Evolutionary Psychology and Mass Media

Research Paper

by Gayle S. Stever, November 2020

In book: The Sage Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology (pp.398). Publisher: Sage  Link to article.

Evolutionary theory as it relates to media psychology is often controversial (Grabe, 2011). A fundamental tenet relating the two fields posits that because our species has not had time, in an evolutionary sense, to adapt to media, we process mediated stimuli as if it were real (Reeves and Nass, 1996). So much violence is consumed through media that we as a society suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD; Restak, 1991). For example, a media portrayal of sexual assault can be a trigger for one’s own past experiences, possibly as powerful as perceiving such an event in real life. An attachment to a media figure, or parasocial attachment, can afford a person a sense of safety and felt security almost as effectively as can a real and physically proximal attachment object or person (Stever, 2013, 2017a). Media role models are able to influence the behavior of viewers as powerfully as can real and proximal role models (Bandura, 2001). This chapter explores the dichotomy between the social determinist models that are more often employed by media scholars, as contrasted with the biological determinism that is more often proposed by evolutionary psychologists. One observation is that processing audiovisual media as “real” does not appear to be maladaptive in most cases although the potential is there for problems for some individuals. As media becomes more sophisticated, it becomes easier to merge media stimuli with real stimuli, blending them together into unique experiences (Grabe, 2011). Examples of how this happens are presented in this chapter, along with a summary of the work that has been done to date on the applications of evolutionary theory to the study of mass media in both psychology and also communication studies.