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Subject: AEJ 96 McDonalD CTM Electronic game characters and the social self
From: Elliott Parker <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:AEJMC Conference Papers <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Mon, 23 Dec 1996 06:14:27 EST
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                        When I Die, I Feel Small:
             Electronic Game Characters and the Social Self
 
 
                           Daniel G. McDonald
                                Hyeok Kim
 
                       Department of Communication
                            315 Kennedy Hall
                           Cornell University
                            Ithaca, NY  14850
 
                             (607) 255-2603
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Running Head:  Game Characters and the Social Self
 
Correspondence should be addressed to the first author at the address above or
through email
at [log in to unmask]
 
 
 
Paper submitted for consideration for presentation to the Theory and Methodology
Division of
the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, 1996
 
             Electronic Game Characters and the Social Self
                                Abstract
 
       Theoretical perspectives on social orientations toward personality and
the development
of the self are undergoing a resurgence (Rosenberg, 1988; Schwartz, 1990;
Thornton and
Moore, 1993).  This paper explores children's use of mediated characters as role
models for
development of their self concept and personality.  Using the perspective of the
"social self,"
we examine data on children's use of video and computer games and perceptions of
electronic
game characters as comparisons to their own personality and other individual
characteristics.
 
 
 Electronic Game Characters and the Social Self
 
       Although eclipsed by the rise of behaviorism in the middle of the
century, theoretical
perspectives on social orientations toward personality and the development of
the self are
undergoing a resurgence (Rosenberg, 1988; Schwartz, 1990; Thornton and Moore,
1993).
Indeed, much of the work in communication effects research since the 1960s
incorporates
some aspect of social learning theory, and much of it includes a reference to
the development
of self-concept.
       Soukup (1993) reviews the literature on the impact of media and suggests
that a
number of research traditions in the field of communication point toward the
"social self as a
locus for the impact of media."  Citing work by Mead (1934), Park and Burgess
(1924),
members of the Frankfurt School (such as Adorno and Lowenthal), Duncan (1985),
and
Bandura (1977), Soukup suggests that all of these traditions point toward the
idea that the
media must be making an impact on the social self, going so far as to suggest
that nearly the
entire effects tradition in mass communication research presumes that
communication media
influence the social self.
       The purpose of this paper is to explore children's use of mediated
characters as role
models for development of their self concept and personality.  Using the
perspective of the
"social self," we examine data on children's use of video and computer games and
perceptions
of electronic game characters as comparisons to their own personality and other
individual
characteristics.
 
