Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Above the Influence

Davison's "The Third-Person Effect in Communication" seems to hit on more than just a hypothesis of mass communications. Just to review, the third-person effect hypothesis "predicts that people will tend to overestimate the influence that mass communications have on the attitudes and behavior of others" (3). People are more likely to see themselves as relatively unaffected by mass media, while assuming others who are not "me" or "you" are not as fortunate. This intrigued me because it reminded me of psychology - in a given situation, people lean towards seeing themselves in a positive light and optimally explaining their behavior, while others who behave the same way are seen negatively. For example, if I cut someone off in traffic, I say it's because I was in a hurry to do something important. If someone else cuts me off in traffic, I assume the worst and say they're rude and inconsiderate drivers who shouldn't be on the road. Same situation, different standpoints.

The third-person effect and the psychological example are not completely parallel, but it seemed similar enough to share. People tend to think the best of themselves, and this can be seen especially in light of the media. Researchers go back and forth on the idea of mass media's "powerful" effects on audiences, and perhaps this triggers a desire to be "above the influence" among consumers. However, it seems to me that people generally revel in their independence. Desiring to be autonomous, they lash out against any implication that somehow they are influenced by something they may not be conscious of. People like to trust in themselves, and it can be unnerving to discover their lack of total control. Are you unsettled reading this and mulling over the possibilities? They also have the ability to manipulate others, which unfortunately does come into play - whether it be within interpersonal communication or national propaganda campaigns. What we face every day inevitably affects us to some degree - but how willing are we to admit it? Whether we may be played as puppets by the media (strong effect model), or taking in useful information from the plethora available to us (selectivity/limited effects) or to other degrees, it is fascinating to explore the notion of how perhaps the third-person effect exposes something about the human condition.


  1. Jessica, I completely agree with you in that is this "third-person effect" on mass media stems from a psychological stand-point as well. It's funny because after doing the reading myself, I still failed to believe that I am being wholly affected by the media. I still think that I am better off than others, which I think is due to my specific educational focus in Media (being a Media Studies major) which may indeed hold some truth to my ability to be less affected by media campaigns. But yes, to answer the question you posited, just reading your article made me feel uneasy...I do not like to think of myself not fully in control of any situation in general and more especially what I think. Although it is true, I still do believe mass media has the ability to affect some more than others (drawing from the limited effects model) and some people's belief in others being more affected can hold true depending on the circumstances.

  2. First of all, I really like that cartoon at the end of your post. I think it does really capture the same essence of the idea behind Davison's third person effect hypothesis.
    I also agree with the points you brought up in your post, and like Lizeth, also felt a little unsettled reading it and wondering how much I actually think myself less affected than others by the media. I went to watch the new movie Looper last night with a couple of friends, and I found myself during a great duration of the movie wondering if I was being brainwashed or desensitized (specifically with regards to the violence in the movie) like everyone else around me, or if I was able to detach myself from media influence. These vague reflections as I sat in my seat and watched Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis shoot people (like, a lot of people) actually did make me think of the Davison reading - I know, this sounds really dorky, but it's true - and wonder if I was proving his hypothesis. I keep wanting to say, "It's true, I'm well educated enough to be less affected by the media" - but then I see everyone else around me saying that and I wonder...

  3. An excellent thread going here! Thanks Jessica, for a lovely post and a very topical set of graphics, and Lizeth and Yurie for some applicable personal experiences (since I am too nervous to watch Looper). I think you're right to say that we tend to dig in our heels and pretend otherwise when anyone suggests that we can somehow be consciously or unconsciously manipulated by the media. I wonder, then, can we link third-person effect to egocasting?