year 2000.
Recent research on CTWs educational programming is sum- 12.7.2 Programming for Classrooms
marized in several documents that can be obtained from their
research division, including: After 40 years, the collective evidence that film and television
can facilitate learning is overwhelming. This evidence is avail-
r Sesame Street Research Bibliography 19891994 (Petty, able for all forms of delivery, film, ITV, ETV, and mass media. It
1994a) is reinforced by evaluation of programming prepared for these
r A review of Sesame Street Research 19891994 (Petty, formats and delivered by newer delivery systems such as cable
and satellite. The next section will review recent representative
r Sesame Street Research Bibliography: Selected Citations examples of this body of research. The section will be orga-
nized by these topics: general findings; video production*; ed-
to Sesame Street 19691989 (Research Division, CTW, ucational series programming, including Childrens Television
June 1990) Workshop productions; programming for subject-matter areas;
satellite programming; and utilization studies.
The first of these documents provides an annotated bibli-
ography. The second is a report of research in the areas of General Findings. The findings reported here are
(a) educational, cognitive, and prosocial implications; (b) ef- the ones that are most important for further research. In 1993,
fects of nonbroadcast materials; (c) formal features and content Katherine Cennamo critiqued the line of investigation initiated
analyses; and (d) Sesame Street as stimulus material for other by Gavriel Salomon in the 1980s with his construct of amount of
investigations. The third is also an annotated bibliography, but invested mental effort, or AIME. Cennamo posed the question:
it covers research done both nationally and internationally. Do learners preconceptions of the amount of effort required
by a medium influence the amount of effort they invest in pro- Cartoons. Much of the discussion about the effects cessing such a lesson and consequently the quantity and quality
of cartoon programming has centered around the extent to of information they gain? Factors influencing preconceptions
which children of different ages assume that the fantasy pre- of effort required and actual effort expended were found to in-
sented in such shows is real. Fictional characters vary from re- clude characteristics of the task, media, and learners. In her sum-
alistic portrayals to superheroes and heroines. mary, she noted that, in general, learners perceive television as
The photographic and dynamic qualities of television can a medium requiring little mental effort and believe they learn lit-
make characters seem real. Children were shown photographs tle from television. However, learners reported attending more
of television cartoon characters intermixed with photographs of closely to educational television programs than to commercial
familiar real people. Then, children were given tasks and asked programs. The topic of the program also influenced preconcep-
questions designed to reveal their beliefs about these charac- tions. She stated that in actuality, learning from television may
ters. There were 70 boys aged 5 to 12 participating. All the boys be more difficult than learning from a single-channel medium
attributed unique physical characteristics to the characters, but because of its complexity. Learners achieved more from a les-
the younger children generalized this uniqueness to other char- son they were told to view for instructional reasons than from
acteristics. For example, they believed a superhero could live a lesson they were told to view for fun. This is consistent with
forever because he was strong, or that he was happy because he many other findings about the importance of intentional use
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12. Learning from Television 299

of the medium to help children learn, such as those reported being investigated. It may be that the strongest effects related
in the Reiser et al. (1988, 1984) Sesame Street studies, which to learning from television come from student productions, be-
concluded that children learn more when an adult is present to cause the strongest commitment and identification is possible
guide and reinforce learning. in these cases.
It is important to identify the types of learning that programs The Ford Foundation funded studies related to learning from
are designed to facilitate and the types of learning for which tele- film and television production. One such study reported on the
vision can be used most effectively. Cennamo (1993) points out effects of filmmaking on children (Sutton-Smith, 1976). Subjects
that the types of achievement tests used may not reveal mental attended a workshop on filmmaking. The researchers used the
effort or achievement in intended areas. For example, tests of workshop to determine (a) the processes through which chil-
factual recall cannot document increased mental effort or infer- dren of the same or different ages proceeded in the acquisi-
ential thinking. Beentjes (1989) replicated Salomons study on tion of filmmaking mastery, and (b) the perceptual, cognitive,
AIME and found that Dutch children perceived television to be and affective changes that resulted in the children. Observa-
a more difficult medium to learn from than did the American tion, videotaping, and interviews were used for documentation.
children in Salomons study. One interesting finding was that there were striking differences
In 1967, Reid and MacLennan reviewed 350 instructional between younger and older children in filmmaking, despite re-
media comparisons and found a trend of no significant differ- peated instruction in the same areas. Young children tended not
ences when televised instruction was compared to face-to-face to make:
instruction. However, their analysis of other uses of video in-
struction yielded different conclusions: r Establishing shots
r Films about a major character
When videotapes were used in observation of demonstration teaching, r Films about a group of characters
teacher trainees gained as much from video observations as from ac- r Multiple scenes
tual classroom visits. In addition, when used in teaching performance
skillssuch as typing, sewing, and athletic skillsfilms often produced a r Markers in films (titles, ends, etc.)
significant increase in learning and an improvement in student attitudes. r Story themes
(Cohen, Ebeling, & Kulik, 1981, p. 27) r Story transitions
r Causal linkages
Another general finding is that the potential for televisions
r Use of long shots, close-ups, pans, zooms, or changes in cam-
effectiveness is increased when teachers are involved in its se-
lection and utilization, and when teachers are given specialized era position
training in the use of television for instruction (Graves, 1987). r Long films (18 seconds vs. 65 seconds for older children)
Teachers can integrate television in the curriculum, prepare stu-
dents, extend and elaborate on content, encourage viewing, and Children 5 to 8 years old were considered young, and chil-
provide feedback. They do this best if they themselves are pre- dren 9 to 11 constituted the older group. It would be interesting
pared. If a distinction is made between television as a stand- to replicate this study today, because sophistication with the
alone teacher and televisions capacity to teach when used by television code could generate different results.
a teacher, the evidence indicates that although television can Tidhar (1984, cited in Shutkin, 1990) researched the re-
teach in a stand-alone format, it can teach more effectively lationships between communication through filmmaking and
when utilized by a competent teacher ( Johnson, 1987). We turn the development of cognitive skills in children. She compared
now to the effects of specific programming used in classroom classes of students who studied scenario design, photography,
settings. and editing in different combinations and concluded that neces-
sary mental skills for decoding film texts are developed during Film/Video Production. Interest in the effects of film production.
production experience on students started many years ago. Those who encourage students to produce video assert that
In the early 1970s students learned how to produce Super 8- the process teaches them goal setting, creative problem solv-
mm films. With easy access to half-inch videotape and portable ing, cooperative learning, interpersonal skills, and critical anal-
equipment, they ventured into producing video. Since cable ysis skills. In addition, they claim the experience improves a
television has made more equipment, facilities, and training students self-esteem and self-concept. Furthermore, they con-
available, there has been an increase in video production by tend that students who have trouble verbalizing or are at risk
schools for educational purposes. Nevertheless, students have can succeed with this approach to learning when they cant
been producing programs for class assignments and school use in traditional classroom activities. There is little evidence to
since the 1960s. It is surprising, therefore, that there is very lit- support such claims, because little research has been reported
tle research on the effects of video production by students on other than testimonials from teachers and students. Generally,
learning and attitudes. This may be due to the fact that most the studies reported are subjective case histories that are likely
researchers are in university settings, and most video produc- to be both perceptive and biased. Another frequent problem
tion is in school buildings, or to the difficulty of controlling is that intact classes are compared over long periods of time.
variables in a field setting. Nevertheless, the effects of video Thus, lack of control of variables limits interpretation and con-
production and the variables that mediate these effects are not fidence.
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Barron (1985, cited in Shutkin, 1990) found that a compre- Sesame Street, which was used in some elementary schools,
hensive course for fifth-graders, involving both video produc- Electric Company, 3-2-1 Contact, and Square One Research
tion and media studies, led to the development of mental skills on Sesame Street has already been discussed. The research on
necessary for understanding television programming. Torrence each of the other series will be discussed separately in this
(1985) reviewed research findings about the features that should section.
be incorporated in school video production experiences. These
features are offered through guidelines on message design and Electric Company. Electric Company was aimed at
utilization factors. Laybourne (1981, cited in Valmont, 1995) children in early elementary grades who were deficient in read-
states that children who make their own television productions ing skills. It focused on blending consonants, chunking of let-
become more critical viewers. ter groups, and scanning for patterns. Learning outcomes were
This assertion of an association between video production supposed to be discrimination of vowels from consonants, scan-
experience and media literacy is common in the literature, al- ning text for typical word structures, and reading for meaning
though few report studies that investigated the phenomena. by using context. The series was an experiment in using a video
Messaris (1994) addresses production literacy, meaning com- medium to teach decoding skills for a print medium.
petency in the production of images. He conducted a study Stroman (1991) stated that summative evaluations of Sesame
in 1981 (cited in Messaris, 1994) that compared subjects with Street and the Electric Company indicated that African-
various levels of competency in filmmaking, from expert to ap- American children improve their cognitive skills after exposure
prentice to novice. They were shown a film containing both to these programs. Graves (1982) pointed out the importance
traditional naturalistic style (narrative) editing and experimen- of adult coviewing. Learning increased and reading perfor-
tal editing. All three groups ignored visual conventions in their mance improved after children viewed these programs with an
interpretations of the traditional editing sequences and instead adult present. When teachers made sure children viewed, used
discussed the events in the film as if they actually occurred. With additional learning materials, and provided practice, children
the experimental sequences, however, there were differences learned these skills, with the greatest gains being made by the
among the groups. The novices became confused and strug- youngest children and children in the bottom half of the class. A
gled to interpret. The apprentices and especially the experts comparison made with home viewing indicated that it was im-
discussed explicit intentions of the filmmaker and the visual con- portant to attract the viewers for a sufficient number of shows
ventions used. In a follow-up study (Messaris & Nielsen, 1989), to have a measurable impact on reading skills. Research on the
the significance of production experience was confirmed. The series suggested the difficulty of depending on the home as the
researchers interpreted the findings as indications that produc- context for learning ( Johnson, 1987).
tion experience heightened awareness of manipulative conven-
tions and intent and thus improved media literacy. 3-2-1 Contact. 3-2-1 Contact was designed to har-
Shutkin (1990) has urged the development of a critical me-
ness the power of television to convey to children the excite-
dia pedagogy, because the adoption of video equipment in the
ment and fascination of science. Its objective was to create a
schools is not politically neutral and, therefore, is potentially
climate for learning about science, in other words to provide
problematic. In support of his theoretical position, Shutkin of-
science readiness. It was aimed at 8- to 12-year old children. Af-
fers a review of the research and theory around video produc-
ter two years of research, CTW offered some surprising insights
tion education and filmmaking. He points out that video pro-
about 8- to 12-year-olds and television:
duction involves interpersonal and group process skills that can
be researched, as well as other aspects of the communication
r They attended to stories where a problem was posed and re-
process that suggest variables for researchers to pursue. Shutkin
argues that video production is being used to lower the dropout solved through relations between recurring characters, par-
rate, raise self-esteem, and develop technological skill; yet no ticularly those dealing with life and death themes.
one is determining whether or how these results occur and r They attended primarily to the visual channel. A dense or
what mediates such learnings. abstract audio track overwhelmed them.
r They thought in terms of their personal experiences rather Educational Series Programming. The most im- than abstractly.
portant research on educational programs designed for home r Boys favored action and adventure programs while girls fa-
and classroom use comes from Childrens Television Workshop vored programs about warm, human relationships.
(CTW). The contribution of this organization to television re- r They identified with and preferred cast members like them-
search is of such overwhelming importance that this section will
selves in terms of gender or ethnicity.
devote much of its discussion to CTW. In 1990, Keith Mielke, r
senior research fellow at CTW, edited a special issue of Educa- They preferred role models who were somewhat older. They
tional Technology Research and Theory devoted to CTW. In preferred the characters on the show who were competent
a case study of CTW, Polsky (1974) concluded that historical or striving to be competent.
r They liked humor in sequences only when it was age and
research supports the conclusion that systematic planning was
the key to CTWs success. subject appropriate.
CTW produced several series that were used in the classroom r They had a traditional image of scientists as middle-aged white
as well as broadcast to the home. Among these series were males working in laboratories to invent or discover. However,
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12. Learning from Television 301

