Amanda Tinkle: So I'm just to start off, can you go ahead and discuss your field of expertise related to how media consumption kind of affects individuals?
Weaver: Sure. So my research background is on media psychology, so are in the area of media psychology, I should say. So studying how media impact cognition and emotion and looking at the way audiences process, the content that they see in the media. So I've looked at things like the impact of media violence, I've looked at how race operates in a media context, in terms of both what audiences might be interested in consuming, and also in terms of how it affects things like stereotyping and prejudice. And I've looked at moral psychology in the context of media. So how it affects our moral judgments and how we, how we just make moral judgments in the first place in the context of, say, observing characters or engaging with characters in a video game context.
Kate O'Brien: Before I ask you- and speak to you I have to unmute, it's really– almost gonna have a conversation to no one. I think that's a really good thing to talk about, though really interesting as well. Something that I actually wanted to ask you about, kind of based on what you were just telling us about is would you be able to describe kind of your course that talks about introduction to media psychology, and sort of how media and human psychology sort of intersect, if you could?
Weaver: Sure. And that's a great question. And thinking about the kind of this, that is media effects in the context of how our brain works, and how we process information just in the world around us, I think is really important. And one of the things we talk about a lot in that class is that our brains don't operate differently, just because something is mediated, right, we don't have a separate part of our brain that that is responsible for processing social media messages or processing television images are, or whatever it might be, we process those using the same framework as we do for our, quote, unquote, real world interactions. And so understanding how emotion works and understanding how cognition happens, and understanding information processing from a broader perspective really helps us understand what the impact of media might be on those processes. And so that's, that's our approach in that class. And my broader approach, and my research as well is just thinking about thinking about the impact of media through that psychological lens.
Amanda Tinkle: Yeah, and I think I took your class, I think, last, when I was online, asynchronous last summer, I think, or last spring, and I really enjoyed the class. And one of the things that I remember so vividly, as we talked about is the consumption of media in childhood, and how that affects us. So I was wondering if you could go into like that, and explaining how the consumption of media affects us as children and as we grew up, and how that has shaped who we are in terms of identity and our development?
Weaver: Sure. And so I think that's a big topic, right? We can spend, there are courses on just children in media, in the Media School. But in a nutshell, I think that the most important thing is that media is a source of information for us. And so as children certainly even as adults, really we're constantly craving information for example, about social situations about well, anything really that we don't have experience with firsthand, and media provides us with this, right? And so one thing you notice with kids, for example, is that they are all else being equal most attracted to content that features characters that are just a few years older than they are.
They don't they prefer that to content with characters their age, and certainly to characters that are younger. And one reason for that is that they're using it to to learn even if not unconsciously, there's they're still using that as a way to get information right about what's it like, for four year old what's it going to be like to go to kindergarten for a sixth grader? What's it going to be like to be in middle school for middle schooler? What's gonna be like In high school, you know, at every level, there's- there's all of these unknowns about what you might experience and we crave information about that.
And so we seek that sort of thing out. I know my kids now they love watching YouTube videos, and YouTubers and tik talkers and all of that kind of stuff. And in the content that they're watching, it follows that same pattern, right? It's it's kids that are just a little bit older than them. And, you know, they're, it's, it's, for an older person, it mostly just looks like nonsense, right? Like, and you wonder why in the world, would they voluntarily consume this kind of content where people are just screaming at the, at the camera and whatnot. But it provides a useful, again, set of information, whether that information is accurate or not, is another question and a potential concern. But they're learning about how slightly older people act and interact with others. And that's useful.
Kate O'Brien: Reflecting on that, and and honestly, one of the questions that I had, one of the big debates that I feel that is happening in media today is is taking on sort of violent content, or violent media, which I know is something that you have been studying and working on. And some of that I was curious about is based on some of your research, where you focus on media violence, and you focus on on sort of video games as well. Could you maybe discuss some of the results of your studies? And also, maybe your thoughts on the question of, if violent video games or violent media does shape children or people who consume it? How, how are they shaped? And how does that actually change them?
Weaver: Oh, great question. And, and, you know, it's a, it's, as with most things, and we look at human behavior, it's complicated. But the impact is a very subtle one, there is an impact of consuming violent content, but it's, it's not. It's never going to be the case that somebody say watches a violent movie or plays a violent video game and then just randomly starts aggressing against like the roommates or others that they might encounter. We're not sort of mindless zombies in that way. And sometimes that's the way people talk about the effect, and I don't, well, I know that that kind of thing generally doesn't happen. What's much more likely to have an impact is that or I should say, the way this is much more likely to happen is that we, again, we learn from the information presented, that violence is appropriate.
