A review of Stever, G. S., Giles, D. C., Cohen, J. D., and Myers, M.E. (2022). Understanding media psychology. Routledge. 326 pp. ISBN 9780367518974 (pbk). $59.95 (pbk).
A sign of a maturing discipline is that its scholarly supports are in place. When one thinks of psychology’s recently emerging subdisciplines, one may easily think of the founding of Positive Psychology about 20 years ago by Martin E. P. Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, with an article and special issue of APA’s American Psychologist devoted to the topic in 2000, as well as other kick-off events, including think tanks at Akumal and Summits at Gallup in Washington, D.C. Today, in 2021, positive psychology can point to its own journal (Journal of Positive Psychology), as well as ample Handbooks and Encyclopedias, as well as regular specialty conferences. A major milestone for a new subdiscipline is the publication of a textbook devoted to the new discipline, and positive psychology can now brag at least a half dozen suitable for classroom use (Rich, 2011).
Media Psychology, another relatively recent addition to the list of psychology’s subdisciplines, has been a division of APA for about 34 years, since 1986. Relevant specialty journals include Journal of Media Psychology (1998-2014), Celebrity Studies (2010-present), and APA’s topic journal, Psychology of Popular Media Culture (founded in 2011, and re-titled Psychology of Popular Media since 2020). Like most APA divisions, Division 46 sponsors programming at the APA Annual Conference every August, and there is presently precisely one APA-accredited doctorate in media psychology (Fielding University). Media psychology’s first textbook arguably is Media Psychology by David Giles (2003), and Chris Ferguson’s Media Psychology 101 (2015) may also be considered a potential textbook. In 2014 the Oxford Handbook of Media Psychology (Dill, 2014) was published, and 2021, heralded the publication of the International Encyclopedia of Media Psychology, with over 2,000 pages (Van den Bulck, 2021). Given the pervasive nature of many types of media in the USA and internationally in 2021, it is surprising indeed that more academic programs, textbooks, and standalone media psychology conferences have not yet been realized, perhaps especially in light of positive psychology’s rapid growth. Thus, it is in this sociocultural-historical context, that is an authentic pleasure to welcome a new much-needed book to the landscape of Media Psychology. Kudos to Stever, Giles, Cohen, and Myers for producing a desperately needed textbook, Understanding Media Psychology for psychology!
This book is sensibly organized and covers the main content areas that most media psychologists would agree merit full chapter coverage. After an introductory overview chapter, the authors devote the next chapter to a discussion of key theories/concepts in media psychology and appropriately include relevant concepts/theories regarding media from non-psychologists when warranted. The next chapter focuses on research methods, including not only quantitative methods, but also qualitative methods and techniques especially relevant to media psychology, along with discussions of ethics, and future directions. The rest of the book’s chapters each focus on a key area of media psychology, so there are chapters on social justice and the media (gender/class/disability), social justice and the media (race/ethnicity/religion), media’s influence and advertising, propaganda (including fake news/deepfaking), audience processes, the dark side of media (e.g., violence, pornography, and addition), the psychology of gaming, the social nature of media, future directions, positive psychology, and even a chapter on COVID-19 and the media.
The present book is extremely student-friendly with all the bells and whistles the students- and instructors- have come to expect, such as a glossary of key terms at the start of each chapter and lists of thought-provoking “Questions for Thought and Discussion” at the end of each chapter that could easily become discussion starters or even possible exam essay questions. Each chapter also includes colorful special topic/special interest breakout boxes that offer capsule descriptions of a veritable plethora of attention-worthy and timely focused topic descriptions. The end of each chapter includes not only the list of references to the in-text citations for that chapter, but most chapters also include a list of “Recommended Readings,” usually three to five key sources, that I suspect students may find excellent starting points for related term papers or class presentations and so on.
If there is a quibble with this extraordinary book, it may simply be there isn’t enough of it; at just over 300 pages, some instructors may find they will want to supplement this textbook with articles, or perhaps a topic-focused book such as media and violence, or psychology in film (e.g., Wedding & Niemiec, 2015). One advantage to this degree of brevity is it should make it easier for the coauthors to expand their book into a much welcome revised edition in several years. This first edition demonstrates the future of media psychology is bright indeed!
Dill, K. E. (2014). The Oxford handbook of media psychology. Oxford.
Ferguson, C. (2015). Media psychology 101. Springer.
Giles, D. (2003). Media psychology. Routledge.
Niemiec, R., & Wedding, D. (2014). Positive psychology at the movies (2nd Ed.). Hogrefe.
Rich, G. (2011). Teaching tools for positive psychology: A comparison of available textbooks. Journal of Positive Psychology, 6(6),492-498. doi:10.1080/17439760.2011.634824
Van den Bulck, J. (Ed.). (2021). The international encyclopedia of media psychology. Wiley Blackwell. Wedding, D., & Niemiec, R. (2015). Movies and mental illness (2nd Ed). Hogrefe.