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In order to analyze the effects the sexual media has on an individual, one must understand social cognitive theory, cultivation theory, and priming theory. These theories provide those who attempt to study the sexual media, the tools needed to uncover the ways in which the sexual media affects our behavior, beliefs, attitudes and emotions. In looking at these theories, one must consider the type of effect the theory is concerned with, the process that leads to these effects, and the features of the sexual media that enhances these effects.
The social cognitive theory, which stems from the observational learning theory, is concerned with explaining behavior. More specifically, in terms of the sexual media, this theory outlines the steps by which an individual models their own behavior after the sexual media they are exposed to. For example, the number of sexual partners and individual chooses to have, the age at which they decide to have sex, or whether or not one chooses to practice safe sex are all behaviors that could possibly be learned or altered through sexual media exposure.
There are four steps in the observational learning-attention, retention, production, and motivation. If one is able to carry out all four steps this will lead to matching the behavior exhibited in the sexual media. The social cognitive view on observational learning, “is more concerned with the process involved in the representational guidance of action than with the particular medium by which response information is conveyed. The theory seeks to explain how or why the cognitive processes in our mind take representations of behavior in the sexual media and convert them into behavior. Learning occurs when an individual is exposed to modeled events before any responses have been preformed and does not necessarily require intrinsic reward. Not all behavior that an individual is exposed to is necessarily modeled. The specific behavior must not only be observed but also retained.
The effects on one s behavior due to exposure from sexual media are not automatic. Each step is facilitated by various characteristics of the media content. In order for a teenage viewer to pay attention, the sexual media must be relevant to a young adults life, dealing with issues they are going through. The content must also be positive emotionally, prevalent, not too complex, accessible and useful. Furthermore, the teenage viewer must, for example, be able to look at an episode of Sex in the City and be able to perceive the behavior, understand it, relate it to a previous experience, be mildly aroused by it, and finally like it. Therefore, a young teenage boy watching Sex in the City may not give as much attention as a thirty-something woman living in New York because the show would not be as relevant for him.
The thirty-something woman will be more likely model the behavior of a character on Sex in the City if that character is attractive and performing an activity that the viewer deems realistic. The actions must not lead to negative consequences for the character, which will motivate the viewer to model it.
Unlike social cognitive theory, cultivation theory is concerned with how the sexual media affects the attitudes and beliefs of the viewer. This theory assumes that television has dominant themes and viewers are passive when they watch television. The process of cultivation is lifelong; the more a viewer continues to watch television the more their beliefs and attitudes will begin to match those present on television. The effects of cultivation on a viewer are subtle and instrumental. In regards to sexual media, cultivation theory would explain viewer s attitudes on the importance of sex, whether or not one should be in love to have sex, that having sex in relationships is important. These are all examples of beliefs that are shown in the television world. Heavy viewing over long periods of time lead to a mainstreaming of viewers beliefs.
Viewer s beliefs begin to match those of the television world at a faster rate if these television views resonate with the viewer. When the television world and a person s reality combine to give a double dose of cultivation. Furthermore, if television is the only source of information foe a viewer, the likelihood that their beliefs will begin to match those on television is increased. Exposure to the total pattern rather than only to specific genres or programs is what accounts for the cultivation of shared conceptions of reality among otherwise diverse publics. Recurring themes and features of television appears in all types of programming and in order to attract large numbers of viewers popular programs have consistent and complementary messages.
While cultivation theory is concerned with what a viewer thinks, priming theory holds that when people witness, read, or hear an event via the mass media, ideas having similar meaning are activated in them for a short time and that these thoughts in turn can activate other semantically related ideas and action tendencies. Priming theory explains how the sexual media activates similar thoughts and ideas in our mind. The priming process can occur automatically and last for a short period of time. Watching actions in sexual media can increase the probability that a viewer will perform the action. Therefore repeated exposure to sexual media activates ideas and inclinations that have been cultivated through media exposure or learned through observation.
The effects of priming theory are enhanced if the viewer views the ideas in the sexual media as having something to do with sex. If an individual is watching two lovers having an argument this may activate aggressive ideas rather the sexual ones. In addition to the viewer s interpretation of the media s meaning, identification with the characters is vital. The observers identification with the media s characters influences the extent o which they are affected by the witnessed occurrence. However, the viewer must also perceive the media as realistic in order imagine themselves in the observed scene. Therefore, if a viewer is witnessing a scene with unrealistic sexual acts, with characters that he or she cannot relate to, it is very unlikely that the scene will activate thoughts in the viewers mind.
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