The Social Self
       The phenomenon of the social self has been a concern for psychologists
and
communication theorists for at least 100 years (Cooley, 1902; James, 1890; Mead,
1934).
James notes that a person "has as many social selves as there are individuals
who recognize
him."  Rosenberg (1988) suggests that James was referring to both the idea that
different
individuals hold different perceptions of a person, and that individuals have
different
presentations and enactments for each person they meet.  It is the latter idea
which forms the
core of theories of social personality (Rosenberg, 1988).
       Baldwin (1897) went even further than James in describing a theory of the
"socius" (or
social self), by making all aspects of the self and personality a social and
cultural product.
Baldwin suggested that a personality is formed primarily through imitation of
others, and said
that he could not see "...how the personality... can be expressed in anything
but social terms"
(p. 21).
       Mead (1934) suggested that the individual becomes conscious of others in
the same
manner in which he becomes conscious of himself - through communication.  Mead
describes
the process of identification of the other with the self, accomplished through
taking the role of
the other.  He suggests that it is through taking the role of the other that an
individual
becomes integrated into society.  Mead also suggests that it is through the
communications
media that contemporary people enter into roles of the other.
         Although the dominance of behaviorism in mid-century tended to obscure
much of
the influence of early theory on the concept of the social self, the area of
person perception
(Schneider, Hastorf and Ellsworth, 1979), developed fairly sophisticated
theories and methods
for studying perceptions of others through impression formation, person memory,
and implicit
personality theory.
       Reviewing this literature, Rosenberg (1988) suggests that significant
components of the
stable views one has of oneself and others are the characteristics that a person
perceives as
the more enduring aspects of the self and the other.  Rosenberg suggests that
traits such as
physical characteristics, personality, attitudes and competencies, as well as
the affective
experiences associated with self and other, are stored as potential components
of the self and
are eventually manifest in descriptions of one's self and others.
       Rosenberg (1988) uses a "set-theoretic" analysis to explain how such
contents may be
manifest in descriptions of others of importance to the self.  Set-theoretic
analyses can be
developed Using free-response techniques, diaries, logs or novels to examine the
writer's
development of personality.  Rosenberg (1988) examines Thomas Wolfe's
fictionalized
autobiography, Look Homeward, Angel for evidence of the development of his
(Wolfe's)
personality over his life span.
Evidence for Social Development of Personality
       Braun (1987)  has suggested that  individual personality progresses in a
developmental
fashion, with the social self and the personal self alternating in a kind of
spiral of dominance
over individual personality.  Her study of the development of individuation in 6
to 9-year old
children suggests that these two subsystems of the self develop in a very
complex fashion and
over a number of years.  She suggests that individuals' tendency to describe
themselves in
terms of differences (rather than similarities) between oneself and others is a
general trait
indicating a striving to maintain a sense of self identity and individuality.
       While Braun (1987) found lower distinctiveness in self-perceptions among
the older
children (8-9-year olds) in her sample, Kardacz (1985) found greater
distinctiveness among
older participants (15-16-year olds) compared to younger (12-year olds) in his
study.  Braun
suggests that these findings indicate differing dominance in cycles of social
versus personal
self.
       A number of studies have found evidence that an individual's
self-perception is
affected by perception of others.  Recent studies such as those by Thornton and
Moore (1993)
find contrast effects in that both men's and women's perceptions of their own
attractiveness is
influenced by an apparent discrepancy between oneself and same sex others.  Both
upward
(negative) and downward (positive) contrast effects have been found, directed
toward physical
appearance and social competencies.  This research also suggests that situations
in which
physical attractiveness becomes a salient dimension heighten states of public
self-
consciousness, leading individuals to evaluate themselves in comparison to the
situationally
relevant standards, leading to shifts in evaluations of oneself.  Study
situations (primarily
experimental) have shown these shifts to be fairly situation-specific and
short-term.  Few, if
any, long-term or nonexperimental studies have been attempted.
       Citing a number of theoretical positions from Turner (1956), Lewin
(1935), Kelley
(1952), Mead (1934), and others, Higgins (1988) suggests that by incorporating
the distinction
between "own" and "other" as a feature for self/state presentations, different
emotional
conditions can be related to self-state conditions.  Higgins suggests that we
are motivated to
reach a condition where our self-concept matches our personally relevant self
standards.
Mediated Role Models
        Soukup (1993) notes that one of the most compelling aspects of the media
is the
presentation of the human image.  Feminist perspectives on the role of images
have argued
that these images teach, shape and distort social roles (Tuchman, Daniels and
Benet, 1978).
Some time ago, Bronfenbrenner (1970) noted that children are turning more and
more toward
peers and television for their socialization, due to increases in a lack of
parental attention. A
number of empirical studies lend some support to these contentions.  Sprafkin
and Liebert
(1978) review a  number of studies and provide additional data which suggest
that children's
sex-role attitudes are influenced by televised sex-role portrayals.
       Schreiber (1979) found that the age and gender of tv characters affected
how
positively people responded to the character, with young and middle-aged viewers
responding
most favorably to characters in the same age groups as themselves, while older
viewers
responded least favorably to characters of the same age group as themselves.
       An early study of the tv program "All in the Family (Tate and Surlin,
1976) found that
persons whose lifestyles and psychological characteristics were similar to the
opinionated
character Archie Bunker were more likely to perceive the character and program
