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date: 13 July 2020


Abstract and Keywords

In this introductory chapter, core tenets of media psychology are presented. Included in this presentation are definitions relevant to the field of media psychology; historical events in media psychology; the ubiquity of media in the developed world, and its advantages and disadvantages; how we use media today; implications in media use and socialization; and an overview and key features of the chapters included. In presenting these ideas, the evident breadth and depth of the scholarship should demonstrate the field’s promise of a bright and fascinating future.

Keywords: media, media psychology, media use, media research

Marshall McLuhan said that media are “extensions of man” and that media are “amplifiers” (Fiore & McLuhan, 1967; McLuhan, 1969). These fundamental ideas were true when he wrote about them in the 1960s, although they then referred to what we now call legacy media such as television and newspapers. What has changed since then is not the fundamentals, which are perhaps eerily unchanged, but the array of manifestations of extension and amplification available through new and emerging media.

Social Media and the Arab Spring

Now more than ever, there is a democratization of media use and production. The most poignant elaboration of these phenomena has been playing out recently in the form of the Arab Spring—a term for using social media as a populist tool for political uprising and revolution in the Arab world. Citizen revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya succeeded in ousting autocratic governments aided by the power of social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and You Tube. At the time of this writing, discussion leading up to the awarding of this year's Nobel Peace Prize included a focus on the lead actors in the Arab Spring [].

The nature and capabilities of social media allowed citizen activists to organize, recruit, and communicate information that made these revolutions possible in ways never before seen. Social media shifted power to the people, and the world followed and even contributed to the stories of these revolutions. Social media extended the people's reach and amplified their messages in novel ways.

Using Media

Today media use is ubiquitous in the developed world. Television remains the bedrock of the media diet for many of us, although the way we access and choose programming has changed and continues to change. Web 2.0 or the read/write Internet has forever altered the flow chart of media communications and even made questionable the use of the term mass media (see Isbouts & Ohler and Potter, Chapters 2 and 24, this volume) as one-to-many communications are joined by multiple sources of many-to-many communications. Interactivity and media creation by ordinary people are hallmarks of current media use and production. Text messaging and the use of mobile applications are examples of media phenomena that were unheard of until recently, but have rapidly become so much a part of our everyday lives that we could scarcely imagine living without them now. In fact, smart phones and other mobile devices are considered so useful and addictive that we feel them most powerfully to be “extensions of man” (or, more properly, of all people)—perhaps more so than any previous media phenomena. In fact, in Japan they have a term for this; it is called Keitai culture (Ito, Okabe, & Matsuda, 2006; Matsuda, 2006; Sakamoto, Chapter 28, this volume).

It is a fact of no small importance that media use is by far the most common way human beings spend our free time in the modern world (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008; Dill, 2009). Bartholow and Bolls (Chapter 27, this volume) call modern media use the “Great American Pastime,” noting that this massive level of media use really did not begin until the 20th century.

The ubiquity of media in our lives brings with it advantages and disadvantages. For example, the way we socialize has changed with the popularity of social media on the Internet and on mobile apps. People wonder whether using social media and smart phones will impair our social functioning or enhance it or both. Research is starting to address the changes and also the benefits and harms of (p. 4) our media-rich lives (Quitney-Anderson & Ranie, 2012). These types of changes are occurring much more rapidly than we have been accustomed to (see Isbouts & Ohler, Chapter 2, this volume, for an elaboration). It is in this context that this Handbook heralds the emergence of the field of media psychology. If indeed media have become so ubiquitous, so engaging, so useful, and attractive that they are experienced by so many as nearly constant extensions of ourselves, then understanding the psychology behind that relationship is no longer optional.

Media Psychology: Emerging Discipline or Hybrid?

This Handbook seeks to contribute to the definition of the emerging field of media psychology. In so doing, there are a number of issues, from the practical to the scholarly, that are addressed. Where did media psychology come from and where is it going? If media psychology is an interdisciplinary field, what are the challenges and opportunities scholars must navigate to strengthen and grow the field? These are some of the questions raised here.

