Aliens in the living room How TV shapes our understanding of teens

Aliens in the living room How TV shapes our understanding of teens

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Aliens in the Living Room: How TV Shapes Our Understanding of “Teens” Axel Aubrun, Ph.D. Joseph Grady, Ph.D. September 18, 2000 Copyright © 2001 – The Frameworks Institute
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Aubrun & Grady 1 INTRODUCTION Working on behalf of the William T. Grant Foundation, the FrameWorks Institute has commissioned a series of reports on the place of teenagers (or “youth”) in American society. Cultural Logic’s previous contributions to this research have included (1) a report on cultural models (i.e. shared understandings) of teens – based on a series of in-depth interviews with a diverse group of adults; and (2) a set of recommendations for ways of reframing teenagers as assets rather than liabilities. The current report takes a different tack and addresses – from a cognitive perspective – the general question of how television impacts American understandings of teens. The cognitive perspective, in this case, includes three very distinct ways of looking at the impact of television on American understandings of teenagers: one that emphasizes the different "viewing angles" that various types of programming encourage viewers to take with respect to teens (empathizing vs. spectating vs. contemplating the larger causal picture) one that emphasizes the specific portrait of teens that emerges from television programming (i.e. the nature of television's "typical teen") and one that emphasizes the difference between TV's impact on private understandings of teens and public discourse about them. Taken as a whole, this cognitive perspective allows us to consider a different set of questions from those addressed in most previous research on the social impact of television. Where most studies have concentrated on the content of what is shown, our discussion consistently focuses on how that content feeds into the cognitive and cultural models that guide thought, language and decision-making about teens. The analysis presented in the report draws on material gathered for FrameWorks by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) and by Katharine Heintz-Knowles of Children’s Media Research and Consulting including televised news and entertainment segments featuring teens, and statistical analyses of those segments. METHODOLOGICAL ASSUMPTIONS A number of principles and perspectives arising from previous cognitively-based work (including our own) have shaped the conclusions reached in this report: There is an important distinction between the input people get from the media and how they process it – i.e. between messages and impact. This is the conceptual starting point of the report – that we gain important insights by explicitly considering the relationship between TV content and the minds of people who watch it. There is an important distinction between what people learn from public discourse (PD) – including
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Aliens in the living room How TV shapes our understanding of teens

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