as realistic
and to identify with that character.
       Aside from the evidence that viewers identify with characters, several
studies have
found modeling effects of that identification.  Leckenby (1977)found college
students capable
of distinguishing between tv characters in their degree of dogmatism, and found
that highly
dogmatic people tended to see less differences between themselves and tv
characters in their
level of dogmatism, suggesting that character dogmatism reinforces viewer
dogmatism.  In a
followup study, Leckenby (1978) found that subjects low on dogmatism, the lower
the
perceived dogmatism of a character, the greater the perceived  commonality, the
more the
character is liked, the more the character is agreed with, and the greater the
influence of the
character on the viewer (measured through opinion change in Leckenby's study).
       Meyer (1973) found that favorite tv characters were perceived as behaving
quite
consistently with children's perceptions of their own behavior.  Meyer concluded
that tv
provided primarily socially acceptable role models for children.  Donohue (1975)
investigated
the extent to which tv provided antisocial behavioral models for children.
While finding that
the majority of role models were prosocial, a number were antisocial.  In
addition, most of
the children reported that when confronted with an ethically ambiguous
situation, they would
behave in a manner similar to what they thought their favorite character would
do.
       Ellis, Streeter and Engelbrecht (1983) developed the idea of of role
taking of viewers
and television characters from the perspective of symbolic interactionism.  They
suggest that
viewers take the role of salient television personalities during viewing and
nonviewing
contexts, and may modify their behavior to conform to the imaginary evaluations
of those
television characters.  Indeed, the concept of "parasocial interaction"
developed around the
idea that viewers took the roles of tv characters and personalities defined by
the media
(Horton and Wohl, 1956;  Horton and Strauss, 1957).
       The extent of research on identification with television characters is a
reflection of the
ubiquity of the medium since the 1950s.    While a number of early studies on
video games
focused on the extent of their use and the amount of time spent in use (e.g.,
Gibb, Bailey,
Lambirth and Wilson, 1983; McClure and Mears, 1984), few studies have examined
video or
computer game characters as role models (Selnow, 1993).  Three characteristics
of electronic
games suggest the importance of investigating identification with game
characters and that the
effects of these interactions my be different from the effects of interacting
with television
characters:  First, since the early 1980s, electronic games have become
increasingly interactive
in nature.  Results of Selnow's (1993) preliminary investigation suggests that
this interactivity
enables players to become a "member" of the game unlike the opportunities
afforded by
television, where viewers have no control over ongoing events.
       Second, a very large percentage of electronic games involve violent
content and
violent action as the primary activity of the game (Braun & Giroux, 1989;
Provenzo, 1991).
Unlike most television content, in which there is a plot which unfolds before
the viewer, and
violence is incidental to the story, for many electronic games, the object is to
"kill" as many
of the enemy as possible.
       Third, some players seem to perceive electronic games as a kind of
surrogate
companion (Selnow, 1993), and their interactions with the games as social
interactions.  From
this perspective, the games "impart lessons about people" (Selnow, 1993).  Nass
and Steur
1993) have shown that subjects, with fairly simple provocation, can begin to
distinguish
between "self" and an electronic "other," and use certain social rules typical
of "normal"
interpersonal communication in interaction with the computer.
       The present study examines whether or not children identify with and
respond to
electronic game characters and use personality and physical cues from those
characters as a
comparison base for themselves.  If the concept of the "social self" can be
applied to
electronic game characters, we expect children to identify and compare
themselves to those
characters in terms of personality, physical attractiveness and general physical
characteristics.
We adapt the Ellis, et al. (1983) propositions related to tv characters and
role-taking to the
electronic game context and bring empirical data to three propositions:
       H1.  Players will evaluate their own characteristics and behavior from
the perspective
of the electronic characters.  In the present study, this will be evaluated by a
comparison of
the type of characteristic (physical or mental/personality) of descriptions of
self and electronic
other.  If players are evaluating their selves from the perspective of the
electronic others, we
should see similar dimensions of evaluation (e.g.,similar dimensions of both
physical
characteristics and affective evaluation described for both self and other).
       H2.  Role-playing will occur in non-gaming as well as gaming contexts.
This
proposition will be evaluated by response to self-report questions related to
the extent to
which children "pretend" they are the character.  We expect role-playing to be
negatively
associated with grade in school, so that younger children will be more likely to
pretend they
are the characters.
       H3.  According to Braun's (1988) suggestion that the social self and the
personal self
alternate in a kind of spiral of dominance over individual personality, we
expect to find
differences by grade (nonlinear) in the extent to which identification takes
place and in the
impact of identification on self-descriptions.
       H4.  Electronic character role-playing results in modification of
perceptions to conform
to the perceived evaluation of the electronic other.  This hypothesis will be
evaluated by the
extent to which descriptions of an ideal self match descriptions of electronic
characters more
closely than they match self-descriptions.
       H5.  In accordance with Higgins (1987), we test the proposition that
discrepancies
between self-descriptions and the description of an ideal self should result in
the inclusion of
dejection-related emotions in verbal descriptions of the self and in feelings
one has.
However, if the electronic character provides a model similar to the ideal self,
the relationship
should hold for discrepancies between descriptions of emotions after a game is
over and for
descriptions of the electronic characters during the game.
 
