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What Courses Should I Take to Study Media Psychology?

Posted Nov 04 2009 12:00am
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Wondering what courses make up a media psychology curriculum is common particularly among people thinking about the next steps in their education.   Recently a young woman from Athlone High School for Girls in South Africa posed this  question, so I am sharing my response here.  It is exciting to hear that people all around the world are becoming aware of the importance of psychology in addressing media and technology in our daily lives.

Media psychology, while based in psychology, is transdisciplinary.  You will want a working understanding of several areas of psychology, sociology, and (surprise!) design.  You will also want good communication skills and actual (not theoretical) experience with media applications.  Each person develops their own interests that will involve more targeted learning.

Start with a broad view of psychology, including developmental, cognitive, and social. When you are thinking about how people use, develop or are impacted by media, developmental psychology helps you to understand how people develop, change, and mature and the differences that makes in how they perceive the world. Cognitive psychology looks at how people think–including the physical nature of processing information of all kinds (words, images, sounds) through the senses, how that gets our attention, and influences how we learn, are persuaded, and become engaged. It also looks at the qualitative side–how individuals interpret or make meaning out of all that information based on our individual experiences and culture.

Social psychology and sociology examine different aspects of the behavior of individuals as they connect with groups, group behaviors, networks and network behaviors, and the sense of self and place that are part of our social and personal identities. It also looks at broader social implications of society as groups, institutions, and nations. 

From there, two areas that I find particularly relevant are Narrative Psychology and Positive Psychology.  I find Narrative Psychology very useful because stories are how we connect the dots when we try to understand things.   Positive Psychology contributes to understanding how strengths, self-efficacy, hope, and resilience can be important factors in the development of prosocial media.

Good communication skills are very important so that you know how to get your message across. The best understanding of psychology and media in the world won’t help if you can’t communicate your thoughts.

As technology changes, we must be more innovative, intuitive, and creative. Design brings together disparate elements in new and exciting ways.

And finally, learning how media is produced, how technology tools work, and how the technology influences content and our interaction with it and each other is very important. The tools change often, but the fundamental issues of people and message construction will continue to apply.  Media psychology is an applied field, promoting the understanding of media technologies, their impact, and their potential.  Philosophically, the media psychologists I know are actively engaged in the positive development and use of media technologies for everything from education to social change.

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