younger scientists were often more impressive to these chil- ThinkAbout. ThinkAbout was a series created by
dren than Nobel Prize winners. the Agency for Instructional Television in the early 1980s. It
r They needed a wrap-up at the end of the program to make consisted of sixty 15-minute episodes designed to strengthen
connections and to reinforce learning. reasoning skills and reinforce study skills. There were 13 pro-
gram clusters on topics such as estimating, finding alternatives,
All of these findings were taken into account when the for- and collecting information. The series was aimed at upper el-
mat and content of the program were determined (Iker, 1983). ementary students. Research on ThinkAbout is reported in a
Research on the program indicated that significant gains oc- series of ERIC documents from the late 1970s and early 1980s
curred in comprehension and in interest and participation in (Carrozza & Jochums, 1979; Sanders & Sonnad, 1982).
science activities. However, there were no significant effects Students who spent two hours a week watching the program
on career attitudes (Revelle, 1985; Research Communications, improved their thinking skills to a very limited extent. Although
1987, cited in Sammur, 1990). Gotthelf and Peel (1990) reported the program added a new element to the classroom, research
the steps CTW took to make the program, which was originally did not support its effectiveness (Sanders, 1983, cited in John-
designed for home viewing, a more effective science teaching son, 1987). Johnson also reported that the research itself was
tool when used in school classrooms. Instructional technolo- flawed in two ways. First, the criterion of effectiveness was per-
gists who read their article will be interested in the barriers that formance on the California Test of Basic Skills, which was too
needed to be removed and the resources that needed to be pro- general a test to provide a realistic measure of success. Secondly,
vided. An annotated research bibliography on 3-2-1 Contact is the research was done after one year of uncontrolled use. There
available from CTW (Research Division, CTW, n.d.). was no assurance that teachers had been trained to use the series
as intended or that they did. This is documented by a series of Square One. This series was introduced in 1987 case studies on how ThinkAbout was used in classrooms, which
with the objective of addressing the national need for early reported that the series was both used effectively and misused
positive exposure to mathematics. Its primary audience was ( Johnson, 1987). Over 80 percent of the teachers reported that
intended to be 8- to 12-year-olds viewing at home. The con- the series presented complex ideas better than they could and
tent was to go beyond arithmetic into areas such as geometry, that the programs stimulated discussion (Sanders, 1983, cited
probability, and problem solving. However, the program was de- in Johnson, 1987).
signed to be motivational rather than to teach cognitive skills. Television series for classroom use as well as home use have
The program was used in classrooms. Chen, Ellis, and Hoelscher come from other sources. The British government funded the
(1988) investigated the effectiveness of reformatted cassettes of Open University, which has a library of over 3,000 instructional
the program. Chen et al. mentioned that previous studies of ed- video programs keyed to courses. The British have also pro-
ucational television identified two classes of barriers to school duced many series, such as The Ascent of Man, which are suit-
use: technological (i.e., obtaining equipment), and instructional able for instructional purposes. Several series for secondary and
(i.e., finding supplementary materials, designing lessons, and postsecondary education in the United States have been funded
finding time). Teachers found the cassettes especially helpful by the Annenberg Foundation. Unfortunately, most of these fine
in demonstrating connections between mathematical ideas and series have neither been researched nor used in classroom set-
real-world situations. The most researched variable related to tings.
this program is problem-solving outcomes. In studies done in
the Corpus Christi, Texas, public elementary schools, viewers Subject-Matter Instruction. Secondary teachers
demonstrated more skill in problem solving than nonviewers. in subject-matter areas have used film and video to enhance
This was generally true in the research done on the effects of their teaching. The areas in which they have been used most
Square One (Debold, 1990; Hall, Esty, & Fisch, 1990; Peel, Rock- extensively are social studies and science.
well, Esty, & Gonzer, 1987; Research Communications, 1989, Because television is the main source of news for most Amer-
cited in Sammur, 1990). In addition, viewers recalled aspects of icans, the area of social studies has a mandate to teach critical-
mathematics presented on the show and displayed more posi- viewing skills. In addition, television has become the primary
tive attitudes and motivation towards science (Schauble, Peel, medium for political campaigning in the United States. Thus,
Sauerhaft, & Kreutzer, 1987, as reported in Sammur, 1990; De- educating voters requires attention to television and its effects.
bold, 1990). A five-volume report on a National Science Foun- Fortunately, there is plentiful research on learning from televi-
dation study of the effects of the series reported an interesting sion news, some of which will be discussed later in this section
finding: (Hepburn, 1990). The other area in which research is available
to help the social-studies teacher use television is economics.
Across all of these themes, there were no substantive differences among Huskey, Jackstadt, and Goldsmith (1991) conducted a replica-
the viewers reactions as a function of their gender or socioeconomic tion study to determine the importance of economics knowl-
status. The reactions described above came from both boys and girls edge to understanding the national news. Of the total news
and from children of different economic backgrounds. (Fisch, Hall, Esty, program, 13 percent (or 3 minutes) was devoted to economic
Debold, Miller, Bennett, & Solan, 1991, p. 13) stories, but knowledge of economic terms was essential to un-
derstand the stories (Huskey, Jackstadt, & Goldsmith, 1991).
A research history and bibliography on Square One is avail- There are many studies on the effectiveness of using tele-
able from CTW (Fisch, Cohen, McCann, & Hoffman, 1993). vision and film to teach science and mathematics. Two recent
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interesting approaches need to be researched. One suggests that Whittle Communications offered free equipment to each school
science fiction films and programming be used to teach science that would agree to require students to watch the news program
(Dubeck, Moshier, & Boss, 1988); another uses teacher-training for 10 minutes a day for 3 years. In exchange, a school received a
institutes for science, television, and technology to impact class- satellite dish, two videocassette recorders, a color television set
room teaching. This project is called the National Teacher Train- for every classroom, and all necessary internal wiring, installa-
ing Institutes for Science, Television and Technology. Managed tion, and servicing. By the mid-1990s, over 8 million teenagers
by Thirteen/WNET, the New York City public television station, in more than 12,000 schools were viewing the program and
it was an alliance between education, business, and public tele- its advertisements. The issues provoked by the acceptance of
vision (Thirteen/WNET, 1992). The research was supported by the program are explored in Watching Channel One, a book
Texaco Corporation. By the end of 1993, the Teacher Training of research edited by Ann De Vaney (1994). In many ways, the
Institutes planned to have reached 17,000 teachers and 2 mil- book is an example of a postmodernist approach to research on
lion students. So far, findings indicated that students in classes television effects. As such it is interesting both for the method-
exposed to ITV outperformed peers in non-ITV classes, they ologies incorporated and the ideas presented. In the book, John
scored higher on creative imagery and writing, they were more Belland raises questions such as whether it is ethical for edu-
confident in problem solving, and they learned more in propor- cators to deliver a mass audience for advertisers, and whether
tion to the time spent on ITV. the time invested is defensible even if used for a discussion of
popular culture. Satellite Programming. Programming delivered
to the classroom via satellite can be divided into two categories:
news programs and subject-matter courses. The most famous of
12.7.3 News Programs
the news programs was Channel One, but there are others, such
as CNN Newsroom, which was broadcast by Ted Turners news
Television news programs are essential sources of information
network (Wood, 1989). The courses were distributed from many
for citizens of all countries. Because learning from television
sources, the most commonly known of which was the Satellite
news programs is important, especially in a democracy, ex-
Educational Resource Consortium (SERC). Very little research
tensive research on learning from television news programs
has been done on courses distributed by satellite to schools
has been done nationally and internationally. Unfortunately,
because this is a relatively recent phenomenon.
methodological problems have hampered researchers and lim-
Zvacek (1992) compared three classroom news programs:
ited the usefulness of this body of literature. For example, Robin-
Channel One, CNN Newsroom, and the front-end news segment
son and Levy (1986) discredited the methodology of studies,
of Today. Although each show followed a pattern of different
which determined that television is the primary purveyor of
segments, there was variability between the programs. Zvacek
news. Their criticism centered on poorly designed survey ques-
found differences in the proportion of time devoted to news
and features, in the content of news stories, in the length of the
This section will address four variables after methodological
news stories, in a national or international orientation, and in
issues are explained. Two of the variables will be independent
format. Channel One devoted slightly more time to features than
variables: news item or story (content) characteristics and pre-
did the other programs. Today spent more time on news
sentation variables.* One will be a mediating variable, viewer
than did the other programs. CNN Newsroom had more sto-
characteristics, and one will be a dependent variable, learning
ries on world events and Channel One had more on national
events. Late-breaking news often did not make it onto the pre-
taped school news programs. Channel One included advertise-
ments, while CNN Newsroom did not. Methodological Issues. The major methodolog-
Some research has been done specifically on Channel One ical issue is the confounding of variables. For example, it is
Generally, the findings from different studies were consistent difficult to determine to what extent differences in knowledge
about these points: are affected by exposure to other media or by talking with fam-
ily and friends. Without controls for other important variables,
r Viewers liked the features more than the news. the independent effects of television news viewing on learning
r Viewers ignored the advertisements. cannot be determined (Gunter, 1987). Another example is
r Knowledge of current events did not improve significantly.
the confounding of two independent variables, content and
r presentation. It is difficult to determine whether effects are
The program was not integrated in the school curriculum; due to design or content factors or to an interaction of the two,
teachers had not prepared students for watching nor dis- because a message must incorporate both factors. This con-
cussed what was watched. founding is further complicated by additional mediating factors
r Knowledge of geography and map reading increased outside of television (Berry, 1983). Research that examines the
(Knupfer, 1994; Knupfer & Hayes, 1994; Thompson, Carl, & relationship between dependence on newspapers or television
Hill, 1992; Tiene, 1993, 1994). for news and mediating factors, such as viewer characteristics
or exposure to a variety of media, provides another example of
There are many ethical and social issues associated with the the difficulty of controlling for confounding variables (Gunter,
use of Channel One in the schools. These issues arose because 1987).
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12. Learning from Television 303

