Media Influence and Social-Cognitive Theory

This was written for Washington State University’s PSYCH-361 considering media influence.

What are your thoughts regarding the pros and cons of media in the lives of young children (outside of school)? What rules concerning this do you have in place in your house? 

Albert Bandura et al.’s (1961) Boba Doll experiment helped drive further interest in social-cognitive theory after attending a Washington State University (WSU) course in psychological personality theories (PSYCH-321). Ryckman’s (2013) works had a section on “aggression and violence in films, television, and video games” (pp. 417-418), and additional learning had been gained from Albert Bandura’s own website and videos that had been posted online (, n.d.). Considering pros of media in being a learning tool, the textbook offers evidence of educational media benefits (Rathus, 2022, p. 291), but I wonder if the media employed in educational benefits, being interrupted by advertising (whether educational or not) might be influencing cognitive development. There’s a lot of possible navel-gazing (i.e., analysis paralysis) that could accompany such analysis of pros and cons, but overall, I think given socio-cognitive theory, I am convinced there is an effect, it’s just that the effect is mediated by a great matter of Markov-chains in matters of nature/nurture, reinforcement, modeling, disposition, genetics, epigenetics, and then some in a giant changing graph of influence. The short is, I was biased by readings across university studies and prior.

 Bandura’s evidence, results of experiments, and results of modeling via film in foreign cultures (Bandura, 2019) has me on the cons side of media in the lives of children, but only when the cons side of socio-economic status (SES) is abated. If media (i.e., window to a better world) is better than the cons of underprivilege due to systemic inequality in socio-economic status, I can support “kids looking out the window to greener grass on the other side”. Evidence supports it (as cited in Rathus, 2022, pp. 290-291). I think it’s a matter of status relativity. For the environment children are developing in, what is the most valuable aspect of the environment serving as scaffold for continued development from where they are at now? One thing is for certain, while we do not have children, if my partners and I are at our surrogate children’s house, television and computers are not engaged with for the most part (there are exceptions of joint attention and selectivity in programming [e.g., Star Trek]). I’m not certain that interacting with a two-dimensional flat field of photon manipulation devices is a good idea, especially when that field is flat and does not align with the eyes curve of angular span. In our home, we do not really watch television that often, but do engage in film, but rarely.

What are the pros and cons of media in the classroom? The pandemic has increased media usage for children. Based on everything you have read how can we make the best out of our current situation?

I would hazard a guess that the pros and cons of the aforementioned apply to this same situation. It comes down to what the value is for development considering the environment that the child is currently in. Given that Larsen et al.’s (2006) fMRI studies revealed that real and apparent motion (i.e., real motion vs. flashing stationary objects or pictures) result in the same areas of the brain activated, how can interdisciplinary fields even differentiate media vs. reality in these discussions? Larsen et al.’s results put the media vs. reality issue to bed for me. I think what social-cognitive theory illuminates is that what you sense, in motion, is modeled. The whole topic of “real or artificial” seems a red herring. It would depend on what is being conditioned, contingently reinforced, and modeled. Since media has a greatly reduced ability to interact vs. reality, I can see why the differentiation continues, but as media comes to interact more in real time, the world would open up to even more effects, until which point hopefully the entire media vs. reality discussion can be put to bed—media sensed is still a photon received.

I think the best route out is a reset of the thing that constrains development and education altogether, and it will take raw political horsepower to right the ship to a better tomorrow. I don’t see any other way, and the rest I shall defer to another venue.

Final thoughts from everything you have read for this week. 

I think Redesky’s (2018) article is helpful if a reader or scientist can redact “media” and see the modeling etc. For example, while Redesky writes of “good media design can also be a starting point for families to play in the real world”, it might be helpful to say, “good design can also be a starting point for families to play in the real world.” That covers all bases, just get to the point going beyond functional fixation of “media”. The entire world of experience is the media. What is design, but cognitive transformation? Good design seems to be that which provides Vygotsky’s scaffold and is dynamic enough to provide the zone of proximal development.

Here’s the problem however I see—how is a zone of proximal development to work if it’s not being adjusted in real time to situationally differentiating dispositions? For example, say a television is in a room, and behavior is being modeled. Isn’t the room that television is being watched in influencing too? I know this just doing self-report antecedent, behavior, and consequence continuous recording for WSU’s Self-Control (PSYCH-328) course. It feels like the degree of stimulus control (SD) around “media”, due to industrial mass-production mentality, is as the size of sledgehammers in society trying to control tiny finishing nails of popsicle scaffolds of developmental progress. Mass producing scaffolds aligned with one or more (if we’re lucky) standard deviations of “most kids”, hoping that they will be able develop through the scaffold’s ____ (insert any underlying psychological theory of influence of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors [i.e., attitudes] here), where “most kids” is the favored political socio-economic class of the day.

I’m becoming keener on human-to-human interactions in education because I think the world might have just automated itself into a corner much to ecological and sociological demise. This concept is reaching saturation, because it’s even in Fred Rogers’ (2012) position statement on interactive media (i.e., decreasing distance between behaviors and contingent reinforcement [i.e., consequences] in learning etc.). Yet again, where does attachment theory get recognized in mass-produced media? Where is empathy? Research supports these in providing ideal outcomes. For me, articles about “too much screen time” (Suciu, 2020), continue missing the point of social-cognitive theory, it might just be more valuable to consider “eye time” rather than “screen time”. In software startup culture, Rob Loughan once tried to mentor me that “we want to own the glass” (R. Loughan, personal communication, n.d.), meaning that a company wanted to increase the software’s proportion of screen over time to maximize its relation to users’ lives. I think that this just might rebalance thoughts in this whole debate, but another lesson is necessary. What is the most valuable thing that should be owning the eye time of children? This is exactly where Karen Horney (1950) enters the room—oh the Tyranny of the Should. Sometimes it’s ok to look at the language and change it, for it seems better to ask, what groups of eye time experiences lead to what measures of wellness and mental health in fairly distributed resources allocated to maximize base needs of Maslow’s hierarchy in advance of self-actualization, and that is where a world of should enjoins politic. 

So? I think Noam Chomsky taught me something after all in a personal email saying he had no answers (N. Chomsky, personal communication, April 11, 2022, because I’m sorry, I am out of thoughts… but unlike Mr. Chomsky, I will end it with… for now. There’s always five minutes from now, who knows, “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”.

References (n.d.). Albert Bandura [Blog]. Retrieved from https://albertbandura.comLinks to an external site..

Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1961). Transmission of aggression through imitation of aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 575-582. to an external site.

Bandura, M. (2019). Bandura – reducing global problems [Video]. Vimeo to an external site.

Fred Rogers Center. (2012). Technology and interactive media as tools in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8 to an external site.

Horney, K. (1950). The tyranny of the should. In K. Horney, Neurosis and human growth: The struggle toward self-realization (pp. 64-85). W. W. Norton & Company.

Larsen, A., Madsen, K. H., Lund, T. E., & Bundesen, C. (2006). Images of illusory motion in primary visual cortex. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 18, 1174–1180. to an external site.

Rathus, S. A. (2022). Childhood and adolescence: Voyages in development, 7th Ed. Cengage.

Redesky, J. (2018, September 26). How smart media can help kids and parents. Retrieved from to an external site..

Ryckman, R. M. (2013). Theories of personality, 10th ed. Cengage.

Suciu, P. (2020, May 13). Are kids spending too much time looking at screens during COVID pandemic? Forbes. Retrieved from to an external site..