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Graphic Design Research Paper An analysis of the influence of mass media through the lens of psychology.


|ABSTRACT With the mass media increasing in influence, the psychological reasoning and roots of design practices and marketing techniques, can help in making more impacting and ethical works. Based on this the research statement was formed: “An analysis of the influence of mass media through the lens of psychology.� In order to explore this, a combination of primary and secondary research was conducted. On one hand, most of the exploration used secondary research in form of research studies, but to establish a memory model as reliable, a primary research in form of a replication was done. The findings of this exploration were that design practices such as limiting the number of elements and repetition were backed by the Memory Model by Atkinson and Shiffrin and that the effectiveness of testimonials and the bandwagon effect can be attributed to Mirror Neurons, Social Learning theory and conformity.


|CONTENTS Introduction


Registering Media Memory Models


Mirror Neurons


Social Learning Theory




Socio-Cultural Influence






|INTRODUCTION Society, to a large extent, is influenced by mass media; so much so, that the term mediated society (a society where culture is reflected and created by media) has been coined by sociologists. Having increased so much in significance, a deeper understanding into how this happens, can benefit professionals who are responsible for creating elements of the mass media such as designers, in making both, more impacting and ethical works. Although research studies have been done on the topic of mass media explicitly, in my opinion, psychological studies on topics such as Memory, Mirror Neurons, Conformity, Social Learning, Empathy and Neuroplasticity can help in giving a more deeper understanding about the phenomenon because these concepts are not only pivotal in forming opinions and making decisions, they are also the very principle behind many fundamental marketing techniques, for instance, the bandwagon effect - which is based on conformity and mirror neurons, and testimonial – which is based on social learning and conformity. Since mass media is important to understand and it would be better to understand this from the perspective of psychology, the research statement “An analysis of the influence of mass media through the lens of psychology.” was formulated. Through this essay, connections between fundamental marketing techniques and psychological concepts are to be explored, and by doing so, the extent to which media can impact society will be assessed.

|REGISTERING MEDIA Memory Models In order to understand how our society is influenced by the mass media, it is imperative to understand how we process the information we receive. To understand that memory models need to be explored. One of the most widely accepted memory model, is the one proposed by Atkinson and Shiffrin (McLeod) – the multi store model. (Below)

Multi Store Memory Model -Atkinson and Shiffrin


In order to understand the extent to which our society is affected by the mass media, it is imperative to understand how we process the information we receive. To understand that

memory models need to be explored. One of the most widely accepted memory model, is the one proposed by Atkinson and Shiffrin – the multi store model. According to this theory, we are always registering memory through sensory memory. When we do pay attention, that memory transfers to STM, and then when we rehearse, the memory transfers to LTM. The study argues that the duration of sensory memory (McLeod) is about a quarter to half of a second, the duration of STM is 0-18 seconds and for LTM the duration is Unlimited. Furthermore, according to the study, if not rehearsed/recalled, the memory gradually deteriorates. If any of these stated conditions can be validated through another research, it’ll add more weight to the theory, thereby helping this exploration. For the purpose of this exploration the study by Peterson and Peterson on the potential of a human beings Short Term Memory will be replicated. In this study (Abbas), two groups of school going non-psychology students were given a set of 8 trigrams to recall. In condition A, the group of student had to count backward from 6 out loud; and afterwards they could write down the trigrams they could recall. In condition B, they were supposed to do the same, the only difference being that this group had to count backward from 9. The results (Below) were very similar to that of the original study.


Condition A


Condition B

2 1 0 0











Results from Replication of Peterson and Peterson It was found in this study that the number of trigrams recalled and the delay had an indirect relationship; with an increase in delay the trigram recalled reduced. This observation suggests that the LTM is different from the STM in terms of duration; therefore, supporting the Multi Store Model. With the Multi Store Model being established as a reliable model, it can be used to understand various marketing choices that are used by professionals like designers. For instance, limiting the number of elements on a graphic ad to less than 7, or investing huge amounts of capital in rigorous marketing. 5.

When it comes to a graphic ad, it is usually considered best to keep the number of elements under 7, the reason behind it being that the less the target market has to take it, the more

impactful it’ll be. For instance, Coca Cola, a company known worldwide for its marketing has been known to use ads (Below) with as less elements as possible. Interestingly, this practice is also supported by the studies explored, where the maximum number of trigrams recalled by individuals was 7.




Coca-Cola New Zealand – Summer as it should be (Publicis Mojo)


Similarly, the studies also support the practice of repetition used in the marketing campaigns, because according to the studies, repetition and rehearsal are the key to transferring information from the STM to LTM.

Mirror Neurons Another psychological element that can help in furthering the research is one that is considered the reason behind our nature to empathize – the Mirror Neurons. Empathy being pivotal in many marketing techniques for instance Testimonials, these neurons play a major role when it comes to marketing. To understand these neurons better, they will be explored though the study on Mirror Neurons (2014) by Marco Iacoboni. In the study (Iacoboni), participants were asked to look at images of human faces while in an fMRI. And then were asked to look at the same set of images again, but this time they had to mimic the expressions from the photos. It was observed that a similar brain activity was shown both the times, when looking at an expression and when mimicking the expressions, for instance when looking at a happy face, the pleasure centers of the participant were activated, and the same happened when mimicking the expression. On the basis of these observations, it was argued that the spike in brain activity (mirror neurons) was the same in both cases, because humans have evolved to learn by empathizing. The findings of this study greatly support the practice of using human faces and the use of testimonials in all marketing campaigns, for instance (Below) ads for food items.