A second major methodological issue is consistent with def- frequency of viewing affected comprehension. The findings on
initional issues reported in other sections, such as scholastic gender as they interact with learning from violent segments on
achievement and family context. It is difficult to make compar- television news will be discussed under the next topic, news
isons across studies, because variables are defined or interpreted item characteristics.
differently. This is especially true with the variables of attention,
recall, and comprehension. There are at least three distinct lev- News Item Characteristics. This variable de-
els at which attention to news can be measured: (a) regularity scribes the content of news stories. Much of the research has
of watching, (b) deliberateness of watching, and (c) degree of centered on the effects of violent segments and the interaction
attentiveness to the screen (Berry, 1983). Recall can be free,* of violent content with presentation and viewer variables. An
cued,* or aided*, and can vary within each of these categories. important finding in the literature is that there is an interaction
Recall is sometimes incorrectly interpreted as comprehension between gender and violence in television news. Visual presen-
of news stories. tation of violence affected how well females recalled the news.
An additional weakness in television news research is the Violence negatively affected females recall of other contigu-
generally narrow interpretation of the data without reference to ous, nonviolent news stories, but male subject recall was not
a theoretical base. Consequently, it is difficult to relate the find- affected similarly (Gunter, Furnharn, & Gietson, 1984; Furnham
ings of different studies, and its especially hard to relate them & Gunter, 1985, cited in Gunter, 1987a).
to what is known about learning in general. One reason for This finding highlights an important aspect of the content of
this is that research on television news is often done by those television news, its visuals. The visuals are important because
in mass-media areas who do not focus on theories of learning. they are selected by the producers and thus influence story
This issue has been addressed from an information-processing interpretation, just as the words and announcers tone do. Cog-
perspective by Woodall, Davis, and Sahin (1983) in an article on nitive scientists have argued that imagery has an important role
news comprehension. in memory. It is generally concluded that memory for pictures
is better than memory for words (Fleming & Levie, 1993). The Viewer Characteristics. Educational level, gen- selection of dramatic visuals, therefore, can enhance or impair
der, intelligence, frequency of watching, interest, motivation, memory and comprehension.
and knowledge of current events have all been found to be signif- Violence in a news story can increase interest. However, vio-
icantly related to learning from television news. Of these factors, lent events can distract from attention and learning even though
the most significant seems to be knowledge of current events, they heighten impact (Gunter, 1987a). This finding is in contrast
because the other factors are only slightly related, or there are to findings that violent visuals are often remembered better.
conflicting studies. Berry (1983) speculated on whether the im- Gunter (1980) reported on Neumans study of recall associated
portance of knowledge of current events is due to its correlation with economic news as compared with news of the war in Viet-
with education or its role as an indicator of ability to assimilate nam. Recall of the war news was much greater, probably due to
knowledge and thus retain it. the visuals used.
While there has been considerable interest in the effect of The organization of the message is also an important aspect
motivation on learning from television news, the evidence is of a news story. Cognitive frames of reference, known variously
not clear. Several studies claim to show motivational effects; as schemata or scripts, which individuals utilize during learning,
however, there are not many studies that can be compared facilitate memory and comprehension. Thus, the absence of an
(Berry, 1983; Gunter, 1987). For example, differences in mean organization compatible with the learners schemata can con-
news recall from television bulletins were found to be greater tribute to poor comprehension and recall (Graber, 1984; Collins,
in those with higher motivation than with higher educational 1979, cited in Gunter, 1987). Krendl and Watkins (1983) exam-
level (Neuman, 1976). However, statistical controls for the ef- ined the components of a television narrative schema and the
fects of knowledge might change these results. Nevertheless, effect of set on learning. They concluded that the process of
the finding that those who watch for information learn more learning from television becomes a function of both the mes-
than those who watch for purely entertainment is consistent sages sent and the perceptual set with which the messages are
with other research in education on learning from intentional received and interpreted. The groups with an educational set
set (Gantz, 1979, cited in Gunter, 1987). scored consistently higher than groups given an entertainment
Research on the effect of frequency of viewing is character- set. There were no significant differences between groups in
ized by the same methodological problems as other research on understanding the plot; however, groups with an educational
learning from television news (Gunter, 1987). Cairns has studied set had better recall and higher-level processing. Thus, the or-
comprehension of television news since 1980, using children ganization of die message seems to interact with motivation for
from the North and South of Ireland and has found an interac- watching.
tion with age. Children aged 11 years who reported greater view- Lang (1989) has studied the effects of chronological sequenc-
ing frequency knew more about current events (Cairns, 1984, ing of news items on information processing. She hypothesized
cited in Gunter, 1987). In 1990, Cairns reported research on that a chronological organization would facilitate episodical pro-
how quantity of television news viewing influenced Northern cessing and reduce the load on semantic memory, thereby re-
Irish childrens perceptions of local political violence. Based on ducing effort and increasing amount of information processed.
a correlation between viewing frequency and perceptions that This hypothesis was supported, in that chronological presenta-
matched social reality, Cairns (1990) concluded that childrens tion of events was easier to remember than broadcast structure,
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which presented what is new followed by causes and conse- 12.7.4 The Effects of Advertising
quences of the change.
Ellen Notar (1989) argued that television is a curriculum, and as Presentation Variables. Another term for these such it is the ultimate example of individualized instruction. She
aspects of television news is formal features. With television questioned why we have left it almost entirely in the hands of the
news, research has centered on factors such as humor, recap- profit makers and why children are not being taught to question
ping* and titles, narrator versus voice-over, and still and dynamic the assumptions presented by advertising. She summarizes the
visuals. Kozma (1986) wrote a review article that examined the situation:
implications of the cognitive model of instruction for the design
of educational broadcast television. In the article he reviews Recently, I did an analysis of both programming and commercials aimed
research related to pacing, cueing, modeling, and transforma- at children. Unbelievable results! The data were worse than an analysis I
tion that has implications for design of presentation features. By did in the late 1970s. Commercials were at least 12 to 14 minutes of each
hour, repeated over and over again. The sound levels were higher than
transformation he meant having the learner change knowledge
the regular programs. The messages were violence solves problems, ad-
in one form to another form, such as from verbal to visual form. vertisers products will make you happy, and popular, sugar products
He suggested that designers cue cognitive strategies for older are selected by the best and the brightest. The graphics, photography,
learners and increase salience for younger learners. and audio were invariably superior to the programs they surrounded,
Perloff, Wartella, and Becker (1982) and Son, Reese and Davie guaranteed to capture childrens attention if program interest waned.
(1987) investigated the use of recaps in television news. Both Television advertisers spend over $800 million a year on commercials
articles reported an increase in retention when the news was directed at children under age 12! The average child watching television
recapped. Son et al. (1987) speculated that this was due to time 4 hours a day sees more than 50 of these spots daily and about 18,000
for rehearsal. Snyder (1994) analyzed scripts and stories used per year! (p. 66)
in television news and concluded that comprehension can be Evolution of the Research Base. Concern for the
increased by captioning.
effects of advertising on television has a 30-year history. In 1977,
Edwardson, Grooms, and Pringle (1976) compared the ef-
the National Science Foundation (NSF) published a review of
fect of a filmed news story with the same story related by an
the literature on the effects of television advertising. The issues
anchorperson without visualization. They found that the filmed
addressed are still controversial today:
news story was remembered no better than the story told by
the anchor. Slattery (1990) conducted an experiment to deter- 1. Childrens ability to distinguish television commercials from
mine whether viewer evaluation of a news story would be influ- program material
enced by visuals when the verbal information was held constant. 2. The influence of format and audiovisual techniques on chil-
Treatment number 1 used visuals both related and relevant to drens perceptions of commercial messages
the information presented by the audio channel, i.e., visuals of a 3. Source effects and self-concept appeals in childrens adver-
landfill when a landfill issue was presented. Treatment number 2 tising
used only related visuals, i.e., a shot of a council meeting where 4. The effects of advertising containing premium offers
an issue was discussed instead of a visual of the home or peo- 5. The effects of violence and unsafe acts in television commer-
ple involved. Treatment number 3 consisted of audio informa- cials
tion only; no visuals were used. The hypothesis was supported 6. The impact on children of proprietary medicine advertising
because the visuals influenced the interpretation of the news. 7. The effects on children of television food advertising
Those in treatment number 1 found the story more interesting, 8. The effects of volume and repetition of television commer-
important, informative, unforgettable, clear, and exciting than cials
those in treatments number 2 or 3. 9. The impact of television advertising on consumer socializa-
tion Learning Outcomes. The learning outcomes re- 10. Television advertising and parent-child relations. (National
lated to television news that have been investigated are atten- Science Foundation, 1977, p. ii)
tion, recall and retention, comprehension, and attitude change.
Of these, the most researched areas are recall and comprehen- The report considered both fantasy violence in commercials
sion. One important finding related to recall is that there are and commercials adjacent to violent programs. They concluded
dramatic increases when cued or aided recall* is used (Neu- that there was relatively little violence in commercials, that the
man, 1976, cited in Gunter, 1987). Educational level is related to types of violence in commercials were rarely imitable, and that
amount of recall. Stauffer, Frost and Rybolt (1978, 1980, cited in the duration of the violence was too short to suggest instiga-
Gunter, 1987) found that spontaneous recall was highest among tional effects on viewers. The question of definition arose again
educated subjects and lowest among illiterate subjects. It is not in regard to research on television; what should be interpreted
surprising that education and social class/occupational status as violence in commercials and in programming for children is
were correlated with comprehension of television news (Trena- still being debated.
man, 1967, cited in Gunter, 1987). One must be careful when The principal investigator for this report and some of his
findings on recall and comprehension are reported, because coinvestigators (Adler, Lesser, Meringoff, Robertson, Rossiter,
sometimes measures of comprehension are actually measures & Ward, 1980) subsequently published another review of the
of recall. literature on the effects of television advertising. In 1987,
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12. Learning from Television 305

Comstock and Paik recognized the importance of the issue for in childrens commercials and programming almost always fell
public policy formation by reviewing its evolution, the points in the fantasy category. Thus, the impact of violence might vary
of contention, and the empirical evidence in a report commis- according to the number of fantasy cues. Cartoons have at least
sioned by the Educational Clearinghouse on Information Re- three cues to indicate violence (animation, humor, and a remote
sources (ERIC). In 1988, Liebert and Sprafkin reviewed the stud- setting); make-believe violence generally has two cues (humor
ies on effects of television violence and advertising on children. and a remote setting); and realistically acted violence generally
The areas they synthesized reflect the continuing issues: chil- has only one cue (the viewers knowledge that the portrayal is
drens understanding of commercials, effects of common adver- fictional). Real-life violence (i.e., news footage) has no cues to
tising tactics, concerns about products advertised, and training suggest fantasy. It easy to imagine a young child without media
young consumers. A British review of advertising effects of tele- literacy becoming confused and misunderstanding such mes-
vision (Young, 1990) brought attention to many variables that sages.
need to be investigated: for example, the effects of formal fea-
tures used in advertising. In 1991, Comstock and Paik expanded Important Findings. An important study, A Longi-
their ERIC review into a book on Television and the American tudinal Analysis of Television Advertising Effects on Adoles-
Child that reviewed empirical evidence in five areas related to cents, was conducted by Moore and Moschis and reported in
television advertising: recognition and comprehension, harm- 1982. This study is mentioned because the effects of television
fulness, parenting, programming, and program content. advertising on a society of widely differing economic groups is
The report of the American Psychological Association task another area that needs researching. Moore and Moschis (1982)
force on television effects included a review of research on ad- reported that television advertising affects the development of
vertising around topics such as nutrition and health, advertising materialism* and the perception of sex roles. The greatest effects
content and effects, and cognitive abilities necessary to process occur in families where consumption matters are not discussed.
advertising (Huston et al., 1992). The members of the task force Jalongo did an important study in 1983. She investigated The
concluded that although the number of commercials increased Preschool Childs Comprehension of Television Commercial
due to federal deregulation in the early 1980s, many issues re- Disclaimers. She used a questionnaire to assess general knowl-
lated to advertising were not addressed by the research. Some edge about television. Results indicated that linguistic ability
of these issues are the effects of (a) heavy viewing on mate- was a poor predictor of paraphrase and standard/modified dis-
rialistic values, (b) interruptions for commercials on attention claimer scores. Scores reflecting general knowledge about tele-
span, (c) health-related commercials, and (d) individual differ- vision were the most effective predictors of disclaimer compre-
ences in persuadability. Today, new issues have arisen that need hension.
to be investigated, because information is important for shaping
public-policy positions. The effects of home shopping channels, 12.7.5 Utilization Studies
infomercials, and Channel One are among these issues.
Research that investigates the use of instructional televi- Consistent Findings. Some findings have been sion, including factors such as (a) availability of equipment,
consistent over these 30 years of research. The strongest is programming, support personnel, and training; (b) attitudes to-
that the effects of television advertising diminish and change as wards television in the classroom and informally; and (c) the im-
the child ages. Attention to commercials decreases as children pact of instructional television, is grouped in a category called
get older (Ward, Levinson, & Wackman, 1972). Young children utilization studies. There is a long tradition of utilization stud-
have difficulty distinguishing commercials from programming ies that dates back to the early 1950s when the FCC reserved
(Zuckerman, Ziegler, & Stevenson, 1978), although this ability channels for education and to film studies done earlier. Nev-
increases throughout the preschool years. Eventually by age 8, ertheless, there are many gaps in this area of the literature.
most viewers can make this distinction (Levin, Petros, & Pe- In a comprehensive review of ETV as a tool for science edu-
trella, 1982). Kunkel (1988) found that children ages 4 to 8 cation, Chen (1994b) outlines the lack of research, especially
were less likely to discriminate commercials from regular pro- developmental research, on the many science series broadcast
gramming when a host-selling format was used, and that older nationally. Compared to the investment in production, minimal
children were more favorably influenced by commercials in this resources have been devoted to research on learning from most
format. Television commercials influence childrens food selec- of these series.
tions (Gorn & Goldberg, 1982), but the degree of influence is The category utilization studies encompasses research on
disputed (Bolton, 1983). The combined information seems to using television processes and resources for learning (Seels &
indicate that television commercials do have an effect on prod- Richey, 1994). This discussion of utilization research will cover
uct selection that is limited when all aspects of a childs envi- several topics:
ronment are taken into account. Nevertheless, young children
may be affected greatly by television advertising and need help 1. Variables investigated
dealing with it. 2. Projects of historical interest
Another finding of consistent importance over the years is 3. Studies from the Agency for Instructional Technology (AIT),
the interrelationship of formal features and the effects of adver- formerly the Agency for Instructional Television
tising. As early as the 1977 NSF report, there was speculation 4. Studies from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB)
on this relationship. The report stated that the type of violence 5. Other utilization studies.
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306 SEELS ET AL. Variables Investigated. Chu and Schramm (1968) Elementary students spent about 12 percent of their time with
reviewed research on television before the ERIC Clearinghouse televised programs, the junior high students about 30 percent
began to compile and organize the literature on learning from of their time, and high school students about 10 percent of
television. They summarized the variables that interacted with their time. Fewer teachers were hired; however, master teach-
learning from instructional television. Today, many of these vari- ers were hired to teach televised classes. Student improvement
ables are being investigated under questions related to message was most dramatic when students who learned by television
design. The remaining variables are still pursued in the area of were compared with those in rural schools who did not re-
utilization studies. As identified by Chu and Schramm, these ceive televised lessons. Although standardized test scores were
variables are: used to compare groups, there was no control for socioeco-
nomic background. Still, when surveyed, parents, teachers, and
r Viewing conditions, e.g., angle, context, grouping, interaction administrators favored use of televised instruction.
r Attitudes towards ITV, e.g., students, teachers
Unfortunately, when funding was withdrawn after 5 years,
problems began to arise because local resources were insuffi-
r Learning in developing regions, e.g., visual literacy, resistance cient, especially for capital expenditures. This is a common pat-
r Educational level, e.g., elementary, adult tern in utilization of instructional television. By 1983, the project
r Subject matter, e.g., health education, current events had been reduced to a service department for the district, us-
r Relationship to other media, e.g., effectiveness, cost, integra- ing a variety of technologies. The annual budget of $334,000
tion. was justified, because all art and music lessons were offered
through television, thus saving the cost of 12 itinerant teachers,
a practice that would certainly be debated by aesthetic educa-
Over the years, two of Chu and Schramms variables have tors. Despite this and other exemplary supplemental television
assumed increasing importance: the variable of effectiveness of instruction projects, most schools used television simply as a
instruction as measured by formative and summative evaluation, teaching aid during this period (Cuban, 1986).
and the variable of impact on the individual, organization, and The Midwest Program of Airborne Instructional Television
society. Instruction (MPATI) began in 1959 and continued in conjunc-
tion with the Purdue Research Foundation at Purdue University. Projects of Historical Interest. A good overview Thirty-four courses were televised to 2,000 schools and 40,000
of the television utilization studies done in the 1950s, 60s, and students through 15 educational television stations in six states.
70s is obtained when projects in the Midwest, Hagerstown In addition, to reach schools not served by these stations, MPATI
(Maryland), Samoa, and El Salvador are examined. Most of these transmitted programs from an airplane circling at 23,000 feet
projects received funding through Ford Foundation grants, lo- over North-Central Indiana. Broadcasting began in 1961 with a
cal funds, and corporate equipment. Three district-wide pat- cost of about $8 to 10 million annually (Seattler, 1968).
terns emerged. Studies revolved around investigation of the ef- In contrast, television provided the total instructional pro-
fectiveness of these patterns, which were (a) total instructional gram in American Samoa between 1964 and 1970. This
program presented by television teacher, (b) supplemented tele- approach was justified because the existing teaching staff and
vision instruction, and (c) television as a teaching aid. Total facilities were totally inadequate in 1961 when Governor H. Rex
instruction meant that all curriculum was presented through Lee was appointed. When Lee made restructuring the school
television and the teacher acted as supervisor. With supple- system his top priority, Congress approved over $1 million in
mented instruction, the teacher prepared the class and fol- aid for the project. Soon four of every five students were spend-
lowed up after the program. Only part of the curriculum was ing one-quarter to one-third of their time watching televised
presented through television. When television was used as a lessons, especially in the elementary schools. The rest of the day
teaching aid, the classroom teacher just incorporated television was built around preparing for the televised lessons. The
into lessons, and use of television was more infrequent (Cuban, packets of material that accompanied the programs became
1986). the textbooks.
The Hagerstown, Maryland, project was an early demonstra- Researchers examined test scores before and after the in-
tion of supplemented television. Up to one-third of the school troduction of television and found little difference in language
day was devoted to televised lessons, with teacher preparation scores, although slight advantages in reading and arithmetic
and follow-up. From 1956 to 1961, the Fund for the Advance- were documented. There was little control for mediating vari-
ment of Education and corporations invested about $1.5 mil- ables. The English-speaking ability of the classroom teachers
lion in improving education in the Hagerstown schools through was generally poor, while English was the native language of
closed-circuit broadcasting. The initial experiment was a suc- television teachers. It is interesting, therefore, that the greatest
cess, because costs were reduced while standardized test scores advantage was found in the area of mathematics, not English
improved. language (Wells, 1976).
By the end of the experiment, over 70 production staff, in- The project was initially reported a success, but by the early
cluding 25 studio teachers, telecast lessons in 8 different sub- 1970s, objections to orienting the whole curriculum to tele-
jects at the elementary level and 15 subjects at the secondary vised lessons increased among students, teachers, and adminis-
level. All teachers were involved in the planning, because a team trators, especially at grades 5 and above. By the eighth year of the
approach was used. Assessment of programs was continuous. project, students wanted less television, and teachers wanted
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12. Learning from Television 307

