The exponential growth of the various forms of media including social media, computers, smartphones, television, and movies has brought us many new areas of study which were previously unheard of. Researchers, psychologists and doctors are using the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to uncover outcomes of the affects this media boom is having on the individual's brain and behavior. Moreover, media psychology has now become an official sub-division of the field of psychology (Luskin, 2012).
Another of the recent discoveries of the media generation has introduced us to the similarities to the consequences of substance abuse. Researchers and psychologists have labeled IAD (Internet Addiction Disorder) amongst the likes of behaviors found in gamblers or in individuals with eating disorders. These findings are based on observations made when addicted gamers were removed from in front of the screen. In light of these findings, it is safe to work around the assumption that the media plays a significant role in the way we think and form perceptions.
However, not all is negative about the media. There are numerous good effects that media has had on us. Some of the benefits of the media boom are as follows:
1. The IQ levels of people of all ages are rising possibly because of media assisted learning and interactive game playing opportunities.
2. The field of science is expanding and the media helps to create awareness (Oswalt, 2010).
3. Communication has become convenient and we can be connected to people across boundaries.
4. The media also plays a critical role in creating awareness of many crucial issues, one of which will be discussed in depth in this paper and that is the impact media has had on perceptions of animals in zoos and circuses.
For the purpose of this paper the focus will be on media psychology and how this field of study explains the impact of media on our perceptions about the world. Media psychology focuses on the study between human behavior and the media and also aims to understand interactions of individuals and groups with technology. Media psychologists came forward back in the 1950's when the advent of television was on the rise as a common form of entertainment for the masses. Consequently, various kinds of relationships were observed and researched upon by researchers such as violent footages shown on television and how children specifically intercepted this information and reacted in the future.
A board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist – Dr. Sarah Vinson – claims that the media forms a significant part of people's lives and this is likely to increase as media outlets rise (Careers in Psychology). According to a research by ThinkBox the average number of hours spent in front of the television or any other media outlet is roughly seven. People turn to various media outlets as a way to unwind and be entertained. Consequently, organizations invest heavily in media marketing because people tend to be influenced most easily through the various media channels. Thus, this also proves the point that media plays a huge role in forming perceptions as we tend to consider something as the ultimate truth if we are continuously exposed to the same message over and over again. In reference to my topic the media succeeds in forming a perception amongst the masses about animals in zoos or circuses as well.
Perceptions are formed over time and are not the doing of a one-time event in an individual's life. It will be unfair to assume that a single advertisement or a single issue highlighted once can influence a person's perceptions. With the boom of the media people's attention spans have significantly decreased and they easily forget what they were watching a few moments ago and can be easily indulged in something else. However, the point of this explanation was to clarify that perceptions are formed when a certain message is repetitively shown to individuals and with the influence of the external environment, which includes the culture, family, schools, and friends, perceptions are then made.
It was in the 1950's that television began to alter perceptions. Even in the era of the black and white television, media had the power to form perceptions which eventually became norms for societies which have developed ever since. Psychologists have examined the impact television has had on female stereotypes. For instance; the ideal female was portrayed as being thin and unfortunately this stereotype became a major influencing factor in societies. Consequently, these stereotypes have given rise to bulimia and anorexia as more and more women wanted to comply by the accepted perceptions REFERENCE??.
The television contributes towards creating perceptions of the whole world in general by influencing how we feel and make choices based on these perceptions. One of the prime examples has been the exclusion of African Americans from the television years ago. This led to apathy and the world looked down upon African Americans as an inferior race. However, trends have now changed and people are beginning to embrace diversity. Moreover, African Americans have also become part of mainstream media and this has made people more tolerable to differences (Lockett, 2015).
Given that individuals are exposed to the same kind of content over a continuous time period it is common for some overarching perceptions to be formed. As mentioned earlier the stereotypes of the ideal female physique was the doing of the media and how it portrayed women that resulted in women working towards becoming the so-called “ideal” woman. Even in the 21st century there are certain perceptions that are shaped largely by the media either through direct or subliminal messages. For instance; many televisions programs, advertisements and films emphasize upon gender roles as being strictly male dominate or female dominated. Many films still show the woman as the house maker and the man as the bread winner; whereas, trends in reality have shifted towards dual-working households specifically in the Western part of the world.