Media psychology scholarship is informed by a variety of related fields. The two that are perhaps most prominent are psychology—especially social psychology—and communications—especially from the mass communication and media studies research traditions. Other related fields add depth and breadth to the field. These include sociology, visual studies, cultural studies, and a variety of humanities fields, including literature and theater and other humanities disciplines in which narrative and imagery play central roles. Business scholarship, including marketing and advertising, and technology approaches, including human factors, also inform the field.

I liken media psychology to other hybrid disciplines that use psychology as a basis for the study of a particular content area. Most notably, I think media psychology is similar in this way to health psychology and political psychology. Like media, health and politics are content areas with such broad applicability that they will continue to be studied in an interdisciplinary way. At the same time, the disciplines of health psychology, political psychology, and now media psychology each offer a unique and important perspective on the content they cover.

Historical Events in the Field of Media Psychology

When tracing the history of a discipline, there are benchmarks events that both build and confirm the existence of a unique discipline. These include the publication of books, journals, and even new media that name and define the field as well as the emergence of new university programs and professional organizations in the field. What follows is a brief version of the story of some of the history of media psychology. Brown Rutledge and Tuma (Chapters 3 and 4, this volume) also offer histories of media psychology.

In 1987, the American Psychological Association founded a media psychology division—Division 46. Originally, Div. 46 focused on psychologists appearing in the media as experts. Since then its focus has shifted to include an emphasis on media influence research. In 1998, Bernard Luskin and Lilly Friedland polled media psychology experts and identified 11 areas in which psychology is applied to the study of media as part of a Div. 46 report (Luskin & Friedland, 1998). In 2003, Luskin founded and began directing the first media psychology doctoral program in the United States, at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, CA (Williams, 2011). (For more on the program's history, see Brown Rutledge, Chapter 3, this volume.)

In 2003, David Giles published what, to my knowledge, was the first book titled Media Psychology (Giles, 2003). This book and its updated edition titled Psychology of the Media (Giles, 2010) offered a critical analysis of the dominant American media effects approach, but no discrete definition of media psychology. Its publication was a watershed event in the history of media psychology, and the book offers a valuable and interesting perspective. In 2008, Fielding media psychology doctoral student Jenny Whittemore Fremlin offered this analysis of the field in an article in the APS Observer titled Understanding Media Psychology:

Media psychologists propose that although there may be negative impacts of media such as violence in video games and films, false interpretations of reality due to intense television viewing, and persuasion through advertising, there may also benefits, like the social bonds formed in virtual worlds, therapeutic uses of media, and certain psychological benefits of developing media skills. (Fremlin, 2008, para 3)

Fremlin cited Giles’ book as one of her introductions to the field.

The journal Media Psychology (Taylor & Francis) was first published in 1999. As Derwin and de Merode (Chapter 5, this volume) report, the journal's stated purview was and is scholarly research at the intersection of psychology and mass communication. In 1996, Stuart Fischoff launched the Journal of Media Psychology, which went online in 1998. (p. 5) Fischoff also founded the first media psych- related master's degree in 2001 at California State University—Los Angeles ( Division 46 currently maintains a working list of graduate programs in media psychology (available at graduate.html).

Table 1.1. Survey of the Authors of the Oxford Handbook of Media Psychology: Definitions of Media Psychology

The following are some definitions of Media Psychology, with attributions. You may wish to refer to one or more of these definitions, or to parts of one or more of them, in your response to item 1.

1a. From APA's Division 46 (, para. 1–2): “Media Psychology can be described as the merging of communication and human behavior. It is central to understanding behavior with- in many disciplines, including, in part, technology; public policy and government; telecommunications; software; education; health care; and entertainment.”