more control over lessons. In 1973, policymakers shifted au- established by the Ford Foundation, Educational Facilities Labo-
thority from the television studio to the classroom teacher and ratories (EFL), encouraged research, experimentation, and dis-
cut back the amount of television. In 1979, a utilization study semination about educational facilities. In their 1960 publica-
conducted by Wilbur Schramm and his colleagues concluded tion on Design for ETV Planning for Schools with Television,
that televisions role had been reduced to supplemental or en- EFL recommended effective designs for seeing, hearing, and
richment instruction, or at the high school level to little more learning, and for group spaces. The issues of cost, equipment,
than a teaching aid (Cuban, 1986). and support were also discussed (Chapman, 1960).
In El Salvador, a major restructuring of education included
the use of television to increase enrollment without a loss of Agency for Instructional Technology Studies.
quality. Overall educational reforms included (a) reorganization AIT is a nonprofit United StatesCanadian organization estab-
of the Ministry of Education, (b) teacher retraining, (c) curricu- lished in 1962 to strengthen education. AIT, which is located in
lum revision, (d) development of new study materials, (d) de- Bloomington, Indiana, provides leadership and services through
velopment of more diverse technical program, (e) construction development, acquisition, and distribution of technology-based
of new classrooms, (f ) elimination of tuition, (g) use of double instructional materials. Although AITs research program cur-
sessions and reduced hours to teach more students, (h) develop- rently centers primarily on formative evaluation of materials,
ment of a new evaluation system, and (i) installation of a national the organization has sponsored utilization studies. A few rep-
television systems for grades 7 through 9. An evaluation project resentative ones will be mentioned here. Dignam (1977) re-
showed no advantage for the instructional television system. searched problems associated with the use of television in sec-
The only advantage was in the seventh grade. However, in the ondary schools, including equipment, scheduling, availability
eighth and ninth grades, the nontelevision classrooms often ob- of programs, and teacher resistance. She reported a continuing
tained better scores. Positive scores during the first year of the debate about the extent to which teacher training should be em-
reform were dismissed as due to the halo effect, because scores phasized in relation to systematic evaluation of utilization. Her
diminished as novelty of the delivery method diminished (Wells, report, which is based on a review of the literature, concluded
1976). As with the Hagerstown project, however, an advantage that the relaxation of off-air taping regulations granted by some
was found for rural students (Hornik, Ingle, Mayo, McAnany, & distributors eased scheduling and equipment difficulty, as did
Schramm, 1973). Thus, the consistent advantage of television videocassette and videodiscs.
seems to be in improving the test scores of rural students. One It Figures is a series of twenty-eight 15-minute video pro-
of the reasons for this improvement is that the technology pro- grams in mathematics designed for grade 4, in use since 1982.
vides for the distribution of the scarce resource of high-quality AIT (1984) did a survey of 117 teacher-users of this series.
teaching ability (Wells, 1976, p. 93). This survey gathered information on (a) teachers backgrounds,
Each of these projects generated related research and guide- (b) how teachers discovered and used the series, (c) perceived
lines for practice. As television personnel learned about utiliza- cognitive and attitudinal effects of the series, (d) teachers
tion, they shared their experience through handbooks for teach- reactions to the teachers guide, and (e) overall reactions to
ers on how to use television for instruction (Hillard & Head, the series. Seventy-six teachers responded that they perceived
1976). Studies of process and impact were done. For example, the series positively and used it in diverse ways. This is an
Nugent (1977) reported a Nebraska State Department of Ed- example of an impact study.
ucation field experiment that addressed whether teacher ac- AIT used a series of mini-case studies to report on Video at
tivities increased learning from television. She concluded that Work in American Schools (Carlisle, 1987). This report takes
telelessons impacted learning, achievement in television classes the form of a compilation of experiences the author, Robert
was higher, and the nature of activities used had an affect on Carlisle, had during his travels through 12 states, visiting appli-
achievement but not the number of activities. cations of ITV. He talked to almost 160 people about television
Tiffin (1978) used a multiple case study approach to analyze utilization and documented them and their projects through
Problems in Instructional Television in Latin America. After photographs. Carlisle concluded that access to equipment is no
doing case studies on 8 of the 14 ITV systems in Latin America, longer a sizable problem, nor is availability of programming,
critical subsystems were analyzed, especially in regard to condi- and the VCR has proved to be a very flexible tool for instruc-
tions that were symptomatic of problems. Thus, problems and tion. Nevertheless, the strength of the human support network
causes were traced until root causes were revealed. In many behind the teacher was questionable.
instances, these turned out to originate outside the ITV system.
A hierarchy of casually interrelated problems, called a problem Corporation for Public Broadcasting Studies.
structure, was generated. Problems of utilization subsystems Peter Dirr, director of the Catholic Telecommunications Net-
were analyzed. In four cases the visual component of televi- work, did the first school use television studies for the Cor-
sion was not being used and did not appear to be needed. If the poration for Public Broadcasting. Dirr and Petrone (1978) con-
television receiver were replaced by radio it appears unlikely ducted a study in 19761977 that documented the pattern of
that the measured learning outcomes would be appreciably af- greatest use of ITV in lower grades and diminishing use in
fected (Tiffin, 1978, p. 202). higher grades. They used a stratified sample of 3,700 classroom
Another project of historical significance is the research done teachers. This was the first in-depth and rigorously conducted
by Educational Facilities Laboratories around the best use of study of public school use since the introduction of television
space for the utilization of television. A nonprofit corporation in schools (Cuban, 1986). Estimating based on data collected,
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they speculated that over 15 million students watched televised ered information pertaining to five variables:
lessons daily. As is typical with most subsequent utilization stud-
ies, they investigated teacher attitudes, accessibility of equip- 1. The percentage of students using ITV
ment, and patterns of use in schools. 2. The ratio of students to videotape recorders
CPB sponsored two subsequent school utilization studies, 3. The ratio of students to television receivers
one covering 198283 and another covering 199091. The re- 4. The ratio of students to color television receivers
search was conducted by CPB and the National Center for Edu- 5. Students within districts using television
cation Statistics (NCES). The final report of the 198283 study
compared the use of instructional television in 1977 and 1983 Scheduling was found to be the most important variable.
(Riccobono, 1985). This 198283 study surveyed the availabil- This finding holds true in some cases today. Many districts that
ity, use, and support (financial, personnel, and staff develop- contracted for satellite telecourses when they were first offered
ment) of instructional media in public and private elementary were surprised to learn that some of the programs required one
and secondary schools. and a half of their regular periods and that students scheduled for
While the 1977 survey focused on television, this study such classes were therefore unable to take some regular classes.
was expanded by adding audio/radio and computers. Queries Utilization studies in the United States have focused on the
about instructional applications and equipment were directed availability of resources, attitudes towards ITV and ETV, and
to 619 superintendents, 1,350 principals, and 2,700 teachers. impact of programming. In comparison, utilization studies of
Responses were grouped by district size, wealth, and school television in developing countries have looked at resource is-
level. The results indicated that although media use varied across sues from the perspective of the design and support of both
districts and levels, almost all teachers had access to audio, educational and television systems.
video, and digital media. Over 90 percent of the districts of-
fered in-service teacher training in media. The status of televi-
12.7.6 Current Issues
sion for instruction remained relatively stable since 1977, except
that fewer elementary teachers and more secondary teachers re-
Many issues have been generated by changes in programming.
ported using television (CBP & NCES, 1984).
Major trends in programming include:
CPB sponsored the 1991 Study of School Uses of Televi-
sion and Video, which surveyed almost 6,000 educators (CPB, r An expansion of advertising into infomercials and shopping
n.d.). The results can be generalized to virtually all of the nations
public education system: 11,218 school districts, 72,291 public r The replacement of cigarette advertising with advertisements
elementary and secondary schools, and 2,282,773 schoolteach-
ers. The survey measured the use of instructional television and for drugs
r An increasing emphasis on sexuality through innuendo, dress,
video, the availability of equipment and programming, and the
support and resources devoted to instructional television. It re- dance and topics as exemplified on the Fox Network and MTV
placed the audio/radio and computer component of the 1982 r The popularity of controversial programming such as
83 report with questions related to several new television-based wrestling, reality, and talk shows
technologies. The results of the survey show that instructional r The evolution of news programming into news/
television is a firmly established teaching tool that is positively entertainment including tabloid style video magazines
regarded by classroom teachers and increasingly well supported r More centralized responsibility for programming as mergers
with equipment and programming. Programming availability and monopolies lead to cross-media collaboration
was reported to be one source of frustration for teachers. r The use of public service announcements as vehicles for af-
fecting attitudes Other Utilization Studies. The major methodolo-
r The of ratings as required by national legislation
gies used for utilization studies have been experimentation and
questionnaire survey. An example of an experimental design r An increased emphasis on childrens programming without a
would be a study designed to investigate the relative effective- concurrent increase in the quality of childrens experiences
ness of three methods of instruction: conventional classroom with television.
instruction, televised instruction only, and a combination of
classroom and televised instruction for teaching science con- Some of these trends have led to research; others have not
tent and vocabulary. A 1971 study done in the Santa Ana Unified generated enough studies to report findings. The areas that have
School District reported no significant difference obtained by ei- drawn the most attention from researchers are: sexuality, public
ther classroom or televised instruction alone. The combination service announcements and the use of ratings.
of televised and classroom instruction resulted in the greatest
achievement (Santa Ana Unified School District, 1971). Such Sexuality. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation
comparative studies have fallen into disfavor because they can- studies provide a basis for comparison of sexual content in
not be related to individual differences or mediating variables. 199697, 199798, and 19992000. Using content analysis, re-
An example of a questionnaire approach is Turner and Simp- searchers found about a 10 percent increase in sexual content
sons (1982) study of the factors affecting the utilization of edu- in dramas and situation comedies, but not in soap operas or
cational television in schools in Alabama. The researchers gath- talk shows. Two in every three programs addresses sexuality.
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12. Learning from Television 309