Similarly, the media also has a huge role to play when showing animals in confined environments. STRUCTURE ? However, not to ignore that many animals require to be kept indoors such as certain types of cats and dogs to name a few, but animals that belong in the wilderness must be kept there. The lions and tigers kept in zoos for the entertainment of humans have often been shown as tamed, but the reality of the matter is that they have been drugged which makes them dizzy and lazy. The media has a huge responsibility on its shoulders to do their part in opposing animal cruelty because they form a significant part of people's lives.
Perceptions of Monkeys Created by the Media
According to research published in the PLOS ONE journal in 2015 the common portrayal of monkeys in human settings as shown on the television and in the media has had serious effects on how this specie is perceived by the public. Monkeys and chimpanzees have been shown as performers in movies and advertising which has created a general belief that these species are desirable as pets. According to a study conducted by Steve Ross – PhD from the Lester Fisher Center – concluded that this desirability is not just limited to monkeys and chimpanzees but any animal shown as being comfortable in human settings becomes a desirable pet for the public. One of the biggest drawbacks of this portrayal of monkeys and chimpanzees has led to the ignorance of the fact that these animals might be endangered in the wild to fulfill the demands of the public.
Ross's study made use of visitor surveys to elicit results of portrayal of species in different scenarios and the perceptions it created. In order to conduct the research, photographs of three separate primate species were digitally altered in different contexts and varying human presence. The responses were used to compare how people characterized the species as a result of the pictures shown to them with varying degrees of human interaction (Ross, 2015). Whenever, the human element is brought into a situation people tend to relate to it more because of a familiar association. And since, pictures with humans interacting with the species were shown, people assumed that monkeys were friendly creatures and serve as a suitable option to keep as pets.
Monkeys have long been used as pets and for entertainment purposes in movies, television, and advertisements. People supporting animal rights have often condemned the use of monkeys for entertainment purposes, but little research has actually been done on the grounds to oppose this. However, one of the reasons provided by animal welfare workers has been that monkeys are an endangered species in the wild; therefore, they must not be kept in captivity within homes or cages.
\"After our study of chimpanzee media portrayals, it was important to understand the degree to which these effects could be extended to other species as well,\" said Ross. \"Unfortunately there are many more monkeys kept as pets around the world, and these data indicate that the manner in which monkeys are shown in the media is at least one of the factors driving those practices\" (Ross, 2015). According to Ross's statement here it suggests that the media is contributing towards the endangerment of the specie by supporting the view of monkeys being kept as pets. However, the same media could also run documentaries that create awareness over this issue and make people realize that using monkeys for their own entertainment is harming the natural habitat and altering the course of nature. But when these endangered species are shown in commercials and used for entertainment purposes then it becomes hard to convince that they are actually endangered (Ross et al, 2008).
Research Findings on Impact of Media on Wildlife Perceptions
There is plenty of research available that supports the viewpoint that the way animals are portrayed in the media impact public perceptions about them. According to Serpel, if animal stories shown in the media are closer to reality and within their natural habitats this will make the public aware of Mother Nature and create positive feelings of empathy (Serpell, 2004). On the other hand, the media can create false perceptions of wildlife by showing hunting animals as a norm on television and this encourages values amongst viewers specifically young children who may then see hunting as a desirable act.
Animals used in the media are becoming a trending topic of discussion and that is one of the major reasons why researchers are investing in this area of study. Animals are smart, emotional, and moral beings that care about their surroundings and external environments yet we as humans have objectified them. Language used to refer to animals is just one of the many signs of how these living things have been objectified by humans. The kind of language used to refer to animals often times lacks empathy and that is one of the reasons why people are unable to view them as species with feelings. According to Carrie Packwood Freeman from Georgia State University the pronoun “it” used when referring to animals has also impacted our perceptions about them as being emotionless and lacking feelings (Bekoff, 2010).