1b. “Some of the roles Media Psychologists assume include: writing or being expert guests in various media; consulting with media personnel; researching ways to improve the media; making new technologies more effective and user friendly; using new technology to enhance clinical psychology; working in education or training; developing media standards; working in commercial fields; studying sociological and psychological media effects; developing material for challenged populations; working with deviant or criminal populations (Luskin & Friedland, 1998).”

2a. Fielding Graduate University's definition (, para). “We define media psychology broadly, as research and practice at the intersection of psychological theory and knowledge with the status and impacts of both legacy and emerging media, as these manifest themselves in a wide variety of individuals, groups, and cultures.”

2b. “Media psychology thus addresses issues of how people of many backgrounds experience, develop, and respond to technology and mediated communication. We consider the study of media psychology as stretching across disciplines and extending beyond traditional media research paradigms.”

3. From the editor of The Oxford Handbook of Media Psychology, Karen Dill:“Media psychology is the scientific study of human behavior, thoughts and feelings experienced in the context of media use and creation.”

Defining Media Psychology

As media psychology programs, journals, books, and organizations formed, definitions of media psychology also appeared. These programs, publications, and organizations are some of the sources of early definitions of media psychology. As editor of this, the first Handbook of Media Psychology, I also conducted an informal survey of the authors as top experts in the field and asked them a few key questions. To begin, I provided them with three definitions of media psychology: the current definition from the Div. 46 website, the current definition used on Fielding Graduate University's media psychology doctoral program website, and my own working definition. (Table 1.1 shows the definitions of media psychology presented to the authors.) This is not a full-blown scientific investigation, but rather an opportunity to gather information from a number of experts in the field.

The Handbook authors were asked, “What is your definition of media psychology? If you wish, you may refer to the definitions listed above, in whole or in part.” Next, they were asked, “If you were selecting from the definitions given above, or other definitions of which you are aware, which would you prefer?”

Survey Results: Handbook Authors’ Definitions

Fifteen Handbook authors responded anonymously to the survey, which was hosted on Survey Monkey provides analysis of textual responses. The top themes from the authors’ definitions are found in Table 1.2. The complete text of the authors’ definitions is available in Appendix A.

Table 1.2. The Nine Most Important Words and Phrases in the Handbook: Authors’ Definitions of Media Psychology


Percent Using Word/Phrase



Scientific Study




Human Behavior


Karen's Definition


Impact of Media






Influence Thoughts


(p. 6) Next, the authors indicated which of the three definitions (APA Div. 46, Fielding Graduate University's doctoral program definition, Oxford Handbook of Media Psychology, editor definition) they preferred. Results indicated that 86.7%, or 13 of 15 authors, preferred my working definition of media psychology. My working definition of media psychology is as follows. Media psychology is the scientific study of human behavior, thoughts, and feelings experienced in the context of media use and creation.

Psychology And Communications

The Handbook authors also responded to the following:

Psychology and Communication are arguably the two fields that are most foundational to the emerging field of media psychology. What do you see as the most pressing issues as some of the scholars from each of these disciplines meet and potentially merge into a new discipline?

One scholar wrote:

[We] need to find ways to collaborate that demonstrate appreciation for theories in both fields as well as respect for methodologies and the expertise of professionals in both fields. It is also important for scholars to see the benefit of collaboration.

Another theme that was repeated was a need to agree on a definition of media. One scholar's response addressed a number of the aforementioned themes:

One issue is that the two fields sometimes draw on different bodies of literature even when discussing the same phenomenon (that is, psych people cite psychology theories and comm people cite comm theories—which is fine to an extent, but more cross-conversation would be helpful). There is also the usual interdisciplinary professional issue that publications outside one's own field sometimes ‘don't count’ for professional advancement. An issue somewhat unique to media psychology is that what constitutes ‘media’ is constantly and quickly changing (e.g., the rise of text messaging, Facebook, iPads, and whatever the next great thing is tomorrow)—so research done in one context may seem rather quickly outdated (thus the need for good, generalizable theories).

