The Payne Fund Studies

Now that we have examined the three phases of media education in the United States, I thought it would be interesting to investigate some specific studies of media effects throughout history.  We will look to see if an increased focus on media literacy has led to different results.

Let’s begin with one of the first large scale studies of media influence: the Payne Fund studies than ran from 1929-1932.  These studies aimed to uncover the influences of movies on children.  Remember, the inoculation phase did not start until the 1960’s, so at this time media education simply did not exist.

According to Louisiana State University professor, Melvin DeFleur (2010), the Payne Fund studies aimed to analyze these issues (p. 140):

  • the content and themes of 1,500 films
  • the frequency of attendance of different age groups of children
  • the retention of factual information from films
  • the influence of films on children’s attitudes towards racial and ethnic groups
  • the capacity of films to arouse children’s emotions
  • how certain films interrupted children’s sleep
  • the influence of films on childrens’ morality
  • the relationship between film exposure and certain types of behavior

At the conclusion of the studies, the researchers were able to overwhelmingly agree that the films were having strong influences on children (DeFleur, 2010, p. 140).  The results caused panic among the public and even aided in the addition of a governing code for the movie industry to follow (DeFleur, 2010, p. 140).

While future research (some that we will examine) produced contradictory results to the Payne Fund studies, it is interesting to note the correlation between the strong media influence found in this study and the complete lack of media education in the classroom.

While critics said the studies used sub-par methodological standards (Defleur, 2010, p. 140) perhaps at this time film actually did have a strong influence on children.  Film was still a relatively new medium at the time of this study (1929-1932) and children were not being educated about any medium at all.  Could media illiteracy have led to these results? There’s no way to know for sure but the possibility cannot be overlooked.


DeFleur, M. L. (2010). A Selective and Limited Influences Theory. In . Karen Bowers (Ed.), Mass Communications Theories: Explaining Origins, Processes, and Effects (p. 140). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.



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One Response to The Payne Fund Studies

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