Wildlife films and still photography featuring animals have also misrepresented animals to a large degree. Customers are made to feel that they are enjoying scenery of exotic animals and the skills of the photographer or videographer are outstanding; whereas, these animals are mostly trained and kept in farms away from their natural habitat. A wildlife photographer has also been reported as being stripped of his “photographer of the year” award as he was said to have used a tamed Iberian staged in the wildlife without any disclaimer to have done so (The Guardian). Where these animals are kept on farms there are few or minimal regulations which may protect the rights of these animals to healthy living conditions.
Animals in Advertising
It is common to cite animals during commercials and advertisements and it may also be wrong to say that these advertisements lack creativity because they do not. Using animals in advertisement is not a new phenomenon, and marketers have done this since ages, and importantly this has worked out for them in most instances. One of the major reasons why animals have been used by marketers is because of the emotional connect. Marketers aim to create an emotional connection with their audiences and animals help them achieve this objective.
Renowned brands globally have used animals in one or more of their campaigns. For instance; Budweiser Clydesdales at the 2013 Super Bowl featured a baby Clydesdale and the audience took it very well. Adding on, Coca-Cola has made use of polar bears in their advertisements and this has provided humor to the audience as the polar bear showed human-like expressions. Adding to the list of brands using animals in their advertisement has been Bush's Baked Beans when they featured the fun-loving golden retriever.
It is fair to assume that audiences have been engaged with the creative advertisements because they have often looked forward to the next advertisement by such companies. As animals can easily become the face of the brand marketers have used them repetitively because they control the identity they create with a specific animal for a specific brand (Steele, 2013).
Animals in Zoos
Most zoos claim to have the best facilities required by the animals residing within its boundaries, but despite all these claims zoos cause more harm to the lives of these animals than anything else. Regardless of the state of the art facilities being available at zoos for the comfort of the animals, zoos can in no way be a replication of the habitat of wild animals (PETA). The reason for zoos being unsuitable for wild animals is that these animals are stripped of their natural instincts like running, flying, climbing, foraging, and roaming for instance. The concept of zoos instills in human beings the perception that it is acceptable to interfere in the daily lives of animals and keep them locked up in captivity in cages and away from their natural habitats. Furthermore, this concept has been used by the media through cartoons and enjoyable films that show zoos as a fun place to be for the animals; whereas, in reality most animals are disturbed mentally when they are placed in cages away from species of their kind.
Lead star of the classic movie Born Free – Virginia McKenna – has been reporting as accepting that as a result of performing in the film she realized the importance of animals to be let out in the wild rather than kept in captivity in zoos (BBC News, 2003). Every living being craves freedom, and when animals are deprived of this freedom their physical and mental health suffers immensely.
Many proponents of animals in zoos claim that zoos provide educational opportunities to the public which otherwise cannot be made possible. In order to prove that this viewpoint is flawed a curator at the National Zoo followed over 700 visitors and concluded that visitors treated animals more like a source of entertainment as they spent only a few minutes at each display (Booth, 1991). Visitors are often only interested in watching the animals do some tips and tricks to make them laugh or they move forward without looking beyond the surface level and the distress the animals are in behind the glass walls.
It is common in zoos for the enclosures to be very small since several animals need to be accommodated. The information available on the animals often is limited to the diet, species, and the natural range. It is very rare for zoos to discuss the natural needs and behavior of the animals because it is rarely noticeable within the confines of the zoos. For instance; the wings of birds may be clipped and fish may not be kept in adequate water which obviously has a direct impact on the natural behavior which they may depict in their natural environment.
As mentioned earlier, the media has portrayed zoos as being desirable places to keep animals that very rarely do people realize the impact it has on the animals. Also because animals are unable to express their distress in words people have taken them for granted and forced them to exist in environments that are unnatural for them. However, animal welfare associations are springing up around the world and they are aiming to create awareness regarding the issue, but there is still a long way to go before these associations enter mainstream media to alter strongly held perceptions.
On the contrary there are people who strongly support the existence of zoos. People will be unable to feel for an animal which they have not seen in reality and this helps conservation. Even though the media shows us a wide range of animals that we may not see normally, but these images cannot be turned into emotions unless people interact with these animals in real. Therefore, zoos offer the grounds to develop emotional ties with the animals. Studies have reported that zoos have a positive impact upon student's cognitive and affective characteristics when they visit for educational purposes (Russo, 2013).
