Newly published research suggests watching something dumb might make you dumber. The study, which was published in the recent online edition of Media Psychology by Markus Appel of Johannes Kepler University of Linz, Linz, Austria, examined the concept of media priming among a sample of 81 participants.
According to the article’s journal abstract, “Media priming refers to the residual, often unintended consequences of media use on subsequent perceptions, judgments, and behavior. Previous research showed that the media can prime behavior that is in line with the primed traits or concepts (assimilation). However, assimilation is expected to be less likely and priming may even yield reverse effects (contrast) when recipients have a dissimilarity testing mindset.” Simply put, media priming is the idea that the things we watch or listen to or read influence our emotions and our behavior, perhaps more than we realize.
The study involved having the subjects read a story about a soccer hooligan. As expected, participants who read the story without a special processing instruction performed worse in a knowledge test than a control group who read an unrelated text. Participants with a reading goal instruction to find dissimilarities between the self and the main protagonist performed better than participants who read the story without this instruction. The effects of reported self-activation and story length were further considered.
The story describes a day in the life of a man named Meier: He wakes up, reads (and misunderstands) the message in an inspiration-of-the-day calendar, meets his friends in a bar and gets very drunk. Meier then goes to a soccer game, gets into a fight and comes home to crash; he sleeps through the next day. (Substitute the soccer game for a nightclub, and you have something very similar to the televised daily shenanigans of Snooki or The Situation.)
The findings indicate that “participants who read a narrative about a stupidly acting soccer hooligan performed worse in the knowledge test than participants who read a narrative about a character with no reference to his intellectual abilities.”