Journal Issue: Children and Electronic Media Volume 18 Number 1 Spring 2008
Psycho-Social Predictors of Media Exposure
Researchers have examined several psychological variables related to young people's media use, including mental ability or academic performance, personal adjustment, and, more recently, sensation-seeking.
Researchers have long noted a negative link between television viewing and various indicators of children's intellectual abilities, a link fairly consistently supported with measures ranging from IQ and academic achievement test scores to school grades and, more recently, to children's self-reported school grades.39 The two Kaiser Family Foundation studies conducted with older youths find much the same pattern. That is, youngsters who reported earning the lowest grades in schools watch significantly more television than do those who earn higher grades.40 The 1999 data also found a moderate negative relationship between self-reported school grades and most other electronic media exposure, resulting in a significant negative link between grades and total media exposure. Somewhat surprisingly, in the 2004 data the negative pattern for other media and for overall media exposure is quite weak; that is, self-reported grades are not strongly linked with media exposure. Roberts and Foehr speculate that perhaps media have become such an integral part of most U.S. households that differences in exposure once related to academic performance are becoming attenuated.41 This possibility receives support from their finding that while there was no change from 1999 to 2004 in total media exposure reported by kids receiving “poor” or “fair” grades, among those who reported “good” grades overall, total media exposure increased by 0:43. That is, the difference in media exposure previously related to school grades was reduced to the point that it is no longer statistically significant. It seems, then, that although young people who achieve high grades continue to spend less time with media, the difference is not nearly as large as has been found in previous research.
Several early studies of children's television exposure found a negative link between amount of viewing and what researchers variously label as “personal adjustment,” “social adjustment,” or “contentedness.”42 In both the United States and Great Britain, children who were least secure, who had difficulties making friends, or who experienced some kind of family conflict tended to be among the heaviest users of television. Indeed, the negative relationships were so robust that George Comstock argues that heavy media use became “recognized as a possible symptom of personal maladjustment.” 43 The Kaiser Family Foundation studies, using an “index of personal contentedness,” finds much the same pattern for eight to eighteen-year-olds, although with some changes from 1999 to 2004. In 1999, less contented youths reported significantly more exposure to all media except the computer and audio media; in 2004, the link remained negative but the differences were statistically significant only for audio media, video games, and overall media exposure. In general, then, recent results dovetail fairly well with a substantial literature demonstrating that young people who are less contented or less satisfied with various aspects of their lives tend to engage in higher levels of media exposure than do their more contented counterparts.
The term sensation-seeking refers to individuals' need to seek stimulation. Reasoning that various kinds of media use, such as video game playing, provide high stimulation, Roberts, Foehr, and Rideout examined the relationship between seventh- to twelfth-grade students' media use and scores on a sensation- seeking measure. Although they did not find the expected link between sensation -seeking and video game exposure, they did find that compared with students classified as low or moderate sensation seekers, high sensation seekers reported significantly more television exposure, more use of audio media, and more total media exposure. Although the between-group differences for other types of media exposure were not reliable, high sensation seekers consistently reported higher levels of exposure than their low and moderate sensation-seeking counterparts.44