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Explaining adolescents' media use and differential susceptibility to the association between media use and risk behavior: a reinforcement sensitivity perspective.

In general consensus exists regarding the hypothesis that different people select different types of media and that the exposure to different media contents influences different people in different ways. Therefore, many studies have been conducted throughout the years that looked into the link between personality and media use on the one hand and the role of personality in explaining media effects on the other hand. Most of these studies operationalized personality from the perspective of rather descriptive models such as the Five Factor model or selected specific traits such as aggressiveness and sensation seeking. In the current PhD an alternative account on personality is integrated by using the perspective of the Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory. According to this theory, neuropsychological processes lie on the basis of differences in personality between individuals. More specific, two important systems can be distinguished: the behavioral activation(BAS) and the behavioral inhibition system (BIS). BAS in activated by positive stimuli that are associated with reward. Exposure to these types of stimuli leads to approach behavior in the direction of the positive, rewarding stimulus. BIS is activated by negative stimuli that are associated with punishment. Exposure to these stimuli can lead to inhibition behavior and avoidance of situations in which punishment-related stimuli could be presented. Given that BAS peaks during adolescence, while BIS matures at a slower pace makes these systems especially interesting and important to examine in adolescent samples.

The Differential Susceptibility to Media Effects Model assigns two important roles to personality within media research; a first role as a predictor of media use and second as a moderator of media effects. The goal of this PhD was to examine these role by operationalizing personality from the perspective of the reinforcement sensitivity theory and by integrating BAS and BIS both as predictors and moderators in media research. More specifically, chapter 1 and 2 of the PhD focused on the question whether BAS and BIS are related to violent and nonviolent types of media use. The results indicated that higher scores on BAS are positively associated with watching violent movies and playing violent games, which was in line with the proposed hypotheses. The link between BAS/BIS and nonviolent types of media use was less clear. No link was found between these personality traits and watching nonviolent movies. A positive association was found between BAS and playing nonviolent games, as well as a positive association between BIS and playing this type of games. Although more research on the link between these concepts and different types of media use is warranted, chapter 1 and 2 of this PhD do show the value of the reinforcement sensitivity theory for explaining differences in media use. Especially for violent forms of media use, BAS and BIS appear to be important indicators that provide new insights regarding which individuals use or don’t use these types of media.

The question whether BAS and BIS act as moderators of media effects as well besides as predictors of media use was examined in chapter 3, 4 and 5 of the current PhD. Research from the domains of psychology and public health already showed that BAS and BIS are strongly linked to health related risk behaviors such as unhealthy eating, smoking and alcohol use. This PhD, therefore, focused on the role of BAS and BIS in some traditional media effects on these health behaviors: the link between soap opera viewing and alcohol attitudes (chapter 3), the link between MTV reality shows and intentions towards smoking, getting drunk and binge drinking (chapter 4) and the link between gaming and unhealthy snacking (chapter 5). Two main hypotheses were tested throughout these chapters. First of all, it was hypothesized that adolescents with higher scores on BAS are more sensitive for the influence of the media on health behavior given that they are likely to be more attentive to media messages portraying alcohol and smoking, for instance, in a positive way. Second, it was expected that adolescents with higher scores on BIS would be more aware of the potential negative consequences of health related risk behaviors in the media, and that BIS would thus serve a protecting factor in media effects. The results showed, however, that BAS and BIS in general do not moderate the examined associations between media and health. Only in chapter 3 it was established that BIS can serve as a protector in the association between soap opera viewing and more positive attitudes towards alcohol. 

Date:1 Oct 2013 →  14 Jun 2017
Keywords:media effects
Disciplines:Communication sciences, Journalism and professional writing, Media studies, Other media and communications
Project type:PhD project