Bring up the issue of media effects in any group and it is likely to unleash a torrent of opinions. Virtually everyone has their own theory. This is true regardless of whether the group is composed of academics, business folks, or members of the PTA. Moreover, people tend to hold their theories with pretty high confidence and are often willing to vociferously defend their positions. But why is this so? Perhaps one reason is experience.
Everyone, regardless of their profession or hobby, has extensive experience with both the independent and dependent variables. That is, (virtually) everyone watches television (most watch it a lot), listens to the radio, or reads magazines and newspapers. Likewise, everyone makes countless judgments on a daily basis: developing beliefs, forming or reinforcing attitudes, updating personal values, constructing perceptions.
A second reason may be that consistent empirical evidence of media effects has been remarkably difficult to pin down. Although the body of evidence is mounting to support the notion that the media have a moderate if not a strong effect on individual judgments (e.g., see Comstock, this volume), there seems to be just enough confounding or conflicting data to call these findings into question and keep alive the debate as to whether the media’s influence is that substantial at all.
We would like to suggest a third reason as to why there seems to be little consensus on whether media effects are either prevalent or strong, a reason that may directly relate to the previous two: a lack of understanding of the processes that underlie media effects.With respect to lay opinions about the existence and strength