A renowned kids movie – Madagascar – shows how animals are unhappy with being taken to the zoo and how these animals rejoice when they get the chance to interact with those of their kind and in their natural habitat. Animals have feelings and emotions as mentioned earlier; thus, they should not be used for the entertainment and pleasure of humans without being provided with adequate care. There should be more movies with a positive message that instills in children the awareness regarding rights of animals even though they are unable to speak or show discontentment (Vegan Scholar, 2014).
Animals in Circuses
Many children dream about running away to join circuses mostly because of the way this event is portrayed in films and cartoons. However, ironically these animals probably dream about running away from circuses in reality. Animals which are used in these circuses are kept in captivity and are forced to perform acts that are far from their natural instincts. Animals are punished if they do not perform the uncomfortable, repetitive, and painful acts according to instructions. Because the way these animals are treated in reality is not brought to the forefront of the media many people are unaware of the conditions these animals are kept in and the poor treatment they have to suffer for the entertainment of the public.
Baboons, chimpanzees, and other primates are social animals which means they crave for companionship of beings of their kind. When these animals are brought to circuses or zoos they are deprived of this basic need of companionship and are often beaten and kept in solitary confinement to make them perform up to the circus masters standards. According to Dr Robert Sapolsky – Reasearch associate at Institute of Primate research in Kenya - “Training most baboons to do tricks of the sort displayed is not trivial … it is highly likely that it required considerable amounts of punishment and intimidation (Schwartz 2007)”. To make matters worse when the performance season is over these animals are kept in traveling crates or barn stalls and in some instance even in trucks. These living conditions can be physically harmful for the animal and can have permanent psychological effects such as repetitive head-bobbing, swaying, and pacing.
Whether be in zoos or circuses animal rights activists suggest that using animals for entertainment purposes is wrong for a number of reasons. Some of the reasons are; that the animals are treated as a means to achieve human demands and wishes, animals are not given the respect they deserve as living things, and it violates the freedom of the animal eventually. The animal welfare point of view supports that since animals are removed from their natural habitat and social structure the use of animals for entertainment should be considered undesirable and wrong. Moreover, animals are made to perform acts that are unnatural to their normal and natural behavior, there may also be instances where animals are involved in cruel behavior one of the most common being bull fighting. As mentioned in the earlier part of the paper, animals are subject to violent treatment when they are being trained, kept, and transported (BBC, 2014). People who suggest that the minimum requirements are met to keep the animal alive and healthy have a flawed argument, because animals deserve more than just having their minimum requirements of care being met.
Media Effects Theories
Direct Effects Model
There is a fear amongst certain groups of people that the effects of the media are so strong that other socialization institutions such as family and community can be easily outweighed (Ambriz, 2013). This fear has been characterized by the direct effects model commonly used in media studies. According to this model, the audience of the media passively accepts whatever they are exposed to through various media channels without questioning. Based on this model, if the media falsely shows animals as being treated right in the zoos and circuses regardless of the reality people will believe so. Therefore, as per the direct effects model, the media has a huge responsibility in ensuring animals are given their rights through awareness messages via films, advertisements, and other modes.
Opposition to Direct Effects Theory
The direct effects theory has several critics which base their suggestions on the fact that people do not just accept what is presented to them rather they have the ability to think and decide between right or wrong. In order to oppose the direct effects theory a study was conducted in 1940 which gauged the effect of a political campaign on voter choice. People who had made up their mind were unaffected by political campaigns and people who had not decided most often turned to family and community members to help make the decision. Consequently, opponents of direct effects theory were able to prove that people still considered family and community as better means of socialization channels as compared to the media (Hanson, 2009). In light of our topic at hand, people are able to judge whether animals being kept in zoos and circuses is the right thing to do or not regardless of how the media shows them because there is plenty of literature available on the internet that presents both sides of the argument.
As opposed to the direct setting theory which views the role of the mass media at an extreme, the agenda setting theory suggests that the media identifies which issues concern the public rather than the public determining what the media portrays. In other words, it is in the hands of the media to form public opinion by highlighting certain issues which eventually become the topic of debate and discussion among the masses and in return the public demands specific actions to be taken (McCombs, 2003). Under this theory's assumptions, there lies a huge responsibility upon the media to highlight the important social issues regarding human or non-humans that is animals. If the media highlights the negatives of keeping animals in zoos and circuses then this issue will be highlighted in the minds of the public and they will demand corrective action to be taken accordingly.