And contexts– it's acceptable in certain contexts, because most of the violence we consume, whether that is in violent video games, or violent movies or TV, it's glamorized, it's justified, it's perpetrated by heroic characters, it's it's generally treated positively, we don't often see consequences. We don't see the harm that's caused. In fact, sort of ironically, I guess the thing that most say parents are concerned about is graphicness is showing that harm in in realistic ways. That's what they don't want their kids exposed to. But because of that, we get the sanitized version, which reduces our inhibitions against aggression.
So if you think about how aggression works in the moment, right, we we have violent impulses, often, right? That comes from a very primitive part of the brain. Anytime we perceive provocation, that's a possible automatic sort of response is that we want to punch the person in the face that that did whatever to us, right? Or we want to do something to them. And most of the time, in fact, almost all of the time that we have these impulses, we don't act upon them, right, what's maybe remarkable is that we aren't violent more often than we are I mean, we can all probably think about times in the last few days where it's like, gosh, I would like to just, you know, resolve to this provocation that this person perpetrated against me with with a violent act, but we don't we inhibit the there's a more advanced part of the brain, a more developed part of the brain executive center, that is going to take those primitive impulses to aggress and is going to say, You know what, that's probably not the right way to respond here, there are going to be consequences to my actions there. The other person might respond with violence.
There's a lot of reasons right that we would inhibit those impulses. And so we don't act. If we're constantly getting information however, that violence is okay, violence is acceptable violence is a good thing. Right, then that can start to break down those inhibitions, it doesn't guarantee we're going to behave with aggression. It just makes it less likely that we would inhibit those violent impulses in the moment.
Kate O'Brien: That's a really interesting response. And honestly, is a good response is considering that I've heard a lot of content about how– it's interesting, because I've heard a lot of content about how video games and sometimes violent video games can can cheap identity can shape development can shape how people act. And so while I definitely agree, this is definitely a very complex subject, because humanity itself is complex. I think this is a great way to continue that conversation. And to keep talking about how, especially as video games develop, especially as we release more content, we release more media, and some of it is violent, I think it's really interesting to be able to talk more about that and to be able to understand sort of who we are as people and how we develop and how sometimes media can and sometimes it doesn't play a role in all of that.
Weaver: Absolutely. And there's a huge caveat with video games to where you really have to understand how people are processing what they're playing, right? So what might look violent to an observer, like somebody's playing Call of Duty and just mowing down soldiers left and right, if the player isn't processing those acts as violence, right, if if these are just tasks I have to complete to get to the next level. And I'm just pushing buttons to make those things go away so that I can move forward. And and I'm not thinking about it, I'm not processing it as I'm trying to hurt these other characters, then the violence in the video games would have no impact, because it wouldn't affect that process at all. It wouldn't. It wouldn't relate to inhibition of violent impulses, for example, it wouldn't influence our perception of, of hostile attribution, that is how violent other people might be. So it doesn't affect the process in any way. If we don't if we don't process that immediate act of violence.
So that's another complication to think about is well, how are we? How are we processing the content? And how is the player in this case now with the with the television show, say it's hard to take a violent act and perceive it as anything but a violent act, right. But games are different in that context. And so it's, it's worth thinking about that. And we have the same kind of, I mean, if you were to survey just a bunch of parents say about what kinds of video game content they're most concerned about. It would be again, that type of video game with that displayed consequences that showed people in agony, say from from being injured, in pain, it's the uncomfortable stuff. But that is a little bit counter productive. They have to worry about that. Because the fact that it is uncomfortable is actually a good thing, I would argue, right, because that is forcing us to think about the fact that you know, violence isn't a good response. And violence has consequences, it actually builds up the inhibitions rather than breaking them down. So you have to really address each of those sorts of elements to understand what the effect might be. And it's not a clear cut. Violence is bad, or violence is good. Or violence has a strong effect of all it has no effect. It's in the middle somewhere in the sort of messy area. When we think about impact.
Kate O'Brien: That's really interesting. And I think honestly, that's a that's a good thing to divide between is talking about video game content, and also, like television, movie content, and how different that is, especially because as we consume both medias that implores us to react differently and also adapt through it differently. So I think that's actually a really good point to make, especially in terms of understanding how vast media is, and also have different edits in general. Something I did want to ask sort of talking actually about media consumption. Sort of, I guess my question is sort of with new sort of algorithms, does media consumption reflect an individual's identity, or to some degree perhaps influence it, especially in this day and age.
Weaver: I think it's both. I think it's a it's a process that works in both ways. We were talking about children earlier, I mean, I think, part of the process of building an identity, I mean, that's something that is an ongoing process that happens over time, right? So we don't spring from the womb with her already fully formed sense of who we are. That develops and especially developed starting around 678 years old, and through adolescence, right?