According to surveymonkey. com's automatic text analysis, the words “theories, definitions, methods and academic journals” were some of the most often used terms in these responses. Furthermore, the notions that scholars might believe one perspective was “right” or might ignore journals in the other field were raised. Finally, one scholar noted:

I think it will take an enlightened and motivated set of academic administrators to establish either departments of media psychology or clear incentives for collaboration across departments. Europe seems to get this done.

I left an open item for additional comments. One scholar offered the following:

This discipline (and Div. 46) have a LONG way to go to start being respected. There is still a stigma about this type of research, as if it somehow not as ‘serious’ a subject of study as other psychological phenomena. This is baffling, given how insanely much time we spend with the media.

Derwin and de Merode (Chapter 5, this volume) offer a detailed analysis of the first 12 years of the journal Media Psychology. As part of their research, they interviewed journal editors, surveyed contributors, and analyzed important trends in the publication record of the journal. One area of particular interest was the relative contribution of psychology and communications scholars to the journal and the degree of collaborations. These data, which I will leave to them to present to you, add information to the survey data I report here. I think if you compare the two datasets, some clear themes emerge.

I agree with the other Handbook authors that the ubiquity and importance of media in our lives and the inherent connection with human psychology mean that ours is a field that is going to be vibrant and in demand for the foreseeable future. What form it takes is up to the scholars who, in fact, make up the field. I also agree that how psychologists and communications scholars collaborate and interact has important implications for the field. This is true at a number of levels, but it certainly includes how decisions are made at scholarly journals, what shared definitions we can generate, and how we move forward with important collaborations. Fortunately, as evidenced by the caliber of scholars represented in this Handbook, the excellence of our scholarly community and the breadth and depth of our scholarship suggest that the field shows the promise of a bright and fascinating future.

Overview of This Handbook

Contents By Section

I designed The Oxford Handbook of Media Psychology in six sections. The first and the last include my Introduction and Overview and Media (p. 7) Psychology: Past, Present, and Future chapters. The final section includes a content analysis of this Handbook (Neal) that uses a semantic content analysis tool (Leximancer) to derive meaning from the text of the Handbook itself. The goal of this chapter is to provide a smart automation summary of the content areas of our field. Thus, in this chapter (Neal) we have an instantiation of a cutting-edge media psychology method and tool as well as an objective summary of the content of our field.

The four sections that remain are as follows: History and Methods, Issues and Media Types, Interactive and Emerging Technologies, and Meta Issues in Media Psychology.

In the History and Methods section, leading scholars tell the stories of some of the largest issues in the field, tracing their history. The issues addressed in this section include the history and importance of narrative (Isbouts & Ohler), an argument for Media Psychology as a distinct field (Brown Rutledge) and a history of Media Psychology with an emphasis on theory (Tuma). Derwin and Demerode tell the story of media psychology via an analysis of the first journal of the same name. Arke covers the history and future prospects of media literacy. Finally, there are two foundational research methods chapters in the Handbook, one focusing on quantitative (Prot & Anderson) and the other on qualitative (Polkinghorne) research.

In the Issues and Media Types section I invited scholars who could represent particularly important issues in the field as well as a sampling of important media psychology research content areas. Huesmann, Dubow, and Yang address the most often researched area in all of media psychology: media violence. Their approach here is to put that research in the controversial context in which the scholarship takes place, where scientists interface with business and political interests as well as public health interests. Additionally, content areas for media research represented here include a positive psychology approach to children's media use (Gregory), the role of emotion in media use and effects (Konijn), media violence and desensitization (Brockmyer), sexual content (Shafer, Bobkowsi, & Brown), portrayals of race (Behm-Morawitz & Ortiz) and gender (Scharrer) in the media, and media persuasion (Nabi & Moyer-Gusé).

