Chapter 6
Where Next?

In her comments, Wartella observed that new researchers are increasingly drawn to study media and their potential effects, and this new generation has brought different perspectives about how to measure, what to measure, and how studies should be designed. The preponderance of existing media research has focused on television viewing, but the research models developed for that purpose may have limited value in studying new, very different kinds of media—and different kinds of questions about their effects. The field is in need, she explained, of some consensus and guidelines about methods and standards of evidence, particularly because of the intense public interest in and press coverage of findings about media exposure. In the current budgetary climate, funding for large-scale research studies on children and media is uncertain, although bills have been proposed to foster studies in this area. In the interim, researchers in this field will need to proceed without extensive public support to develop consensus about research agendas, methods, and designs.

KEY THEMES

Several key themes emerged in the discussions that provided a basis for formulating areas of future interest and attention.

First, current media studies focus predominantly on process measures (exposure, content, and other media features). Although these dimensions are important, the field lacks a deeper understanding of the underlying biological, cognitive, and developmental mechanisms that may affect the experience with the timing, duration, or content of media influences. Limited opportunities exist for media researchers to interact with colleagues from these other fields, and few research studies have emerged that build from truly interdisciplinary work.

Second, linking the study of process measures with theory-driven research will require more attention to experimental and longitudinal research designs. If current measures of media exposure and content are “close enough” to achieve reliability and consistency across study designs, researchers can turn their attention to other, more important questions that can deepen understanding of important social phenomena.

Third, emerging theory and interdisciplinary research designs also need to address the increasing proliferation and complexity of highly versatile media technology. Measures that were initially developed for studies of television viewing must be adapted to capture the new features of cable television, TiVo, iPods, and other digital technologies that emphasize the power of choice, selection, and customizing media preferences.

Fourth, although most media research with children focuses on school-age and adolescent populations, a virtual explosion of media exposure has occurred among very young children. The ubiquity of media exposure and the rapid pace of developmental



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Studying Media Effects on Children and Youth: Improving Methods and Measures - Workshop Summary Chapter 6 Where Next? In her comments, Wartella observed that new researchers are increasingly drawn to study media and their potential effects, and this new generation has brought different perspectives about how to measure, what to measure, and how studies should be designed. The preponderance of existing media research has focused on television viewing, but the research models developed for that purpose may have limited value in studying new, very different kinds of media—and different kinds of questions about their effects. The field is in need, she explained, of some consensus and guidelines about methods and standards of evidence, particularly because of the intense public interest in and press coverage of findings about media exposure. In the current budgetary climate, funding for large-scale research studies on children and media is uncertain, although bills have been proposed to foster studies in this area. In the interim, researchers in this field will need to proceed without extensive public support to develop consensus about research agendas, methods, and designs. KEY THEMES Several key themes emerged in the discussions that provided a basis for formulating areas of future interest and attention. First, current media studies focus predominantly on process measures (exposure, content, and other media features). Although these dimensions are important, the field lacks a deeper understanding of the underlying biological, cognitive, and developmental mechanisms that may affect the experience with the timing, duration, or content of media influences. Limited opportunities exist for media researchers to interact with colleagues from these other fields, and few research studies have emerged that build from truly interdisciplinary work. Second, linking the study of process measures with theory-driven research will require more attention to experimental and longitudinal research designs. If current measures of media exposure and content are “close enough” to achieve reliability and consistency across study designs, researchers can turn their attention to other, more important questions that can deepen understanding of important social phenomena. Third, emerging theory and interdisciplinary research designs also need to address the increasing proliferation and complexity of highly versatile media technology. Measures that were initially developed for studies of television viewing must be adapted to capture the new features of cable television, TiVo, iPods, and other digital technologies that emphasize the power of choice, selection, and customizing media preferences. Fourth, although most media research with children focuses on school-age and adolescent populations, a virtual explosion of media exposure has occurred among very young children. The ubiquity of media exposure and the rapid pace of developmental

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Studying Media Effects on Children and Youth: Improving Methods and Measures - Workshop Summary changes in infants and toddlers introduce new complexities in understanding the pathways by which media influences may interact with developmental stages. Fifth, new research designs are emerging that make it possible to infer causal relationships from nonexperimental data. Methods drawn from social epidemiology and environmental studies offer a unique opportunity to strengthen the quality and rigor of current and future media research designs. These methods are especially valuable in examining conditions in which it is not possible to isolate certain media exposures or to establish control conditions because of the pervasiveness of the media environment. SUGGESTED RESEARCH TOPICS In the course of the discussions, a number of participants offered suggestions for specific research topics that deserve further exploration, including: how children and adolescents watch television and how viewing habits can be improved; the potential benefits of media consumption; interventions that might dilute negative effects or promote positive ones; how family contexts influence the impact of media exposure on children’s health outcomes; how people choose media experiences; documentation of what aspects of contemporary media have negative or positive effects on development, at what ages they have those effects, and what individual or familial characteristics affect risk or opportunity for benefit; whether appropriate use of educational video games increases language acquisition and reading in preschool children; and whether modeling appropriate eating and sexual practices reduces obesity and risky sexual behaviors. This brief sampling of the kinds of issues researchers want to explore suggests that the field has much work to do, but several larger themes emerged as well. First, many participants noted that a greater degree of interdisciplinary cooperation, as is common in research on diet and nutrition, would be very useful in media research. Communications, economics, neuroscience, pediatrics, psychology, psychiatry, sociology, all have valuable contributions to make, but not all have been as involved in media research as they could be. Several participants pointed out structural problems, such as lack of funding and a dearth of younger researchers, that have limited both this kind of cooperation and the growth of the field. Others focused on methodological challenges, such as the kinds of validation studies that are needed and the question of the degree of precision that is needed in measuring exposure. For Vandewater, for example, priorities in the field should be nationally representative samples, longitudinal designs, samples incorporating very young children, the inclusion of family context and interaction measures, a focus on program and game content, and the inclusion of appropriate covariates. Others focused on practical concerns. For them, ways to influence two key targets—parents and producers of media—should be the guiding goal of media research.

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Studying Media Effects on Children and Youth: Improving Methods and Measures - Workshop Summary There is a need to incorporate this nearly universal activity into what is already known about children’s development. The isolation of media research studies from other fields could be addressed if better links to basic developmental, psychological, or social processes could be established. This would make it easier to offer credible and effective guidance and tools to parents, policy makers, and those who control media content.