Depiction of intercourse has increased from 3 to 9 percent. Risks Researchers continue to investigate the effects of both proso-
and responsibilities associated with sex were discussed in about cial programming and the lack of prosocial messages. Swan
10 percent of the programs. Using focus groups, researchers also (1995) examined the effects of Saturday morning cartoons on
investigated whether sexual jokes, innuendos, and behavior on childrens perceptions of social reality using content analysis
television goes over childrens heads. The findings were: techniques. The study found that the cartoons reviewed pre-
sented many negative portrayals based on age, gender, and eth-
r Children understood the sexual content. nicity. Weiss and Wilson (1996) investigated televisions role
r They preferred shows with prosocial messages about sexual as a socializing agent in emotional development. The results
issues. revealed that family sitcoms focus on common emotions and
r Shows with mixed messages left children confused. emotional situations. Emotions were strongly related to two
contextual factors: type of plot (main plot, subplot) and type
r Most children, especially younger ones, were made uncom-
of character (featured, nonfeatured).
r Some parents say television helps them to broach the subject News. Research has continued on childrens re-
of sex (Kaiser Foundation, 1996a, 1996b). actions to news of violent situations, such as the Oklahoma
City bombing. Sixty-eight percent of children regularly watch
While the Kaiser Foundation found no increase in sexual- television news programs (Tuned in or tuned out, 1995). Smith
ity on soap operas from 19962000, another study (Greenberg and Wilson (2000) studied two variables in childrens reactions
& Buselle, 1996) compared soap opera content from 1984 to to news: video footage and the proximity of the crime. The
1994 and found increased incidence in visual as well as verbal reported proximity of the crime affected 10- to 12-year-olds,
content. Kunkel et al. (1996) reported that a Kaiser Foundation but not 6- to 7-year-olds. Video footage decreased fear among
study documented a 118 percent increase in sexual behaviors children in both age groups. Children from kindergarten
on television over the last 20 years. Although risks and respon- through elementary school years continue to be frightened by
sibilities were addressed about 10 percent of the time, shows news programs. On the other hand, fantasy programs became
involving teens presented consideration of issues of sexual re- less and less frightening to children as they aged (Cantor &
sponsibility 29 percent of the time. Nathanson, 1996). Controversial Programming. There have been a Advertising. The most important issue related to
few studies on talk shows and MTV. Davis and Mares (1998) advertising is the increasing emphasis on advertising for chil-
found that high school viewers of talk shows were not desensi- dren. This is true for other media as well as for television (Center
tized to the suffering of other, although viewers overemphasized for New American Dream, 2001; Lambert, Plunkett et al., 1998).
the frequency of deviant behaviors. Among some age groups, Children as young as 3 years of age are influenced by pressure
talk show viewing was positively related to the perceived from advertising. Brand loyalty can begin to be established as
importance of social issues. Many parents are concerned about early as age two (National Institute on Media and the Family,
sexuality on MTV. Pardun and McKee (1995) found that religious 2002). Singh, Balasubramanian, and Chakraborty (2000) found
imagery was twice as likely to be paired with sexual imagery that the 15-minute long infomercial was more effective than the
than without. However, the religious symbolism was rarely con- 1-minute advertisement or the 30-minute infomercial.
nected to the content of the lyrics or story of the video. Seid-
man (1999) replicated a 1987 study examining sex roles in music School Utilization. One major change in school
videos. Both the original and the recent study showed that music utilization is the availability of new resources for the teacher,
videos tend to stereotype the sexes behaviorally and occupation- such as databases and web pages that support learning from
ally and that women were portrayed primarily as sex objects. television. In some instances multiple resources are provided by
one source. The cable industry funds KidsNet, which provides Childrens Programming. A major change in chil- a database for teachers and lesson plans through a Cable in
drens programming is the decreasing importance of network the Classroom component. The cable industry foundation en-
programming and the increasing importance of cable and Public courages communities to build a collection of educational series
Broadcasting System (PBS) offerings (Adgate, 1999). Networks on videotape for the local library, so that teachers have access
devote about 10 percent of total programming time to edu- to extended resources. The Corporation for Public Broadcast-
cational or prosocial programming for children. This is about ing offers virtual tours through the Internet. The trend towards
30 minutes each Saturday morning as required by the Childrens expansion of resources will continue. As broadband becomes
Television Act (Calvert et al., 1997). The Corporation for Public available, schools are likely to use video streaming (Butler, 2001;
Broadcasting (CPB) has made a concerted effort to become the Holmes & Branch, 2000).
premier provider of childrens programming. The CPBs Public
Television Programming Survey documents this (CPB, 1996).
Childrens programming on the networks has little educational 12.7.7 Summary and Recommendations
value, while programming on cable and PBS is increasing in ed-
ucational value including literacy education and prosocial learn- Although a great deal of research has been done on program-
ing (Wan, 2000). ming for preschoolers and classrooms, there are major gaps in
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the literature. One such gap is in the effects of video production r A world where physical strength and violence equal power,
by students. Another area in which the research is confusing rather than a world where people have a positive effect with-
is that of newer programming genres for which it is difficult out violence
to compare findings. Contemporary varieties of advertising on r A world with rigid gender divisions, rather than complex char-
television also present a very complex topic that warrants more acters
research. Greater attention should be paid to the effects of genre r A world where diversity is dangerous and dehumanizing and
differences and program formats, as well. It is important for re- stereotyping abounds, rather than a world of respect where
searchers to investigate the interaction of the content and form people enrich each others lives
of programming with other variables. r A world where people are irresponsible and immoral, rather
Many areas identified by research have not been adequately
than a world where empathy and kindness pervade
pursued, such as the effect of programs and utilization prac-
r And a world full of imitative play, rather than creative, mean-
tices on rural children. Barriers to greater utilization are teach-
ers lack of knowledge about sources of programming for their ingful play.
subject-matter area and research on utilization. Utilization may
be facilitated through Cable in the Classroom, a nonprofit ser- Based on this review and what is on television, it could be
vice of the cable television industry, which will offer educa- argued that this perception is biased towards negative effects.
tional programming for the classroom, curriculum-based sup- Nevertheless, there are plenty of instances of negative content
port materials, and a clearinghouse for information on cable to support this framework. Arguments about content on tele-
use in schools. Over 500 hours of high-quality programs will vision and the role of mediation have stimulated efforts to em-
be delivered to schools each month, without commercial inter- phasize media literacy.
ruption (Kamil, 1992). Opportunities for research will arise as
a result. KIDSNETT, a computerized clearinghouse concerned
with programs for children preschool through high school, will 12.8.1 Media Literacy
be another source of information for researchers. Its Active
Database has detailed information on 5,000 childrens pro- The media literacy debate encompasses issues around the role
grams and public-service announcements and on 20,000 pro- of content in relation to format and media literacy. It can be ar-
grams available for use in classrooms (Mielke, 1988). gued that today the medium dominates symbol production and
myth/reality dissemination in contemporary society (Brown,
1991, p. 18). Others argue that to divorce content from exam-
ination of variables is illogical and self-defeating (K. W. Mielke,
12.8 CRITICAL-VIEWING SKILLS personal communication, Nov. 15, 1994). Another point of view
is that television is decoded by a viewer drawing on a unique so-
To some extent, the critical-viewing skills movement was moti-
cial and cognitive background, and thus the effects of television
vated by the gradual deregulation of the broadcasting industry.
depend more on the receiver than on content or media literacy.
During the mid-1980s, as research turned more to the study
The argument as to whether content should be controlled or
of the interaction of variables, it became apparent that parents
taken into account in research is set in opposition to the devel-
and teachers could have an important mediating role to play
opment of media literacy, when probably both perspectives are
(Palmer, 1987; Sprafkin, Gadow & Abelman, 1992). This discus-
important (Brown, 1991).
sion of the critical-viewing skills movement will address (a) its
Worth raises another concern that reinforces the argument
relationship to the media literacy movement, (b) the assump-
for attention to both content and media literacy:
tions underlying critical-viewing skills, (c) the goals adopted
by the movement, (d) the curriculum projects developed to at- Throughout the world, the air is being filled with reruns of Bonanza
tain these goals, (e) the research findings on these projects, and and ads for toothpaste, mouthwash, and vaginal deodorants. . . . If left
(f ) the impact of these projects. In an article on developmen- unchecked, Bantuy, Dani, and Vietnamese children, as well as our own,
tally appropriate television, Levin and Carlsson-Paige (1994) sug- will be taught to consume culture and learning through thousands of
gested, Now, the children who first fell prey to deregulated chil- Sesame Streets, taught not that learning is a creative process in which
drens TV in 1984 are entering middle and high school; among they Participate, but rather that learning is a consumer product like
them we see an alarming increase in violence (p. 42). This infer- commercials.
ence is not easily supported in the literature, however, because
there are other factors interacting with the effects of television. If left unchecked, we, and perhaps other nations like us,
Nevertheless, violence has increased in society and on televi- will continue to sell the technology which produces visual sym-
sion. The authors point out that a content analysis of television bolic forms, while at the same time teaching other peoples our
programming reveals: uses only, our conceptions, our codes, our mythic and narrative
forms. We will, with technology, enforce our notions of what is,
what is important, and what is right. (Worth, 1981, p. 99, cited
r A dangerous, rather than secure world
in Brown, 1991, p. 21)
r A world where autonomy means fighting, and connectedness A concern for receivership skills* developed from the per-
means helplessness, rather than a world of independent peo- ception that television was being used as a consumer product.
ple helping each other Receivership skills involve comprehending overt and hidden
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12. Learning from Television 311