The section on Interactive and Emerging Technologies includes coverage of social processes in virtual environments (Blascovich & McCall), games for health (Chamberlin & Maloney), serious games (Blumberg, Almonte, Anthony, & Hashimoto), video game violence (Krahe), children and the Internet (Donnerstein), technology addictions (Gentile, Coyne, & Bricolo), and video games and attention (West & Bailey).

In creating a section on interactive and emerging technologies, one of my considerations was to not retread territory already addressed in the Oxford Handbook of Internet Psychology (Johnson, McKenna, Postmes, & Reips, 2009). This is especially true in that the Oxford Library of Psychology (of which both volumes are a part) was created with new media in mind more so than legacy media. This means that each volume in the Oxford Library of Psychology has much less rigid boundaries and chapters can be shared and linked among volumes. Given my expertise, and the desire to stay away from topics covered by the Oxford Handbook of Internet Psychology, this section is oriented more toward video games than it might have been with another editor. I argue that video games are one of the most popular forms of media and are the most ubiquitous form of interactive media with many educational and psychological ramifications. The coverage of video games in this Handbook is designed to avoid the wrongheaded approach of judging games to be all bad or all good. Such reductionist arguments fail to adequately represent the qualities of games (Anderson, Gentile, & Dill, 2011; see also my concluding chapter of this volume).

I agree with the converging opinion, evident in my Handbook author survey and in Potter's chapter (Chapter 24, this volume) arguing for a framework for media psychology research, that agreement on what the fundamental media psychology theories are is an important step in the development of the field. One focus of the section Meta Issues in Media Psychology is on theory and other meta issues in the field. For example, the chapters on the general framework (Potter), transportation theory (Green & Dill), and media psychophysiology (Bartholow & Bolls), among others, are relevant to our understanding of theory and current directions in the field. They also reflect some of the most exciting opportunities for current and future research in media psychology. This section also includes a chapter on the Japanese approach to media psychology (Sakamoto) and a chapter by a media psychology policy expert (McIntyre) on the political narrative of children's media research.

Handbook Features

When I envisioned the contents of this Handbook, I had a number of goals in mind. As a reader, I hope (p. 8) you will find it instructive to understand my vision for the Handbook. First and foremost, I was highly cognizant that the first-ever Handbook of Media Psychology should help define the field by documenting the content, methods, theories, and approaches that characterize our scholarship at this moment in history. I had other specific goals for the makeup of this Handbook. What follows is a nonexhaustive list of the perspectives I wanted to make sure were represented here:

  1. 1. Interdisciplinary perspectives, with particular emphasis on:

    1. a. Both psychology and communications scholars

    2. b. Collaborative interdisciplinary research

    3. c. Multiple areas of psychology, including social and developmental psychology and neuroscience

  2. 2. International scholarship, including:

    1. a. Coverage of non-American views of doing media psychology

    2. b. European and Asian perspectives in particular

  3. 3. Research showing positive as well as negative effects of media, including:

    1. a. A positive psychology approach to media psychology

    2. b. Emerging content areas in the positive effects of media such as serious games and games for health

  4. 4. Broad coverage that represents the most popular areas of research

  5. 5. An emphasis on a critical thinking approach to media psychology, which considers multiple perspectives on issues

  6. 6. Critical coverage of media psychology methods that has the potential to advance the field

  7. 7. Perspectives that capture the context in which the research takes place, such as:

    1. a. Scholarly debates

    2. b. The political context of media psychology research

As you might imagine, one of my goals for the Handbook in addition to selecting the content to cover was selecting and attracting the best minds in media psychology to be the voices of the field. That is one goal of the Handbook that I will be so bold as to declare an undeniable success. The authors of these chapters are no less than my scholarly heroes. I know that as each one tells the unique story of his or her expertise, what emerges is a vibrant map of this discipline.

Author Note

Karen E. Dill, School of Psychology, Fielding Graduate University.

Thanks to Elly Konijn, Pamela Kato, and Pamela Brown Rutledge for comments on an earlier draft of this chapter.