Method
       In the spring of 1994, twenty-one elementary and high school teachers
enrolled in a
research methods class as part of their master's program in a private 5-year
college in New
York State's rural "southern tier" area participated in data collection for the
study.  Each
teacher distributed a questionnaire related to electronic game playing and
descriptions of self
and electronic characters.  Teachers of students in younger grades conducted
personal
interviews with the children.  In grade levels in which the students could be
expected to read
the materials for themselves, teachers simply passed out the questionnaire
during class time.
No identifying information was recorded except grade and gender.
       Open-ended descriptions of self and other were coded first as written or
expressed in
the interview.  The first two descriptions given were included in the coding.
After a listing of
all descriptions was obtained, coders reclassified the descriptions into a two
dimensional
matrix.
       One dimension was the hedonic tone of the descriptor (positive, negative
or neutral),
while the other dimension was the type of description:  behavior (e.g., runs
fast), physical
characteristic (e.g., short), or personality (e.g., shy).
       For increased generalizability, three coders classified the descriptors
separately.
Original classification reliability for the questions was .91; all disagreements
were settled by
majority (2/3) category classification.
 
Results
       Data was collected from 303 students.  Table 1 provides an overview of
the
distribution of background variables related to electronic game playing.  As is
evident from
the table, more than 90% of students play video or computer games, with about
three-quarters
owning the game and about half owning a computer.  Nearly all of those who play
electronic
games play them at home, and nearly three-fourths play games alone.  A similar
percentage
(about three-fourths) indicate that there are rules in their home related to the
electronic game.
 
___________________________
                           Table 1 about here
                      ___________________________
 
       Hypothesis 1.  The first hypothesis was that game players would evaluate
their own
characteristics and behavior from the perspective of the electronic characters.
A cross-
classification of descriptions of self by descriptions of the electronic game
character suggests
some support for the hypothesis.  There were   greater numbers of responses
along the
diagonal of the cross-classification of descriptions of self and electronic
characters than would
be expected if there were no relationship (Likelihood Ratio  2=8.46, 4 d.f., p =
.076).  There
is also a significant relationship between the dimensions used in the
description of feelings
the children felt when thinking of themselves and the electronic character
(Likelihood Ratio
 2=11.891, 4 d.f., p = .018).
       Hypothesis 2.  The second hypothesis was that role-playing would occur in
non-
gaming as well as gaming contexts, with a negative relationship between
role-playing and
grade in school.  Table 2 provides results for this test of the hypothesis, with
an analysis of
variance suggesting strong relationships between grade, sex of child, and
role-playing.
 