Kids are really starting to break away from from their family sort of identity and start to forge their own. And media plays a really important role in giving, giving us sort of a template to guide us, right, if we think about how much we use media to define ourselves in terms of our musical tastes in terms of our favorite TV shows and movies, and do we play video games or not to what social media sites to use, right? If, if you're talking to somebody, for the first time to get a sense of who they are? These are all questions that you ask right? Like, what kind of music do you like? What kind of TV shows do you watch? What Youtubers do you follow?
I'm showing my age here. So I don't know all the specifics there. But that, that becomes part of who you are. Right. And it's not entirely the case that media shapes the identity, obviously, we're playing a role in terms of seeking out certain kinds of content. But it does give us a guide to follow, right, like if we're, if we and our friends and adolescents and middle school all listen to country music, let's say then, that is like a ready made identity package in terms of not just what you listen to, but how do you dress? And how do you talk? And what kinds of things do you do in your free time and, and so we can use that as almost a script, right to build an identity, especially when we're still trying to figure out who it is that we actually are. So I do think that that plays an important role.
Amanda Tinkle: Definitely. And now, with like, whenever I was in high school, I don't think that we'd got like things like Chromebooks and things like that until I was in sixth grade. But now these, there's kindergarteners that are starting out with it, kids in preschool going out with it, but way before they go to school, they're starting out with technology and using iPads, cell phones, Chromebooks, and as a learning tool and a learning process. And I was wondering if you had an thoughts or any information about how these kinds of devices like iPads affect learning and development? Is it a really positive or really negative or kind of effects that have on like development of children?
Weaver: I think that the technology itself is neutral. Right? It all depends on how you use it, right? And how people use it. And that's one of the things and we talked about this a little bit in my class as well. But this is one of the things that people tend to get a little bit too excited about, or too concerned about what technology is impacted. There's a lot of hyperbole about technology and what it's doing to us. And with every new technology, even going all the way back to when newspapers started being a thing, right? You have this pretty vocal group that is concerned about how this is changing things for the worse. And so we see a lot of that kind of thing that complaints about how, say your generation is always buried on their phones and how social medias is ruining things, and, and all of this other kind of stuff.
And again, bringing it back to sort of a media psychology point of view, where we're still using the same brain to process all of this, we still have the same basic needs and goals and our emotions are still driven by the same sorts of stimuli and so on and so on. Right? It's the technology doesn't change our brains. The fact that you know, now smartphones exist doesn't mean that our brains are different now than they were 30 years ago. The fact that kids back to your question, how have access to iPads and Chromebooks and things like that at an early age, and they're using that to get their lessons isn't inherently good or bad. It's just a more efficient way to deliver certain kinds of information that said, that there are good and bad ways to use the technology.
And if we think about kids, especially in the learning context, seeking information and trying to trying to find things that are going to aid in their development and their understanding, they're certainly content that they can access online say that is not going to be very useful. And in fact, it could be kind of harmful in terms of setting up problematic perceptions, they have certain groups, problematic scripts for how to interact with other people. I mean, there's, there's, you know, we all know, right, that there's a lot of advice and information out there that is going to be potentially very harmful, and kids can access that much more effectively and efficiently now than they ever could. And so that's, that's the big change, by the same token, right, they can access really useful information much more easily than they ever could. And so we do have to be careful with the technology that we've given them and we have to think about, you know, how they are actually using it and what they're actually consuming. But it could have had really positive effects as well.
Amanda Tinkle: Yeah, I 100% agree with that. But technology is neutral and just like technology has given us faster comeback. So here's technology being your psychology being neutral-
Kate O'Brien: It didn't like that. We were talking about technology. And so apparently, it was like, Oh, you guys have decided to discuss degree sentient This is a start of technology taking over. Alright, I'm gonna use my other technologies, see if I could get her back... come back! Oh. There will be around here with us. All right, while we wait for Amanda to resurface, I will ask I will ask one of the– one of our our final questions. And it's a bit of a bit of a big one, so I feel free to expand on this as much as you'd like.
I feel compelled to ask, so– so what does our media consumption mean? Sort of on a grander scale of like humanity and society? Sort of asking like, how have these technological advances kind of changed people and sort of our societal views in general, especially as we develop into sort of like social media, for more more content and being accessible to a new generation, kind of what does all of that mean, on our grander scale of things?
