Above the Media’s Influence: Dr. TV’s Latest Study on Third-Person Effects

 

 

Recognized as the 2011 Lyndon Baines Johnson Faculty advisor of the Year, ranked among nation’s 25 highest rated professors, and voted as one of NerdScholar’s 2014 “40 Most Inspirational and Passionate Professors under 40”, Dr. Tsay-Vogel is not your average Boston University Communication professor. Known to her students as Dr. TV, she is appreciated for her great enthusiasm and eagerness to inspire. Her research interests include the impact of media messages and why we select specific media and not others. Over the years, her research seeks to understand the psychology behind the captivation and appeal we have towards certain media.

In her most recent study, Me versus them: Third-person effects among Facebook users,” published in the prestigious New Media and Society, she investigated the phenomenon Third-Person Effects and its applicability to Facebook. Third-Person Effects explain the proposition that people tend to believe others are more influenced by the media than themselves. If we view media messages to be negative, we are more likely to impute that others are more influenced; on the other hand, if the media message is perceived as positive, then we are inclined to admit the media’s influence on ourselves, which is called First-Person Effects. Through past research, Third-Person Effects have been studied and supported in the context of advertisements, violence, pornography, and politics; however, there are no existing studies that consider Third-Person Effects in the context of social media.

Dr. TV used Facebook as her medium. If Facebook is considered a popular and common tool without negative effects, she was interested in finding out if people would still think other Facebook users are more influenced than themselves. Dr. TV administered an online questionnaire whose participants were extracted from a sample of active Facebook users. The results were illuminating: she found support for Third-Person Effects but not First-Person Effects. However, there was still a difference in estimated influence on others between positive and negative messages. So, even though the participants perceived others to be influenced more with both positive and negative messages, the perceived influence on others for negative messages was greater. This shows that message desirability matters.

Throughout her research, she discussed the concept of “others.” When we are assessing others in a social media environment, do we see others as our friends in our networks or as members of the general public? Dr. TV explains that social media complicates Third-Person Effects because we have a lot more capability to link with other people whereas if we were to assess other viewers of pornography, our ability of knowing those others is a lot more limited. She is also conducting a very similar study in China to examine the differences across two cultures. According to Dr. TV, “The U.S. has a very individualistic culture, and the concept of others might seem a lot further away than in a collectivist culture such as China where others are deemed closer in your social network and that psychological distance may be more intimate.” She is in the process of collecting data, and hopes to see a decrease in Third-Person Effects to prove that different cultures play a role in the concept of “others.”

When it comes to teaching, Dr. TV feels that her students have inspired a lot of the studies and research she has been engaged in. In her classes, she brings some of the key issues raised in her research. She points out that because of constant advancements and changes in media, new research is needed to keep pace. She feels that because communication is a popular area of study, it is important that we continue examining how people are influenced by media messages and even by the media channel in general. “As we are evolving, our media climate is evolving,” she said. “We need to catch up and really understand how contemporary media is processed.”


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Ann Schirrmeister is a junior at Boston University studying Mass Communication. She is originally from New York City, but she lived in Zaragoza, Spain for a year learning Spanish. She loves exploring cities, going to concerts, and dogs big enough to hug.

 

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