meanings of messages by analyzing language and visual and au- terms good TV diets (OBryant & Corder-Bolz, 1978), media
ral images, to understand the intended audiences and the intent diets (Williams, 1986), television diets (Murray, 1980), and
of the message (Brown, 1991, p. 70). Thus, an attempt is made balanced diet (Searching for Alternatives, 1980) appeared fre-
to extend the tradition of teaching critical reading and critical quently in the literature on television viewing. The assumption
thinking to include critical viewing. was that if television was watched in moderation and a variety
Concern for media literacy is not new. When films were a of age-appropriate program genres were selected, the televi-
prevalent audiovisual medium, there were many publications sion experience would be positive. The only evidence we have
about the need for film literacy (Peters, 1961). A 1970 article by found to support this assumption is the finding that moderate
Joan and Louis Foresdale proposed film education to help stu- amounts of watching can increase school achievement. Other
dents develop levels of comprehension and learn filmic code. As than indications that young children can become fearful or con-
mentioned earlier under the topic filmic code, Salomon (1982) fused from watching adult programming, little evidence exists
redirected attention to television literacy.* He theorized that to support the need to view diverse and appropriate types of
comprehension occurred in two stages, both employing cog- programs. Such research has not been done. It may be that indi-
nitive strategies for decoding and recoding. The first stage was vidual or family differences can balance and thereby justify an
specific television literacy dependent on knowing the symbol unbalanced TV diet.
system associated with television viewing. The second stage re- A second unstated assumption was that a critical viewer,*
quired using general literacy skills to move to higher levels of like a critical reader, would have the critical-thinking skills of an
learning. He also theorized that, except for small children, the adult. But the efficacy of children imitating adult reasoning re-
general literacy skills were more important. He based his the- mains untested (Anderson, 1983, p. 320). Children, especially
ory of a television symbol system on research others and he young children, process information concretely and creatively.
conducted (Salomon, 1982). Therefore, they may not benefit from more logical analyses. The
By the 1990s, books were available on television literacy critical viewer may be less like a critical reader and more like
(Neuman, 1991). Some of these came from the visual literacy an art critic.
movement, such as Messariss Visual Literacy: Image, Mind, Another assumption was that the critical-viewing process
and Reality (1994). In this book, he synthesized research and had to have as its primary purpose education rather than enter-
practice in order to identify four aspects: tainment. Consequently, viewers had to become more knowl-
edgeable, and the best way to do this was through classroom cur-
r Visual literacy is a prerequisite for comprehension of visual ricula (Anderson, 1983). Critical-viewing curriculum projects
media. had to meet the criteria of systematic instruction and the provi-
r There are general cognitive consequences of visual literacy. sion of a variety of audiovisual materials. For years, some anthro-
r Viewers must be made more aware of visual manipulation. pologists have argued that much visual literacy is learned natu-
rally from the environment. Presumably, critical viewing could
r Visual literacy is essential for aesthetic appreciation.
be learned in the home environment without instructional ma-
In responding to Clarks argument (1983, 1994) that me- Primarily, the tests of these three assumptions were forma-
dia research tells us little, Kozma (1994) brought attention to tive evaluations of the success of the educational interventions
the centrality of media literacy for instructional technology re- conducted in the name of critical-viewing skills curricula. While
search. Kozma argued that we needed to consider the capa- these efforts were found to improve learning, there was little
bilities of media and their delivery methods as they interact other evidence to use. Nevertheless, positive reports from par-
with the cognitive and social processes by which knowledge ents, teachers, experts, and students were given credence. On
is constructed. From an interactionist perspective, learning the other hand, the positive effects could be the result of matu-
with media can be thought of as a complementary process ration (Watkins, Sprafkin, Gadow, & Sadetsky, 1988). Anderson
within which representations are constructed and procedures (1980) has traced the theoretical lineage of critical-viewing cur-
performed, sometimes by the learner and sometimes by the ricula.
medium(Kozma, 1994, p. 11). Thus, Kozma extended the atten-
tion directed to the interaction of media and mediating variables
that began in the 1980s. Goals for Critical-Viewing Curricula. Amy Doff
Leifer (1976) conducted a comparative study to identify critical
evaluative skills associated with television viewing. Five skills
12.8.2 Critical-Viewing Education
were tentatively proposed:
During the 1980s, critical-viewing curricula were developed
based on a number of underlying assumptions. These assump- 1. Explicit and spontaneous reasoning
tions will be discussed next. 2. Readiness to compare television content to outside sources of infor-
mation Assumptions About Critical Viewing. A signifi- 3. Readiness to refer to industry knowledge in reasoning about televi-
cant assumption used in developing curricula on critical view- sion content
ing was drawn from the analogy between positive television- 4. Tendency to find television content more fabricated or inaccurate
viewing patterns and a balanced menu or diet. In fact, the 5. Less positive evaluation of television content (Doff, 1976, p. 14)
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At the end of the 1970s, the U.S. Office of Education bly) with Television (Charren & Sandler, 1983). This is an ex-
(USOE) sponsored a national project, Development of Critical ample of an educational plan intended for general use rather
Television Viewing Skills in Students, which was intended to than specifically for the classroom. A more current example of
help students become more active and discriminating viewers. general recommendations is Chens (1994a) The Smart Parents
Separate curricula were developed for elementary, middle Guide to KIDS TV.
school, secondary, and postsecondary students. Four critical The Curriculum for Enhancing Social Skills through Media
television skills emphasized in the secondary curriculum were Awareness (CESSMA) was designed to be used with education-
the ability to: ally disabled and learning-disabled children to improve their
prosocial learning from television. CESSMA was field tested in an
r Evaluate and manage ones own television-viewing behavior
elementary school for educationally disabled children on Long
r Question the reality of television programs
Island. The curriculum group significantly outperformed the
r Recognize the arguments employed on television and to counter- control group on television knowledge. Children in the inter-
argue vention group identified less with aggressive television charac-
r Recognize the effects of television on ones own life (Lieberman, ters than those in the control group. Nevertheless, there was no
1980; Wheeler, 1979) evidence that CESSMA significantly altered attitudes or behavior.
KIDVID has been used with gifted and learning disabled chil-
In 1983, Anderson identified 11 objectives in 8 curriculum dren. It was designed to facilitate childrens ability to recognize
projects. He interpreted these as reflecting four goals common the prosocial content from a television program. The three-week
to all the projects. The goals were: (a) ability to grasp the mean- curriculum, originally developed for intellectually average and
ing of the message; (b) ability to observe details, their sequence gifted children, was tested in intact fourth-grade classrooms us-
and relationships, and understand themes, values, motivating ing indices to measure the childrens ability to identify and label
elements, plot lines, characters, and characterization; (c) ability the types of prosocial behaviors portrayed in commercial tele-
to evaluate fact, opinion, logical and affective appeals, and sepa- vision programs. The curriculum was effective because all who
rate fantasy and reality; and (d) the ability to apply receivership participated were better able to recognize and label prosocial
skills to understand inherent sources of bias (cited in Brown, behaviors (Sprafkin, Gadow, & Abelman, 1992).
1991). The goals and objectives of the major critical-viewing Previously, in 1983, Abelman and Courtright had conducted
skills projects were summarized by Brown (1991). a study on television literacy in the area of prosocial learning. In
A common approach to attaining these goals was to include that study they found evidence that curriculum can be effective
content on the various programming genre. Participants would in amplifying the cognitive effects of commercial televisions
be taught to distinguish types of programming and to use dif- prosocial fare. They concluded:
ferent analysis approaches with each. Brown (1991) reviewed
the various approaches to defining genre, such as types, classi- For children who rely on television information as an accurate source of
fications, and typology. Bryant and Zillmann (1991) dedicated social information, who spend the majority of their free time with the
medium, and who are unable to separate television fantasy from reality,
Part II of their book of readings on Responding to the Screen
some form of mediation is imperative. (p. 56)
to an in-depth analysis of research and theory on each genre
and associated literacy issues including news and public affairs,
A practitioners approach to a curriculum on television lit-
comedy, suspense and mystery, horror, erotica, sports, and mu-
eracy for gifted learners was reported by Hunter (1992). This
sic television.
approach used video production to teach fifth- through eighth-
graders. Students were divided into three treatment groups. One Critical-Viewing Skills Curricula. Over the of the two critical-viewing treatment groups showed significant
years, there have been many curricula to develop television gains, while the control/no treatment group did not.
literacy in addition to the USOE project curricula described Another practitioner approach was reported by Luker and
above. In the United States, these curricula were developed Johnston (1989). Teachers were advised to help adolescent so-
by local television stations, national networks underwriting cial development by using television shows in the classroom
social research, school districts, research centers, and national with a four-step process:
coalitions. Most of these have been summarized by Brown in
his book on major media literacy projects (1991). Some have There are four steps to take after viewing a show: (1) Establish the facts
been developed by companies (i.e., J. C. Pennys), some by of the conflict, (2) establish the perspectives of the central characters,
researchers [i.e., the Critical Viewing Curriculum (KIDVID) (3) classify the coping style used by the main character, and (4) explore
and the Curriculum for Enhancing Social Skills Through alternatives that the main character could take and the consequences
Media Awareness (CESSMA)], some by practitioners (i.e., of each alternative both for the main character and the foil. (p. 51)
OReilly & Splaine, 1987), and some by nonprofit associations
(i.e., Carnegie Corporation) or coalitions, such as Action for They found that teachers were effective in completing the
Childrens Television. A few will be described here, especially first two steps, but had greater difficulty with steps 3 and 4.
those that have been summatively researched or that address The effect of learning about television commercials was stud-
unique populations or content. ied in an experiment by Donohue, Henke, and Meyer (1983).
The recommendations of Action for Childrens Television Two instructional units, one role-playing unit and one tradi-
(ACT) are summarized in Changing Channels: Living (Sensi- tional, were designed to examine if young children can be taught
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12. Learning from Television 313

general and specific intent of television commercials. Both treat- r Pragmatics of media education: meaning incorporating the
ment groups of 6- to 7-year-olds experienced significant in- content and form of media literacy projects.
creases in comprehension of commercials. The researchers con-
cluded that: Impact of Critical-Viewing Projects. How effec-
tive have these curricula been across the country and over the
Through mediation via an instructional unit at the seven-year mark, the years? Berger (1982) suggested that it would take 30 years before
process of building defense mechanisms against the manipulative intent the results would be known. Bell (1984), however, concluded
of countless television commercials can be considerably accelerated to that several indicators pointed to the rapid demise of curricula
the point where children are able to effectively and correctly assimi- on critical television viewing. Although he found little evidence
late commercial messages into their developing cognitive structures.
that the curriculum materials produced under the aegis of the
(p. 260)
USOE had been assimilated into school curricula, he noted that
the skills promoted have not been completely forgotten by in-
Rapaczynski, Singer, and Singer (1980) looked at children in structional technologists. The impact of content and strategy
kindergarten through second grade. They introduced a curricu- was greater than the influence of the movement or subsequent
lum designed to teach how television works, which was pro- use of the materials, many of which are no longer available. Bell
duced by simplifying the content of a curriculum intended for also reported another troublesome indicator. The Boston Uni-
older children. Although a control group was not used, this cur- versity Critical Television Viewing Skills Project for adults, di-
riculum intervention did appear to produce substantial knowl- rected by the highly regarded Donis Dondis, dean of the School
edge gains. Another curriculum developed for kindergarteners of Communication, was given the Golden Fleece award by Sena-
and second-graders also was found to produce significant knowl- tor William Proxmire. This was his monthly prize for ridiculous
edge gains (Watkins, Sprafkin, & Gadow, 1988). In this case, the and wasteful government spending. The lack of clear under-
study used another class at each grade level as nontreatment standing of the need for such projects and their potential was
controls. clear in the statement he read in 1978:
Currently, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences is
mounting a critical-viewing skills campaign. Its members offer
If education has failed to endow college students with critical facilities
free workshops that use a videotape and exercises developed that can be applied to the spectrum of their lives, a series of new courses
by Dorothy and Jerome Singer under the auspices of the Pacific on how to watch television critically will not provide it. (cited in Bell,
Mountain Network in Denver. 1984. p. 12) Evaluation of the Curricula. The major thrust in

critical-viewing skills came with the four curriculum develop- 12.8.3 Current Issues
ment projects sponsored by the U.S. Office of Education at the
end of the 1970s. Each project addressed a different age group. A Use of Sources. There has never been a greater
final report on the development of the curriculum for teenagers need for media literacy education. As mergers and monop-
was prepared by Lieberman (1980). The formative evaluation of olies in the communication industry increase, control of
the curriculum, which is reported in a series of Educational Re- programming is more and more centralized. What is frighten-
source Information Center (ERIC) documents, was done by the ing is that fewer and fewer companies control all forms of me-
Educational Testing Service. dia: books, films, television, and magazines. A company such
To evaluate the curriculum for teenagers, Educational Test- as Viacom or Disney can be the gatekeeper to many media for-
ing Service identified 35 reviewers representing various con- mats. Hearings on monopolies in communications industries
stituencies (Wheeler, 1979). Generally, the review revealed ef- are common (Moyers, 2002). The popularity of alternatives to
fective use of an instructional systems design and development mainstream media (e.g., National Public Radio, Frontline, The
process. Nation,, Bill Moyers NOW) documents interest
Based on his review of the literature, Brown (1991) presented in analyzing media. One issue that arises is whether the media
20 descriptive criteria for assessing critical-viewing skills curric- literacy goal of using a variety of media sources to elaborate and
ula or projects. The criteria fall into these categories: triangulate learning is still relevant today since different forms of
media often present the same content, for example: television
r Breadth: meaning social, political, aesthetic, and ethical per- news magazines, television news, and magazines. It may be that
spectives sources other than mainstream media need to be included and
r Scope: meaning adaptability and wide utilization emphasized in media literacy.
r Individuality and values: meaning reflecting diverse heritages Resources. New resources for media literacy are
and sensitization of viewers to their role
r Validity and reliability (accuracy): meaning based on research available including curriculum units and web sites. There are
many web sites that support media literacy including commer-
r Cognition (developmental): meaning age-appropriate educa-
cial sites (e.g., Apple Corporation), software sites (e.g., Im-
tion ageForge,, and organiza-
r Cognition (reasoning skills): meaning training in analysis and tional sites (e.g., Media Literacy Clearinghouse, http://www.
synthesis Television literacy is supported
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by many sites, such as those sponsored by the Public Broadcast- about television. Abelman and Courtright (1983) summarize the
ing System, the Cable Industry (e.g., Cable in the Classroom), situation well: . . . television literacy curricula can be as much
and the Pediatrics Association. Hugh Ranks Persuasion Analy- a social force as the medium itself (p. 56).
sis Homepage ( is another The need for field research on the effects of interventions is
valuable site. documented by the paucity of literature on applying the findings
At the least, we must note three outstanding curricula in of research through interventions. We know that children learn
television literacy that have been disseminated over the past more from any form of television if adults intervene. The various
decade. The first was developed in 1990 and has proven to ways of intervening need to be researched using methods other
be an excellent resource for elementary teachers. This is the than formative evaluation. Systematic programs of intervention
Behind the Scenes: Resource Kit for Television Literacy (TV need to be developed and their impact measured.
Ontario, 1990). These resources are available for less than $50.
The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (1994) devel-
oped the second curricula during the 1990s. This curriculum 12.9 CONCLUDING REMARKS
was called Creating Critical Viewers: A Partnership Between
Schools and Television Professionals and was developed un- This chapter has dealt only with research on traditional forms
der the auspices of the Pacific Mountain Network in Denver, of television and instructional film. The research on newer tech-
Colorado. The academy makes workshop leaders from the pro- nologies, such as interactive multimedia, has been left for others
fession available for secondary schools and provides teaching to review. We have endeavored to identify the important vari-
materials developed in cooperation with Dorothy and Jerome ables that have surfaced from the enormous mass of research
Singer. The curriculum provides a videotape of six 10-minute that has been published about learning from television. It was
sequences that can be used to stimulate study about such not possible to narrow this list of variables to any great extent,
topics as editing, commercials, the industry, and the creative because most were relevant either to the design, development,
process. or utilization functions of this field. Nor could we narrow the
The third curriculum reflects one trend in media education, list by concentrating on research about film and television solely
that is, media literacy that enables health education. The New in the classroom, because instructional technology as a field has
Mexico Visual Literacy Project, Understanding Media, was de- a responsibility to media literacy and learning in many environ-
veloped to help children and adolescents deal with alcohol ad- ments. The review was not limited to research done within the
vertising on television. The curriculum was implemented at six field because, in this case, many disciplines contribute infor-
New Mexico Schools. The materials include a CD-ROM on Me- mation useful to the practitioners and researchers in our field.
dia Literacy: Reversing Addiction in our Compulsive Culture. Therefore, the chapter has traced the progress of research in
The state Department of Education related the curriculum to many fields over decades and summarized the important vari-
standards and benchmarks and provided another CD-ROM on ables related to areas of interest to our field. These areas are
Understanding Media and a video called Just Do Media. This message design, mental processing, school achievement, fam-
curriculum contributed another list of critical viewing goals or ily context for viewing, socialization, programming, utilization,
objectives (McCannon, 2002). and critical-viewing skills. Research in these areas has inves-
tigated independent variables, mediating variables, and effects. International Efforts. The United States has been This chapter concludes with consideration of myths about learn-
outpaced by Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, ing from television in the light of this review.
and Latin America where media literacy programs have been Milton Chen (1994c), director for the Center for Education
incorporated as part of school curricula. Researchers in Italy in- and Lifelong Learning at KQED in San Francisco, summarized
vestigated whether media literacy education enhanced compre- many myths about the effects of television. He argued that to
hension of television news reporting. They found that even brief conclude that television is primarily responsible for turning
critical viewing instruction had an impact of the comprehension kids into couch potatoes, frying their brains, shortening their
and attitudes of seventh- and eleventh-graders (Siniscalo, 1996). attention spans, and lowering their academic abilities is too
Nevertheless, media literacy education has not addressed simplistic. Indeed, there are several suppositions about the ef-
many areas of concern, such as reality programming, MTV, sex- fects of television that seem mystifying in light of the research
uality on television, infomercials. shopping channels and the reviewed in this chapter.
World Wrestling Federation. Duncum (1999) argues that art ed- The first myth is that television encourages mental and physi-
ucation should incorporate everyday experiences like shopping cal passivity. Research reveals that a great deal of mental activity
and watching television because aesthetic experiences from takes place while viewing, some in reaction to programming and
pop culture can significantly impact life. the rest in reaction to elements in the environment. In his essay
on whether television stimulates or stultifies children, psychol-
ogist Howard Gardner (1982) argued that there is little if any
12.8.4 Summary and Recommendations support for the view that the child is a passive victim of televi-
sion. Gardner said that, on the other hand, there is a great deal
From formative and summative evaluation and a few experimen- of evidence that children are active transformers of what they
tal studies, there is evidence that intervening with instruction see on television. He concluded that during the early childhood
on critical viewing increases knowledge of and sophistication years, television is a great stimulator.
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12. Learning from Television 315