One of the instances that the agenda setting theory can be explained through is the phenomena of the increase in public opinion against smoking and the harmful effects it has on an individual's health. Before the rise of the mass media smoking was a personal health issue, but the media has brought this issue into the public sphere by provoking debates, researches, and discussions regarding the harmful effects of smoking. When the media realizes that animals are being mistreated and they bring this to the attention of the public then there will be corrective action in place and animal welfare groups will be able to achieve their agendas.
Uses and Gratifications Theory
This theory is one of the most commonly used when understanding how the public understands what is presented to them through various media channels. Hence, for the purpose of our topic the uses and gratifications theory is also most applicable. According to this theory, viewers indulge in selective viewership and only absorb media news that suits their needs and desires. Therefore, it is also safe to assume under this theory that people seek entertainment from the media and wish to interact with people who have similar likes and dislikes as it helps them to build an association.
Researchers categorize users based on common interests and then identify the various uses for which the media is used by these particular groups (University of Twente). Over the years and course of the various researches some common uses of the media have been elicited by researchers some of which include; relaxation, social interaction, entertainment, arousal, escape, and various interpersonal and social needs. It is essential for the researcher to understand the reason for which the media is being used as they can then better understand the role of that particular medium and the impact it has on society. Under this assumption, if people are able to find support groups that work towards freeing animals from zoos and circuses then people will be better able to create an association with a group which has a similar identity, and they may be able to take adequate action.
Symbolic interactionism implies that the self is a result of human interactions over a period of years. In other words, people behave and act with others based on the perceptions they hold about them or the sentiments they have about that particular person or thing. Consequently, shared cultural meanings are one of the starting points which give meaning to human interactions. Moreover, these interactions are also based upon material goods, education, and even as little as the way people talk to a person. As a result these symbols whether significant or not but collectively they play an important part in self-development (Crossman, 2017).
Symbolic interactionism is an important theory in understanding the influence of media on individuals because it helps to understand the field of media and the way it uses symbols to give meaning. As the media is in itself a powerful institution it has the capability to create its own symbols which may eventually get widely accepted. Symbolic interactionism helps researchers to understand the way the media uses society's shared symbols and how the individuals perceive these symbols. Thus, symbolic interactionism suggests that the media has the power to create perceptions on its own regarding animals used in zoos and circuses. It is in the hands of the media to show this in a positive light or attach a negative connotation to this through films, campaigns and even advertisements.
Advertisements are one of the most widely used ways of the media to create symbols and make them known to the masses. Marketers and advertisers work effortlessly to create personalities of the brands in question. If this concept is expanded it is possible to suggest that the perceptions of the uses of animals can also be formed through the mediums. As mentioned earlier renowned brands make use of animals in their advertisements, but if they use animals in a context where they are shown to be living in their natural habitats then people will become familiar with this perception and anything apart from this perception will be questionable.
Spiral of Silence
The opinions of the mass media are generally seen as the dominant opinion in society and anybody who thinks differently becomes the target of the public. The spiral of science theory helps explain this concept that people who have a differing viewpoint are silenced by the fear of being socially isolated if they present their opposing viewpoint. Since the opinions of the minority mostly stay under cover the dominant opinion gains consensus as a result of social pressure people are coerced into accepting this viewpoint regardless of what their own opinions are. As a result if the media represents animals in zoos and circuses as desirable people will perceive this as a desirable act even if they silently oppose this viewpoint. One of the major drawback of the spiral of science is that many times wrong flourishes because people who oppose the view might be in the minority and may not have the confidence or the platform to speak up on (Mass Communication Theory, 2014).
Regardless of the fact that many socialization theories media is considered to be a secondary form of socialization, the media is still the most commonly used and influential medium for public opinion. The spiral of science theory suggests that whatever the media circulates is automatically considered as having consensus upon that particular opinion and rarely will anyone question the credibility.
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