Weaver: There is a big question. And I think, again, it's it's really, at its core, all the new media technologies that that we have access to just make us more efficient. If you think about dating, for example, now people there's a lot of like apocalyptic articles that I keep seeing about like how dating for a new generation is sort of ruined and Tinder and the like, have– have destroyed sort of how social relationships work and that sort of thing. And the real impact has not been to change, things like our motivations for being in relationships, our goals for what we get out of these social relationships. Or even what you know, we're looking for, say in a partner and other kinds of context, it's really more about making it easier to have access to lots of different people and lots of different types of relationships and so on, so forth.
Now, that increase in efficiency can have harmful impact. Again, it can It can drive certain people further apart in certain kinds of contexts it can you know, if a person isn't motivated, say to get in a long term relationship, it can, it can make them more selective and choosey in, it can make it harder to find compatibility people less willing to compromise, for example, and certainly like what they're looking for in relationships, because the pool is perceived to be so large, but the psychological core hasn't really changed. And so I think, life today looks a lot different than it did 10-20, certainly 50-60 years ago, in terms of how we spend our time, for example, and even the kinds of screens that we might be looking at, and where we get information, etc.
But most of that most of those things are surface level changes. You know, we're still looking for the same kinds of things out of life, if you want to talk about this on a really grand scale, we still have the same kinds of big picture hopes and dreams, we still are looking for the same kinds of big picture gratifications. And those aren't going to go away. Right? It's, if we can find a way to fulfill those gratifications in a mediated way, then we will, because it's easier. If we can't, then we will look elsewhere. So it's it. It feels like there's these big upheavals, and it feels like there's this huge change in terms of, of how people spend their time, and so on. And certainly there are changes. But it's not quite as paradigm shifting, I think is it's often talked about.
Kate O'Brien: It's good to reflect on that, I think that's good to talk about, especially in a digital era. Yeah, for most journalism students, almost every article that I've read on media is about media on the change of the world. Everything's changing. Ah, I've been it's crazy. There's media, Instagram pages, and there's this, this whole, almost epiphany of the fact that like, media is changing. So what does that mean? And so I think that's a really good, I completely agree with you.
And I think that's a really good comment to have about how we, as people based on our identity, and based on our sort of, like morals, and goals, and narratives certainly have changed over time, and will certainly continue to do so. But the factors that we determined change, those things are not so black and white, or so cut one and done. And so I think that's a really good comment to talk about how how media is definitely changing and how we as people are definitely changing, and those are connected to a degree, but that we all kind of change progressively.
And I think that's... I don't know, I think it's a really interesting comment to have. And I think it's really good to talk about how, how everything is changing, and kind of what that means. And definitely trends of, of consumption of media and how we've been consuming media since decades, and decades and centuries ago. And so I think it's really good common to have in terms of talking about that. Yeah.
Weaver: One of the things also to think about, and one of the things that maybe we need to do a better job of teaching like kids, and so on is, is that we do have so much more choice available to us in terms of the kinds of information that we have access to, right. I mean, it used to be pretty straightforward, where we get information about the world. We'd only have a few media outlets and parents and friends and siblings and so on. That would that would kind of inform our worldview. Now, like you can, you can find anything, right anywhere pretty easily. And as we were saying some of its going to be good and accurate and useful and productive way to sort of inform yourself about the world and some of us not.
And so trying to understand, you know, the implications of that, of having all of that choice and how we can make good choices in that context becomes really important. That's a skill that kids need now that that like we didn't need when I was a Good, because there wasn't enough choice for that to be an issue. But now, right? I mean, we need to, we need to be able to figure that out. And things like truth, right become important issues to consider, and, and what that means and things like identity become important issues to consider and to think about in that broader context of an abundance of choice.
Kate O'Brien: That’s great, well thank you so much for telling us all this information. I really appreciate you coming out here and talking to us about this. I think understanding media consumption and understanding… understanding sort of how we develop especially in terms of media psychology in children is really important discussion to have. Especially as we look at a new generation and as we look at people even who are college students coming into college and understanding what it means to consume more media I think is a really good discussion to have. And I just wanted to say thank you so much for coming out and having this conversation with us!
Weaver: Sure it’s my pleasure. Amanda you got cut off was there anything that you wanted to…?
Amanda Tinkle: Yes I did! I have to say my internet is not great. But I just want to say thank you for joining us and we enjoyed having this conversation and I learned so much which is why I wanted to be able to interview you today so, thank you again for just joining us.
Weaver: Sure yes. Sorry you had to take the class during zoom and not in-person. I feel like I’ve gotten real used to this background that I’ve got here but yeah... but yeah, I’m glad you liked it and thanks for inviting me.
Kate O'Brien: Alright, thank you so much!
Weaver: Sure. And if there's anything else you need just let me know.
Amanda Tinkle: Alright thank you.
Kate O'Brien: Thank you!