Similarly, it is often assumed that television has a negative for this: the lack of conceptual theory relating findings, poor
effect on school achievement and reading. In reality, it has little dissemination of findings, and little support for interventions.
effect if the home environment establishes rules that control What is most remarkable about the literature on learning
the negative influences of television. In fact, for some students from television is that the concerns havent changed greatly in
with difficulty in reading, it can provide another source of vo- 40 years. Although the research questions have become more
cabulary and language development. Television can assist with sophisticated as the medium evolved, the same issuesi.e., vi-
reading and school readiness. A 1988 study by Anderson and olence, commercialism, effect on school achievementhave
Collins investigated the premise that television viewing has a continued. Yet, while interest in the negative aspects of televi-
detrimental effect on the cognitive development of children. sion remains steady, efforts to increase positive effects seem to
They found that children comprehend programs produced for be more sporadic. Interventions are tried and discarded even
them, that they are cognitively active during learning, and that if successful. The research on prosocial effects is reported and
effect on reading achievement is small relative to other factors largely ignored. In fact, there is the danger that applying some of
(Anderson & Collins, 1988). Generally, the evidence shows that these findings could fuel a debate about political correctness
moderate amounts of television viewing are positively related that could lead to loss of funding. Perhaps the reason there
to academic achievement, while heavy viewing is negatively seems to be less progress than warranted after 40 years is that
associated. the emphasis on negative effects has been more salient than ef-
Another myth is that television is a great leveler because rich forts to ensure positive effects through interventions. Far more
and poor alike watch the same programming. It is obviously an attention needs to be paid to the positive effects of television
oversimplification to assume that all variables including socio- on learning and the potential for overcoming negative effects
economic ones are thus equalized by watching the same televi- with these positive effects.
sion programs. It would be more accurate to say that television We would like to conclude by stressing the importance of em-
can help provide a common conceptual framework for a com- phasizing the positive through research on interventions, rather
munity. Socioeconomic groups use television differently, and than through perpetuation of myths that emphasize negative
television has different effects on these groups. Lower-income effects. If this review has revealed anything, it is that the find-
children watching Sesame Street gained more in every area ex- ings on learning from television are complex and so interrelated
cept knowledge of the alphabet (Zill, Davies, & Daly, 1994). On that there is a great danger of oversimplification before research
the other hand, the more educated the family, the more likely can provide adequate answers to sophisticated questions. Other
there will be supervised use of television. Children who expe- reviews, such as Signoriellis A Sourcebook on Children and
rience rules related to television viewing are likely to gain the Television (1991), have reached similar conclusions. It seems
most from the television experience. Television may be helpful important, therefore, to urge action in areas where research or
to individuals from a lower socioeconomic class because it pro- intervention are both needed and supported, but to caution
vides stimulation rather than displacing more valuable activities. about sweeping generalizations that create distortions that af-
Television has the potential both to positively and negatively af- fect policy. Finally, we hope that by extending this review be-
fect minorities self-concept (Stroman, 1991). yond the usual consideration of either mass media literature or
Another common belief is that television causes violent literature from instruction to a review combining both, we have
behavior. The research shows that while there is a relation- established support for increased attention to design factors and
ship between television and aggression, the effects of this re- to interventions that affect utilization.
lationship vary depending on individual and environmental A conscious effort by teachers and parents to use television
variables: positively makes a difference. Discussion of programming, for
example, enhances learning through elaboration and clarifica-
In sum, the empirical and theoretical evidence suggests that in general tion. Most parents who think they discuss television with their
the effects of televisions content depend in part on the extent to which children, however, do so only in a minimal way. Therefore, the
contradictory messages are available, understood, and consistent. In the belief that parents and teachers guide the use of television is
case of sex role attitudes, messages from television are consistent and a myth. Generally, they dont. Neither teachers nor parents are
either absent or reinforced in real life, whereas in the case of aggres-
given assistance in developing the skills to intervene success-
sive behavior, most viewers receive contradictory messages from both
sources. All viewers may learn aggression from television, but whether
fully in the television-viewing experience.
they will perform it will depend on a variety of factors. If we wish to From the research, one can surmise that different variables
predict behavior, that is, performance, we need to know something of are important at different points in the life span of viewers. Thus,
the viewers social milieu. (Williams, 1986, p. 411). research on preschool viewers concentrates on mental process-
ing, imagination, and attention span, while research on school
It is true that research has shown that television has the age viewers asks questions about televisions effect on school
potential to incite aggressive or antisocial behavior, to create achievement and language development. Research on adoles-
problems resulting from advertising, and to portray characters cents turns to questions of violence and the learning of roles
in ways that foster stereotypes. Despite these potentially nega- and prosocial behavior. Adult learners are questioned about at-
tive effects, television has the capability to educate, stimulate, titude change and viewing habits. These foci cause discontinu-
persuade, and inform. Enough is known about how to use televi- ities in the literature because the same research questions are
sion positively to make a difference; however, the research has not asked across all life span periods. Thus, we know very little
not led to successful interventions. There are several reasons about the mental processing of adults viewing television or the
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effect of television on adult achievement. One recommendation movements, by electrophysiological activity, and by inference
for a research agenda would be to ask the same questions about through secondary recall and recognition tests (Anderson &
all life span periods. Collins, 1988). See Visual Attention.
In pursuing the same questions across different life span
Attentional Inertia The maintenance of cognitive involve-
periods, researchers need to ensure that self-reporting instru-
ment across breaks or pauses in comprehension and changes
ments measure the same phenomena for each age studied. When
of content (Anderson & Lorch, 1983, p. 9).
data are collected through self-reporting measures such as inter-
views, questionnaires, and psychological tests, there are limita- Attribute A characteristic of programming, e.g., when advertis-
tions to take into account. Self-reporting instruments are used ing uses a hard-sell tone. See Formal Features.
less effectively with young children and those with language
Audience Involvement The degree to which people person-
disabilities. Moreover, subjects of different ages may interpret
ally relate to media content; one dimension of the construct
questions differently due to comprehension or interest. In addi-
audience activity (Perse, 1990, p. 676). Indications of audience
tion, respondents may try to present themselves in a positive or
involvement include anticipating viewing (intentionality), atten-
socially desirable manner, thus misleading the researcher (Sigel-
tion (focused cognitive effort), elaboration (thinking about con-
man & Shaffer, 1995).
tent), and engaging in distractions while viewing.
Which brings us to final conclusions. The need to study re-
search questions through a variety of methodologies appropri- Broadcast Television Refers to any television signal that is
ate to respective variables and through investigations of inter- transmitted over FCC-regulated and licensed frequencies within
actions among variables is apparent from this review. One can the bandwidth of 54 to 890 megahertz. Broadcast television mes-
only hope that enough researchers become interested enough, sages may be received by home antenna, or they may be relayed
especially those open to interdisciplinary research, to provide via cable, satellite, or microwave to individual subscribers.
some of the answers society, teachers, and parents need.
Cable Access Television (CATV) Used to describe the distribu-
tion of broadcast, locally originated, or subscription television
12.10 GLOSSARY OF TERMS programming over a coaxial cable or fiber optic network. Such
distribution frequently includes locally produced or syndicated
Active Theory Describes the child as an active processor of programming intended for specialized audiences; also known
information, guided by previous knowledge, expectations, and as narrowcasting.
schemata (Anderson & Lorch, 1983).
Catharsis Drive reduction (Feshbach & Singer, 1971, p. 39);
Aggression An antisocial behavior, the intent of which is in- The notion that aggressive impulses can be drained off by
jury to a person or destruction of an object (Bandura, Ross, & exposure to fantasy aggression . . . (Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988,
Ross, 1963, p. 10). p. 75).
Aided Recall When interviewers probe for further detail by Catharsis Theory Suggests that antisocial behaviors can be re-
cuing (Gunter, 1987, p. 93). duced by viewing those behaviors on television, e.g., watching
fantasy aggression may provide viewers with a means to dis-
AIME The amount of invested mental effort in nonautomatic
charge their pent-up emotions vicariously.
elaboration of material (Salomon, 1981a, 1981b). Theory that
the amount of invested mental effort that children apply to the C-Box A recording device consisting of a television set and a
television-viewing experience influences their program recall video camera that records the viewing area in front of the tele-
and comprehension (Sprafkin, Gadow, & Abelman, 1992, p. 55). vision set.
Altruism The prosocial unselfish concern for the welfare of Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) Refers to the transmission
others (Neufeldt & Sparks, 1990, p. 18). Evidenced by generos- of the television signal over a wire or fiber optic medium. The
ity, helping, cooperation, self-control, delaying gratification, or most important aspect of closed-circuit television for education
resisting the temptation to cheat, lie, or steal. is the ability to distribute a television signal within a school
building or district. Also called wire transmission (which in-
Antisocial Behavior Behavior that goes against the norms of
cludes fiber optic transmission).
society including physical aggression, verbal aggression, pas-
sivity, stereotyping, theft, rule breaking, materialism, unlawful Cognitive Processing Refers collectively to the various mental
behaviors, or pathological behavior (Hearold, 1986, p. 81). processes involved in perception, attention, semantic encoding,
and retrieval of information from memory. Typically used to
Arousal Theory Contends that communication messages can
describe activities associated with learning.
evoke varying degrees of generalized emotional arousal and that
this can influence any behavior an individual is engaged in while Cohort A group of people born at the same time, either in the
the state of arousal persists (Sprafkin, Gadow, & Abelman, 1992, same year or within a specified, limited span of years (Sigelman
p. 79). & Shaffer, 1995, p. 18).
Attention The cognitive process of orienting to and perceiving Commercial Broadcast Stations Stations that are privately
stimuli. With regard to television research, this may be mea- owned and supported primarily by commercial advertising rev-
sured by visual orientation to the television or looking by eye enues.
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12. Learning from Television 317

Communications Satellite Refers to the transmission and re- Displacement Hypothesis The notion that television influ-
ception of a television signal via a geocentric communications ences both learning and social behavior by displacing such ac-
satellite. This form of communication link involves the transmis- tivities as reading, family interaction, and social play with peers
sion of a television signal to a satellite (uplink) that is placed in (Huston et al., 1992, p. 82).
a geocentric orbit (one that is synchronized with the rotation
Displacement Theory Other activities are replaced by watch-
of the Earth so as to appear motionless over approximately one-
ing television.
third of the populated planet). The satellite then rebroadcasts
the signal to dish-type receiver antennas at other geographic Distractions Alternatives to television viewing such as toys,
locations (downlink). other children, music, or some combination of these.
Comprehension The extraction of meaning; the first step Educational Television (ETV) Consists of commercial or pub-
in critically analyzing any presentation regardless of medium lic broadcast programming targeted at large audiences over wide
(Anderson, 1983, p. 318). Comprehension may include the abil- geographic areas with the express purpose of providing instruc-
ity to recall or recognize content information and to infer story tion in a content or developmental area.
sequence or plot.
Effect Size In meta-analysis studies, the mean difference be-
Content Indifference The theory that content does not dictate tween treated and control subjects divided by the standard de-
viewing; that, with a few exceptions, other variables have more viation of the control group (Hearold, 1986, pp. 7576). See
effect on preferences (Comstock & Paik, 1991, p. 5). Meta-analysis.
Coviewing Viewing television in the presence of others; Ethnic Identity The attachment to an ethnic group and a
viewing in a group of two or more such as with a parent, child, positive orientation toward being a member of that group
or peers. (Takanishi, 1982, p. 83).
Critical Viewer One who can first grasp the central meaning Experience-Sampling Method The use of paging devices to
of a statement, recognize its ambiguities, establish its relation- gather data on television activities and experiences.
ship with other statements, and the like; one who plans tele-
vision viewing in advance and who evaluates programs while Exposure Measures Measures of hours of television watched
watching (Anderson, 1983, pp. 313318). per day or of watching specific content, e.g., frequency of
watching news (Gunter, 1987, p. 125).
Critical-Viewing Skills The competencies specified as objec-
tives for television literacy curricula. Family Context for Viewing An environmental context that
influences what and when viewing occurs as well as the ways
Cross-Sectional Method A research method that involves the
in which viewers interpret what they see (Huston et al., 1992,
observation of different groups (or cohorts) at one point in time.
p. 99); created through the interaction of variables in the home
Cued Recall Recall based on questions about specific program setting that mediate the effects of television, including environ-
details (Berry, 1993, p. 359). ment, coviewing, and viewing habits.
Cultivation Theory Suggests that heavy television viewing Filmic/Cinematic Code Describes the collective formal fea-
over time or viewing images that are critical or intense can lead tures of television as a symbol system unique to both film and
to perceptions of reality that match those images seen on tele- television (Salomon, 1979).
vision instead of those experienced in real life.
Formal Features Program attributes that can be defined inde-
Desensitization A decline in emotional arousal or the de- pendently from the content of a program, such as action, pace,
creased likelihood of helping victims of violence due to repeated and visual techniques (Huston & Wright, 1983). Synonymous
exposure to violent programming. with Production Effects or Presentation Variables.
Disability Any restriction or lack (resulting from an impair- Formative Evaluation Gathering information on the adequacy
ment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within of an instructional product or program and using this informa-
the range considered normal for a human being (Cumberbatch tion as a basis for further development (Seels & Richey, 1994).
& Negrine, 1992, p. 5).
Free Recall Recall where viewers must recall all they can from
Disclaimer Aural and/or visual displays designed to delineate a specified program [without cues] (Berry, 1983, p. 359).
an advertised items actual performance and to dispel miscon-
ceptions that might be created by demonstration of a product Frustration An unpleasant state caused by delay in reinforce-
( Jalongo, 1983, p. 6). ment (Bandura & Walters, 1963, p. 116).