Appendix A

  1. 1. Media psychology uses the tools and theories of psychology to study and understand the complex interaction of human experience with media technologies, globally and individually.

  2. 2. Media psychology concerns applying psychological theories and research (including methods and measurements) to and integrating them with communication and media theories and research, in explaining individual differences and underlying mechanisms in media uses and effects on individual's cognitions, affect, and behavior. For example, explaining individual differences in susceptibility to specific media content.

  3. 3. I think about it as focused on the individual, so less concerned about context and other cultural factors.

  4. 4. I'm a fan of the Fielding definition. To me, media psychology is the intersection of psychology—with its focus on understanding the individual—and media studies—with its focus on understanding media-related issues and processes. So, to me, the field of media psychology investigates how and why individuals process media, how and why individuals are drawn to media, how and why individuals relate to and form opinions about media, and how and why individuals respond to (i.e., are affected by) media. Much emphasis is placed on individual differences as well as on additional variables that may play a part in these relationships (beyond those pertaining to the media and the individual, and including aspects of social and cultural context).

  5. 5. Study the ways we interact with media, and the ways in which those interactions (voluntary or involuntary) influence our thoughts, behavior, and communication.

  6. 6. Media psychology is a scientific study that addresses the intersection of and relationship between media and psychology.

  7. 7. Media psychology is the intersection of the study of human behavior and their experiences and reactions to media messages.

  8. 8. I like Karen's definition the best. It is the most direct and clear.

  9. (p. 9) 9. My definition has been until now very simplistic: “the impact of media on human behavior.”

  10. 10. The scientific study of the effects of media exposure on cognition, emotion, and behavior.

  11. 11. The study of the impact of media of various forms on the mind and behavior.

  12. 12. I like Karen's definition!

  13. 13. What I think all of these miss is the effects side. They discuss the use of media, the creation of media, the being on the media, etc. but do not discuss the effects (on both individuals and groups). So my definition would be something like: Media Psych is the scientific study of how people use, experience, and are affected by media. This includes behavior, thoughts, and feelings on individual, group, and societal levels. It includes the study of media techniques and content, including how psychology and media mutually influence each other.

  14. 14. Media psychology is the study of individuals’ behaviors and cognition in the context of diverse forms of media.

  15. 15. I prefer (3), which is the one used in the Handbook.


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Derwin, E. B., & de Merode, J. (Chapter 5, this volume). Inside Media Psychology: The story of an emerging discipline as told by a leading journal. In K. E. Dill (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Media Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

Dill, K. E. (2009). How Fantasy Becomes Reality: Seeing Through Media Influence. New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

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Green, M. C., & Dill, K. E. (Chapter 25, this volume). Engaging with stories and characters: Learning, persuasion and transportation into narrative worlds. In K. E. Dill (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Media Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

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Konijn, E. A. (Chapter 11, this volume). The role of emotion in media use and effects. In K. E. Dill (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Media Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

Luskin, B. J., & Friedland, L. (1998). Task Force Report: Media Psychology and New Technologies. Washington, DC: Division 46 of the American Psychological Association.Find this resource:

Matsuda, M. (2006). Discourses of Keitai in Japan. In M. Ito, D. Okabe, & M. Matsuda (Eds.), Personal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Find this resource:

McLuhan, M. (2000). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Men. The Correspondence of Marshall McLuhan and Edward T. Hall. Mass Communication and Society, 3(1).Find this resource:

Potter, W. J. (Chapter 24, this volume). A general framework for media psychology scholarship. In K. E. Dill (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Media Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

Quitney-Anderson, J., & Ranie, L. (2012). Millennials Will Likely Suffer and Benefit Due to Their Hyperconnected Lives. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.Find this resource:

Sakamoto, A. (Chapter 28, this volume). Japanese Approach to Research on Psychological Effects of Use of Media. In K. E. Dill (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Media Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

(p. 10) Williams, S. (2011). Media Psychology Founder Honored by APA. Retrieved from