                       ___________________________
                           Table 2 about here
                      ___________________________
 
       Additional illustration of the relationship is presented in Figure 1, in
which role
playing is plotted against grade in school for both boys and girls in the study.
As evident in
the figure, girls report less role-playing than boys, but both boys and girls
indicate declining
role-playing throughout their school grades.  The exception is for the extent of
role-playing
for boys in 12th grade, but this was an anomaly of the sample, as only three
boys in the
sample were in 12th grade, and it may not be typical of what we would find if a
larger
sample had been available.
__________________________
                           Figure 1 about here
                      ___________________________
 
       Hypothesis 3.  Based on Braun's (1987) suggestion that the social self
and the personal
self alternate in a kind of spiral of dominance over individual personality, we
expected to find
nonlinear differences by grade in the extent to which identification takes place
and in the
impact of identification on self-descriptions.  A simple ANOVA divided linear
and nonlinear
components suggest that the nonlinear results are of marginal significance (F =
1.661, 11 d.f.,
p < .085), while the linear component is much stronger (F = 24.261, p < .000).
This suggests
that, although the nonlinear component is apparently part of the relationship,
it is much
weaker than the linear component of the relationship.
       Hypothesis 4.  The fourth hypothesis centered on modification of
perceptions to
conform to the perceived evaluation of the electronic other, and was evaluated
by examining
the extent to which descriptions of an ideal self match descriptions of
electronic characters
more closely than they match self-descriptions.
       Tables 3 and 4 provide information related to the test of this
hypothesis.  A simple
measure of discrepancy in which all non-matching descriptions were coded as "0"
and
descriptions matching on the description dimension were coded as "1" was
constructed and
subject to multiple regression analysis.  Table 3 provides an indication of the
results of the
analysis for discrepancy between self-descriptions and descriptions of the
"Ideal Self."  As
indicated in Table 3, no variable in the equation was a significant predictor of
the discrepancy
between self and the ideal self.
___________________________
                        Tables 3 and 4 about here
                      ___________________________
       A somewhat different picture emerges for discrepancy between self and the
electronic
character, however, as role-playing is of marginal significance (p < .091), and
the interaction
between role playing and sex of child is fairly strong (r2=.051, p < .035).  The
regression
weight for role-playing is negative, suggesting that the more role-playing that
occurs, the less
discrepancy is seen between self and the electronic character.
       Hypothesis 5.  In accordance with Higgins (1987),the fifth hypothesis was
the
proposition that discrepancies between self-descriptions and the description of
an ideal self
should result in the inclusion of  dejection-related emotions in verbal
descriptions and in
expression of feelings one has after a game is over.  If the electronic game
character is
serving as a substitute or model for the player's perception of the ideal self,
these emotions
should be more evident in discrepancy between self and electronic character than
between self
and the ideal self.  A dummy variable coded 1 for dejection-related emotion
words and 0 for
non-dejection emotion words (see Higgins, 1987) used in the descriptions was
subjected to a
paired-difference t-test.  Table 5 presents the mean differences for both
descriptions of
feelings about the character and descriptions of feelings the player has after
the game is over.
As evident from the table, both comparisons were statistically significant,
providing support
for the hypothesis.
 