Disinhibition Temporary removal of an inhibition through the Functional Displacement Hypothesis One medium will dis-
action of an unrelated stimulus. place another when it performs the function of the displaced
medium in a superior manner (Comstock & Paik, 1991, p. 78).
Disinhibitory Effects The observation of a response of a par-
ticular class (for example, an aggressive response) that leads to Genre A category of programming having a particular form,
an increased likelihood of displaying other different responses content, and purpose as in comedy, news, drama, or music tele-
that belong to the same class (Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988, p. 71). vision.
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Grazing Quickly sampling a variety of programs using remote Materialism An orientation emphasizing possession and
controls while viewing. money for personal happiness and social progress (Ward &
Wackman, 1981, cited in Moore & Moschis, 1982, p. 9).
Household Centrality Dimension reflecting behavior and
norms that favor viewing (Comstock & Paik, 1991, p. 69). Media Dependency Relying on the media for information and
guidance (Comstock & Paik, 1991, p. 143).
Incidental Effects Those behavioral or cognitive outcomes
that result as a by-product of the programming. These are usu- Media Literacy The ability to learn from media; capable of
ally not planned and may be negative or positive in nature. They comprehending filmic code. See Literacy and Visual Literacy.
may result from observational learning, role modeling, prosocial
Mediation Parents or teachers intervening in the television
or antisocial messages, or attitude formation.
viewing experience by encouraging, discouraging, or discussing
Instructional Films/Motion Pictures Motion pictures that viewing (Lin & Atkin, 1989, p. 54).
have been designed to produce specific learning outcomes
Mesmerizing Effect Describes a passive, hypnotic state in the
through the direct manipulation of the presentation format and
viewer, presumably associated with reduced cognitive process-
ing and high alpha activity (Mander, 1978).
Instructional Television (ITV) Programming that has as its
Message A pattern of signs (words, pictures, gestures) pro-
primary purpose the achievement of specified instructional ob-
duced for the purpose of modifying the psychomotor, cognitive,
jectives by students in school settings. In practice, it has usually
or affective behavior of one or more persons (Fleming & Levie,
referred to programming that is formally incorporated into a par-
1994, p. x).
ticular course of study and presented to intact classes or groups
of students or trainees. Message Design Planning for the manipulation of the physical
Instrumental Viewing Watching for information. form of the message (Grabowski, 1991, p. 206).

Intentional Effects Those mental processes or behaviors that Meta-analysis A statistical approach to summarizing the re-
occur as a direct result of organized instructional events or sults of many studies that have investigated basically the same
practices and that are generally expected to occur through the problem (Gay, 1992, p. 590). See Effect Size.
viewers interaction with the television programming. Microwave Relay Links Technology that employs a series of
Interactive Television (ITV) Conferencing technology that al- microwave transmission towers to transmit and relay the televi-
lows two-way communication with both video and audio com- sion signal. Such transmission is generally used in areas where
ponents. Also known as two-way video. Used for distance edu- cable distribution systems are not practical or where television
cation and videoconferencing. network signals must be transmitted over long distances. Mi-
crowave relays are also used to transmit location broadcast sig-
Kinescope Medium consisting of a motion picture recording nals from remote locations to the television studio for news or
of a live television program, in which the television frame rate public-events coverage.
was synchronized with the film frame rate.
Monitoring Attention to audio, visual, and social cues as to the
Learning from Television Changes in knowledge, under- desirability of paying attention to the screen (Comstock & Paik,
standing, attitudes, and behaviors due to the intentional or in- 1991, p. 23).
cidental effects of television programming.
Montage Television sequence that incorporates formal features
Literacy Ones ability to extract information from coded mes- to imply changes in space, time, action, mental state, or charac-
sages and to express ideas, feelings, and thoughts through them ter point of view (Anderson & Field, 1983, p. 76).
in accepted ways; the mastery of specific mental skills that be-
come cultivated as a response to the specific functional demands Neutral Behavior Behavior that observers would not describe
of a symbol system (Salomon, 1982, p. 7). as being antisocial or prosocial (Hearold, 1986, p. 81).

Longitudinal Method A research method that involves the ob- Norm Belief held by a number of members of a group that
servation of people or groups repeatedly over time. the members ought to behave in a certain way under certain
circumstances (Holmans, 1961, p. 6).
Mass Communication The process of using a mass medium
to send messages to large audiences for the purpose of inform- Oversensitization As a result of overexposure to televised vi-
ing, entertaining, persuading (Vivian, 1991, p. 15). olence, the belief that the world is mean and scary or that the
incidence of crime and risk of personal injury are greater than
Mass Media Delivery systems (i.e., television, newspapers, ra- they really are.
dio) that channel the flow of information to large and diverse
audiences and that are characterized by unlimited access and Parental Attitude Parents perceptions of televisions impact
by the vast amount of noncontent-related (incidental) learn- on their children (Sprafkin et al., 1992, p. 103).
ing that occurs as a byproduct. Generally intended to provide Passivity Acted upon rather than acting or causing action.
entertainment-oriented programming. See Mass Communica-
tion. Presentation Variables See Formal Features.
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12. Learning from Television 319

Processing Capabilities The ability of a medium to operate Sequential Method A research method that combines cross-
on available symbol systems in specified ways; in general, infor- sectional and longitudinal approaches by observing different
mation can be displayed, received, stored, retrieved organized, groups at multiple points in time.
translated, transformed, and evaluated (Kozma, 1994, p. 11). Sex Role Refers to the collection of behaviors or activities that
Production Effects See Formal Features. a given society deems more appropriate to members of one sex
than to members of the other sex (Durkin, 1985, p. 9).
Prosocial Behavior Behaviors that are socially desirable and
that in some way benefit another person or society at large Socialization Learning the values, norms, language, and be-
(Rushton, 1979, cited in Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988, p. 228). In- haviors needed to function in a group or society; socialization
cludes behaviors such as generosity, helping, nurturing, or de- agents often include mass media, parents, peers, and the school
laying gratification. (Moore & Moschis, 1982, p. 4). Learning over time how to func-
tion in a group or society by assimilating a set of paradigms,
Public Stations Stations that derive funding from government, rules, procedures, and principles that govern perception, atten-
public, and philanthropic sources. On such stations, commer- tion, choices, learning, and development (Doff, 1982).
cial messages are either not aired or are used only for the recog-
nition of the contributor. Social Learning Theory (1) Acquiring symbolic representa-
tions through observation. (2) Learning through imitation of
Reactive Theory Describes the child as a passive, involuntary observed behavior (Bandura & Walters, 1963).
processor of information who simply reacts to stimuli (Singer,
1980). Stereotype A generalization based on inadequate or incom-
plete information (Stern & Robinson, 1994), A group is said to
Recall Memory for content and features from television view- be stereotyped whenever it is depicted or portrayed in such a
ing; can be cued or uncued. way that all its members appear to have the same set of character-
Recapping Refers to repeating the most important facts; it is a istics, attitudes, or life conditions (Liebert & Sprafkin, p. 189).
source redundancy (Son, Reese, & Davie, 1987, p. 208). Summative Evaluation Involves gathering information on ad-
Receivership Skills The comprehension of overt and hidden equacy and using this information to make decisions about uti-
meanings of messages by analyzing language and visual and aural lization (Seels & Richey, 1994, p. 134).
images, to understand the intended audiences and the intent of Symbol Systems Sets of symbolic expressions by which infor-
the message (Brown, 1991, p. 70). mation is communicated about a field of reference, e.g., spoken
Recognition Refers to the frequency with which a group re- language, printed text, pictures, numerals and formulae, musi-
ceives TV roles at all (Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988, p. 187). cal scores, performed, music, maps, or graphs (Goodman, 1976,
cited in Kozma, 1994, p. 11).
Respect Refers to how characters behave and are treated once
Technology The physical, mechanical, or electronic capabili-
they have roles (Liebert & Sprafkin, 1988, p. 187).
ties of a medium that determine its function and, to some extent,
Ritualistic Viewing Watching for gratification. its shape and other features (Kozma, 1994, p. 11).
Roles Refers to expectations about activities that are per- Television Literacy Understanding television programming,
formed and to beliefs and values attributed to performers including how it is produced and broadcast, familiarity with the
(Birenbaum, 1978, pp. 128129). formats used, ability to recognize overt and covert themes of
programs and commercial messages, and appreciation of televi-
Rulemaking Establishing guidelines about acceptable and/or
sion as an art form (Corder-Bolz, 1982, cited in Williams, 1986,
prohibited behavior (Lin & Atkin, 1989, p. 54); also called re-
p. 418). Also see Critical-Viewing Skills.
strictive mediation (Atkin, Greenberg, & Baldwin, 1991, p. 43).
Video Production Producing television programming in the
Salience Highlighting certain components of the program for
community or schools.
viewers through formal or production features; perceptual
salience may elicit and maintain attention and influence com- Videotape Format generally used today to record and play back
prehension by aiding in selection of content (Huston & Wright, video programming. It consists of an oxide-coated roll of acetate,
1983, p. 44). polyester, or Mylar tape on which a magnetized signal is placed.
Schemata Conceptual frames of reference that provide organi- Viewing Visual attention to what is taking place on the screen
zational guidelines for newly encoded information about people (Comstock & Paik, 1991, p. 22).
and social or behavioral roles and events; they can be important Viewing Environment A social context created by the inter-
mediators of learning (Taylor & Crocker, 1981, cited in Gunter, action of variables, such as the number and placement of sets,
1987, p. 65). toys, and other media, other activities, rules, and parental com-
Self-Control Specific kinds of prosocial action, including a munication.
willingness to work and wait for long-term goals, as well as the Viewing Experience Result of interaction of programming,
ability to resist the temptation to cheat, steal, or lie (Liebert & mediating variables, and outcomes; variously described as active
Sprafkin, 1988, p. 229). or passive and positive or negative. See Viewing System.
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Viewing Habits When and what children watch and for how cluding the ability to think, learn, and express oneself in terms
long as determined by the amount of time a child spends in front of images (Braden & Hortin, 1982, p. 41). See Media Literacy.
of a television set, program preferences, and identification with
Zapping Changing channels quickly using a remote control.
characters (Sprafkin et al., 1992, p. 23).
Viewing Patterns Content preferences of viewers.
Viewing System Components of the viewing process, includ-
ing programming, environment, and behavior and their interac-
The authors would like to acknowledge the significant contribu-
tion. See Viewing Experience.
tion that our reviewers have made to this article: Keith Mielke,
Violence The overt expression of physical force against others senior research fellow, Childrens Television Workshop; Marge
or self, or the compelling of action against ones will on pain of Cambre, associate professor, Ohio State University; and Dave
being hurt or killed (NIMH, 1972, p. 3). Jonassen, professor, Pennsylvania State University. In addition,
Mary Sceiford of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and
Visual Attention Visual orientation (eyes directed towards
Ray McKelvey of the Agency for Instructional Technology gave
the screen) and visual fixation (precise location on the screen
valuable advice. Barbara Minor assisted with searching through
toward which eyes are directed given visual orientation)
the resources of the Educational Clearinghouse on Information
(Anderson & Lorch, 1983, p. 2).
Resources (ERIC). Many students at the University of Pittsburgh
Visual Literacy The ability to understand and use images, in- also helped with the research.

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