One strength of this explanation is the fact it is realistic to an extent. For example, it seems realistic that if a child is exposed to pro-social acts on TV, they would then get influenced by what they are seeing, and this would then lead them into copying that pro social behaviour. There has been a lot cases where children, who have watched programmes such as Bob the builder, have copied what they have seen in these programmes and then used what they have witnessed to help their friends and families to solve a problem. Another strength of this explanation is the fact that it can have a positive effect on parenting as this explanation can help parents to understand that what their children are watching can influence the way in which they behave. For example, parents may become cautious about what their children are watching on TV- they may encourage their children to watch TV programmes which contain more pro-social acts and less antisocial behaviours and this could potentially mean that their children may display more pro-social behaviours later on life.
However, this explanation is rather deterministic as it assumes that people have no choice but to be influenced by what they see on TV. This is not always the case because there are some people who are not influenced by the media at all. For example, when some people watch a programme which contains a lot of pro-social acts, they still continue to show antisocial behaviours. This suggests that other factors, such as a person’s personality, may be important for media to have a positive effect on people.
Another explanation of how the media has an influence on pro-social behaviour is to do with the acquisition of pro-social behaviours and norms. According to this explanation, pro-social acts are more likely to represent our own social norms, so what we see on TV reinforces our own social norms. For example, if a person watches a programme which contains a lot of pro-social acts, this may encourage or remind them that it is how are expected to act in society, so they may then copy that pro-social behaviour that they see on TV.
One weakness of this explanation is the fact that it is rather deterministic. It is deterministic in the sense that it assumes that just because pro-social acts may represent our own social norms, people have no choice but to copy the pro-social acts that they may witness on TV. This is not always true as there are some people who like go against what is seen as socially normal because they want to be different from everybody else. For example, if they see a TV programme which contains a lot of pro-socials messages, they may choose to display antisocial behaviours in order to be different from everyone in their society, so this suggests that the media would not have any positive effect on them and the media wouldn’t be able to encourage them to show pro-social behaviours.
Another weakness of this explanation is the fact that what is seen as being socially normal can differ across cultures. For example, in some parts of the world it is normal for people to be anti-social, so the media may not be able to have any positive effect on those people because the media would not be able to convert their way of thinking. Pro-social acts on TV would not be seen as normal to them, so they would not copy the behaviour that they see on TV.
Another explanation of how the media influences pro-social behaviour is to do with parental mediation. Parental mediation involves a child and a parent watching a TV programme together and then the parent can explain anything that is unclear or disturbing (within the programme) to a child in order to help them to understand what is going on. This explanation argues that parental mediation has a positive effect on children as it allows the children to understand what they seeing and this would then enable them to be influenced by the media. For example, if a child witnesses a TV character stealing something from a shop, the parents can then explain to their child that it is wrong, and this can mean that the child would avoid stealing something if they find themselves in the same situation as the TV character. So, parental mediation can help a child to understand what they are seeing on TV, meaning that they are likely to copy the pro-social acts that they see on TV. For example, if a child sees a TV character helping someone, they may then copy what that TV character is doing- the child can then go on to help, for example, their friend if they find themselves in the same situation the TV character.
Valkenburg et al carried out research which provides some support for this explanation. They found out that parental mediation, involving a child and a parent discussing the content of a TV programme would be effective in enhancing the pro-social messages in TV programmes. This shows us that parental mediation is important as it allows young children to be influenced by the pro-social acts that they may witness on TV.
One strength of this explanation is the fact that there is research, such as Valkenburg’s research, to back up that the view that parental mediation one way in which the media can have an influence on pro-social behaviour. However, it is important to note that parental mediation may only work on young children- it may not necessarily be used on older people as they may be old enough to understand the pro-social messages in a TV programme.
So it seems as though there are many different explanations of how the media influences pro-social behaviour.
There is also research that has been carried out to examine the effect of media on pro-social behaviour.
Poulos et al showed in their research that young children who watched an episode of Lassie (where a child rescued a dog) were more likely to help puppies in distress than those children who watched neutral TV programmes. This supports that the media has an influence on pro-social behaviours because if, for example, the media did not have a positive effect on people then those children who had seen an episode of Lassie wouldn’t have been more likely to help puppies in distress than those who watched neutral TV programmes. So, it suggests that the media can influence pro-social behaviours as it can cause people to be more altruistic towards others. However, having said that, just because those children were more likely to help puppies in distress, it does not mean the media was the main cause of the children showing pro-social behaviour- it may have just been the children’s personality that was causing them to act in a pro-social way.
In another research, Mares found that when exposed to a TV model demonstrating self-control, children subsequently showed higher levels of self-control in their own behaviour. This therefore suggests that the media can influence pro-social behaviours because people can copy what they see on TV and then apply what they have seen in real life situations. However, because just because the children, in this research, copied what they were seeing on TV, it doesn’t necessary mean that everyone in the world would also be influenced by the media- some people may be influenced by the media and some people may not. So it is important to note that generalisations should not be made because not everyone would respond in the same way after seeing a TV programme with pro-social messages.