 
Discussion
       This paper has been necessarily exploratory, tapping a somewhat
nontraditional area,
the potential relationship between self-other comparison and electronic
characters.  Although
results are somewhat tentative, there is considerable evidence here that
children identify quite
closely with electronic characters of all sorts, and that these identifications
may have
important implications for their emotional well-being as well as for the
development of
personality.
       Evidence here suggests that identification with electronic characters is
an aspect of the
development of the individual -- as grade level increased, we found that
children were less
likely to report identification with the characters.  However, it is important
to note that, even
though less identification is reported by the children as they mature, we found
no evidence to
suggest that they were less likely to use similar dimensions in describing
themselves and the
electronic characters.  In other words, there may be less overt identification,
but the process
of making self-other comparisons, and using electronic characters as the "other"
may continue
throughout the developmental stages examined here.
       We found several implications of this identification.  We found that the
more role
playing that occurs, the more likely the players are to use similar criteria in
describing
themselves and the electronic characters.  In addition, we found that a likely
outcome of this
self-other comparison is for the self to come up short -- the player is not as
tall, fast, funny,
smart or strong as the electronic character -- and the result appears to be
consistent with
Higgins' (1987) hypothesis that the self will feel somewhat dejected as a result
of the
comparison.
       There are still many unanswered questions related to self-other
comparisons and the
function of mediated characters.  While identification with mediated characters
is a common
and much-discussed phenomenon of modern life, little research has been unable to
unravel the
consequences of that identification.  This research takes one step in that
direction by
examining the implications for emotional experience and the development of
personality, but
it is clear that many of the experiences described here are a normal part of
personality
development and do not necessarily imply negative effects on personality
development.  If, as
Cooley, James, Baldwin and others have suggested, we store small components of
others'
personalities in developing our own, it is important, and probably necessary,
for children to
store both good and bad aspects of personality so that they may assess the
effects of those
personalities on their environments.  While it may be  troublesome to some that
some of
those bits and pieces of personality are electronic, programmed and planned,
rather than
developed from interactions in a real world, one might see them as simply
mediated
personalities - developed by a programmer or game designer who has had
experience in the
real world and communicates those experiences through the game characters.  More
research
is needed to elucidate some of the implications of the role of electronic
characters and the
social self in the development of personality and human experience.
 
 
 
 
 
Table 1.
Distributions of Game Playing Variables *
 
 
 
Variable
 
Yes
No
 
 
Play Video or Computer Game
 
90.8
9.2
 
 
Ownership of Computer
 
47.8
52.2
 
 
Ownership of Video game
 
74.4
25.6
 
 
Parents' Rules on Games
 
45.8
54.2
 
 
Play Games at Home
 
88.2
11.8
 
 
Play Games Alone
 
70.4
29.6
 
*Total n=303; Table percentages reflect percent answering questions.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Table 2.
ANOVA Results for Role Playing by Grade and Sex
 
 
 
Source
Sum of Squares
df
F
prob.
 
 
Covariates
Sex
16.741
1
13.301
.000
 
 
Main effects
Grade
43.732
12
2.895
.000
 
 
Explained
70.486
13
4.308
.001
 
 
Residual
245.437
195
 
 
 
 
Total
 
315.923
208
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Table 3.
Regression on Discrepancy between Self and Ideal Self
 
 
 
Block
Beta
T
P value
Inc. r2
 
 
Grade
Sex
 
-.148
-.040
1.014
 .269
.312
.788
.001
 
 
Role Playing
 
-.245
.886
.377
.032
 
 
Role Playing by Sex
Role Playing by
Grade
Total r2
-.077
.155
.332
-.900
.741
.369
.005
 
 
.038
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Table 4.
Hierarchical Regression on Discrepancy between Self and Electronic Character
 
 
 
Block
Beta
T
P value
Inc. r2
 
 
Grade
Sex
 
 .030
-.246
 -.140
 1.130
.889
.262
 
.022*
 
 
Role Play
 
-.659
 1.711
.091
.001
 
 
Role Playing by Sex
Role Playing by
Grade
Total r2
.694
.005
-2.149
 -.020
.035
.985
.051*
 
 
.074*
 
*p < .05
 
 
Table 5.
Results of t-test testing for inclusion of dejection-related emotions in verbal
descriptions.
 
 
 
 
Descriptions of Characters
mean
t-value
p.
 
 
    Self-Ideal Self Comparison
.583
-2.17
.032
 
 
    Self-Character Comparison
.704
 
 
 
 
Descriptions of Post-Game Emotions
 
 
 
 
 
    Self-Ideal Self Comparison
.439
-5.94
.000
 
 
    Self-Character Comparison
.772
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 References
 
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