President’s Column: Media Psychology in 2015

Bernard Luskin

Bernard Luskin

Why media psychology is an important tool for every psychologist!

Bernard Luskin, EdD 

Media Psychology in the Years Ahead

More than 15 years have passed since the 1998 milestone APA Media Psychology Division (46) Task Force Study I co-chaired with Lilli Friedland defining media psychology and new technologies was released. It became one of the studies that explained the diversification of media psychology. Through the years, many changes in technology have evolved. I am now completing the year as the 2014 President of the Society for Media Psychology and Technology, Division 46 of APA. This seems an appropriate time to describe media psychology from my view in being at its center as president throughout 2014.

This year, working with Mary Alvord, Past President, and Jerri Lynn Hogg, President-Elect, we were continually surprised at the realization that media psychology is still not well understood.  We have also spent the year reinforcing the reality that technology is inseparable from media psychology. In fact, this reality was one of the underlying reasons for the division’s name change from Media Psychology to Society for Media Psychology and Technology in 2012.

In today’s world, Media psychology is fundamental in social media. Telepsychology, teletherapy, online, blended and distance education, entertainment consulting, traditional media interviews, virtual and augmented reality, brand development, marketing, advertising, and product placement permeate all media.  Film analysis, media assisted rehabilitation, all manner of telecommunications, public health, public service, public policy including political campaigns, medical education and practice, and all forms of media publishing exemplify the wide reach of media psychology.  These are only some examples from the many that could be included in a description. APA also recognized that media psychology cuts across all specialties and divisions. Division 46 is the crossroads.

Theories in Psychology are Fundamental

Theories in psychology are fundamental to media and behavior. Psychology flows from the synthesis of philosophy and physiology. Media psychology flows from the application of theories in psychology to all media and technology. Specifically included are the use of pictures, graphics and sound in all forms of new communications technology. Media psychology is the interface between media and the human response. We learn psychology one theory at a time and the professional practice combines and applies theories to situations. Media Psychology represents the convergence of media, technology, communication, art, and science.

New Opportunities Abound

The “socio-psychomedia effect” now saturates society.  New career opportunities and positions are continually emerging. Burgeoning media industries have an increasing need for such professionals as solutions architects, highly developed practitioners and scholars who understand both theories in psychology and state-of-the-art communications technology. The new professionals include teachers, writers, producers, programmers, engineers, designers, directors, artists, cinematographers, public relations and advertising specialists, researchers and others who, more and more, study and apply media psychology in their work. Media psychology is increasingly important in polling, predicting, and as a force for good or evil. Think about the good and bad ways to “Wag the dog.”

Today’s educational institutions are in imminent need of new faculty and staff who understand higher concepts in media arts and sciences. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology now lights up brain response images so that we can better see, analyze and understand behavior. The study of media effects is fundamental to understanding emerging trends.  The future of society and social change is human centered and screen deep.

The 1998 Task Force Report

This early research revealed 12 major areas in which media psychology is fundamental:

  1. Consulting with media personnel.
  2. Researching ways to improve all forms of media.
  3. Making new technologies related to media more effective and user friendly.
  4. Using new technology in media to enhance the practice of clinical psychology.
  5. Most areas of education or training including delivery by traditional, blended and online methods.
  6. Developing media standards.
  7. Working in commercial fields.
  8. Studying the sociological, behavioral and psychological effects of media.
  9. Developing media materials for physically and developmentally challenged populations.
  10. Developing media materials for all underserved populations.
  11. Working with deviant or criminal populations.
  12. There are now many more areas of professional opportunity.


“Pscybermedia” is a neologism, i.e., a new term combining psychology, artificial intelligence (cybernetics) and media (pictures, graphics, and sound). Media psychology requires an understanding of the brain’s physical and emotional aspects.  Examples of applied media psychology theories include the psychology of emotions, control, expression, attention, presence, persuasion, sexuality, and gender. Media psychology encompasses the study of believability and the suspension of disbelief, situational cognition, assessment, learning, mapping, feedback, reinforcement, persistence, mastery, success, and failure.

Media psychology research involves the study of media effects, particularly sensory and cognitive processes. Media psychology is a fertile area needing extensive research. The large and exciting realm of effects research (how various news and entertainment media influence audience behavior, audience demographics and audience numbers) is important in today’s media saturated world.

The Specialty of Media Psychology is Evolving and Expanding

Much of the emphasis in psychology through the years has been on treatment through clinical psychology as the key area. As broader aspects of psychology gain attention, a new vision of the scholar/practitioner is emerging and understanding of the scope of media psychology has increased. Building programs that offer new opportunities in psychology applied in health services, public service and public policy, publishing, education, entertainment, and commerce opens a world of opportunity for those with a sound foundational understanding of media psychology because all fields will be affected.

The Scholar/Practitioner is Important

Thucydides, author of The History of the Peloponnesian War (431 BCE), is reputed to have said, “A nation that draws too broad a difference between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking being done by cowards, and its fighting done by fools.”

The Future of Media Psychology is Bright as a Sub-Specialty in Psychology

My themes for 2014 called for new courses and programs to be offered by colleges and universities. I urged those who are interested in being involved in the evolution of media psychology to join The Society of Media Psychology and Technology, Division 46 of the American Psychology Association as regular, associate or student members, and I argued that all media psychology programs should focus on individual theories in psychology applied to media.

I feel good about 2014. Membership has substantially increased and there are a number of new courses and programs. Media psychology continues to be increasingly pervasive and acknowledged. 2015 will build on all that I have described. We can look forward to the years ahead because media psychology is a specialty in psychology whose importance has become clear.   Media psychology has taken its place as a valuable tool for every psychologist.

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