New Year, Same Results?

In previous posts we have covered the three phases of media education in the United States: the inoculation phase, the facing-it phase, and the transitional phase. We have also discussed one of the earliest large scale study of media effects on children.

The inoculation phase was the first phase of media education in the United States and it began in the late 1960’s.  Before this time, media simply was not part of the educational curriculum (Walsh). This phase was characterized by a belief that the media was very powerful and had great influence on children. Because of this belief, educators  decided to bring media into the classroom. However, educators did not aim to increase media literacy at this time. Instead, educators chose to implement media into the classroom simply to ridicule it in an attempt to devalue it as a whole.

Then, in the 1970’s media education in the United States entered it’s second stage: the facing-it phase. In this phase, educators began to use popular mass media to entice students to study other areas of media. In this stage, teachers used hit songs and popular movies to gain the attention of their students before moving to more classical studies (Guo-Ming, 2007).  Moreover, this phase also marked a shift from simply bringing media into the classroom towards true media literacy education. During this phase students attempted to answer important ideological questions about the media to help “cultivate a critical view of mass media” (Guo-Ming, 2007).

This phase lasted until the late 1980’s when the transitional phase began. It was during this phase that media literacy became a prominent and well-known issue. This phase, which remains in effect today, aims to “empower students, or viewers, critically process the media messages” (Guo-Ming, 2007).  During this phase, media literacy began to spread beyond the classroom as media literacy conferences, meetings, and associations began to appear.

After laying out these three phases we examined one of the earliest large scale studies of media effects: the Payne Fund Studies. These studies took place from1929 to 1932–a time when media literacy was simply not taught in the classroom.  Specifically, the Payne Fund studies examined the influence of films on children.  The researchers of these studies concluded that films had a strong influence on children (DeFleur, 2010, p. 140).

Now, given these results are nearly 80 years old and came at a time when there simply was no media education, I thought it would be interesting to compare them to a study that came during the transition phase–a time where media literacy education has become an important issue.

In 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics also performed a study on how films influence children.  This study was more specific than the Payne Fund studies and aimed to uncover how depictions of cigarette smoking in movies influence children. At the end of the study the researchers concluded that:

Early exposure has as much influence on smoking risk as does exposure nearer the outcome. Overall, movie smoking may be responsible for at least one third of smoking initiation for children in this age group (Titus-Ernstoff et al., 2008).

Although nearly 80 years after the Payne studies and at a time where media literacy has become a prominent issue, this study came to a similar conclusion that films can heavily influence children.

Does this mean our efforts to increase media literacy have failed? I wouldn’t go that far, but it seems clear that mediums such as film can still be very influential to children.  To move forward, media literacy education must continue to evolve and become an even more prominent aspect of United States educational curriculum–especially at the elementary level.


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.

Guo-Ming, C. (2007). Media (Literacy) Education in the United States. China Media Research, 3(3), 87-103. Retrieved from Communication & Mass Media Complete database.

Titus-Ernstoff, L., Dalton, M., Adachi-Mejia, A., Longacre, M., & Beach, M. (2008). Longitudinal study of viewing smoking in movies and initiation of smoking by children. Pediatrics, 121(1), 15-21. doi:10.1542/peds.2007-0051.

Walsh, B. (n.d.)  A Brief History of Media Education. Retrieved October 24, 2010, from




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