McDonalds ad for BigMac Featuring Neymar Jr.


It can be argued that human faces used in marketing campaigns make us emote in a similar way, thereby benefiting the brand and to an extent, even supporting in value transfer. This, in my opinion, happens because when it comes to authority figures like Neymar (authority figure for being healthy/fit), humans have a sense of trust in them because they’re familiar, and when we see them emote in a way that is positive, we then start associating that feeling with the brand as well.

|SOCIO-CULTURAL INFLUENCE Social Learning Theory When it comes to the sociocultural levels of analysis, Social Learning Theory is one element that can give us a better insight into the psychology behind marketing. This is because this theory is about picking up social behavior, and the goal of marketing is very similar; making the market pick up their product. According to the theory, in order to learn, four conditions must be fulfilled: attention, retention, reproduction and motivation; interestingly, these conditions being very similar to that of a good ad. Social Learning usually comes into play when making testimonials, because as seen previously with mirror neurons, human faces are a powerful tool. In order to have a better understanding of this theory the Bobo Doll Study (1963) by Albert Bandura will be explored. In this study (Bandura), 72 children (36 girls and 36 boys) were divided into 3 groups. Group 1 watch aggressive adults, group 2 watched adults fixing toys and group 3 was control. After 10 minutes of watching the adult role models, the children were placed in a room with a bobo doll and were then observed. It was noted that the children that had seen aggressive role models were acting aggressive whereas the others weren’t. Furthermore, it was noticed that boys who saw adult females being aggressive often made remarks like “ladies shouldn’t do that”; based on this it was argued that children were more likely to imitate a same-sex role model.

KFC ad Featuring Cristiano Ronaldo


In my opinion, the children were more likely to follow same-sex models, not solely because they preferred a same-sex role model, but because sex was a factor that was common; thereby making them feel familiar. If true, the findings of this study support the practice of using individuals that people can relate to, in testimonials. For instance (Above), in the

KFC Ad Cristiano Ronaldo is taking the position of the role model (Authority Figure) and is promoting the product, but the ad is not only meant for the male target market, instead the ad is meant for all football followers. Had Ronaldo only appealed to male football followers, a separate ad for the female market would’ve been made, but since that is not the case, it can be argued that what Ronaldo shares with the target market is not simply sex, but what makes him familiar (and therefore an authority figure) is the sport. Keeping this in mind, it is not hard to see why professionals/celebrities are used in marketing campaigns. Apart from this, another variant to testimonials, which are testimonials given not by celebrities, but by the general public (Below), can be explained in a similar manner.

Proactive Success Stories (Testimonial) (Proactive) Since, over a period of time, the notion that celebrities are paid to promote products, and therefore their statements can be lies, has become stronger, the use of the general population has become a smarter move in certain situations. This, in my opinion, is done to indicate that someone from the general population has used to product too, and has been benefited by the results; thereby turning them into authority figures and creating a sense of reliability. Furthermore, due to this notion, a sense of ingroup and outgroup has been created, which can also be further explained and explored by a study on the Minimal Group Paradigm (1970) by Henry Tajfel. In the study (Tajfel), schoolboys were randomly divided into groups. They were told that the division was on the basis of the type of artworks they liked. And were told that the experiment was about decision making. Then, they were individually assigned to give points to other individuals from both, ingroup and outgroup. It was noted that the participants tended to favour ingroup members over outgroup members. The observations in this study can be used to highlight, how the general population, in certain cases, might feel like they’re ingroup and celebrities are outgroup, thereby preferring marketing campaigns which include someone from ingroup, i.e. the general population. Conformity


In marketing, the Bandwagon effect can be considered a direct consequence of conformity; the Bandwagon effect being the phenomenon of individuals wanting a product, in order to conform. For instance, Apple products are sometimes bought by individuals who aren’t

iPhone 6 Ad financially capable and cheaper phones are available with similar features, in order to conform. A study that supports this is the Asch’s Paradigm Experiment by Solomon Asch. In this study (Asch), the subject was placed in a room with 6 confederates and the experimenter, and the subject was deceived into believing that the 6 confederates were other participants. They were made to sit in such a way that the subject would be second last. And then were shown 2 cards with each card having three clearly different (in length) lines on them, and were asked to match the one that same on both the cards. Furthermore, the confederates were asked to sometimes answer incorrectly. It was observed that 75% of the subjects conformed at least once to a wrong answer and 32% conformed with the wrong answer more than half of the times. Based on the findings of this study it was argued that humans put aside their own beliefs in order to conform with the society; which also happens to be the very basis of the bandwagon effect. This being the case, some ethical questions a are highlighted. The main one being, if based on conformity, individuals can take uninformed decisions, is it even fair to use it in marketing? Interestingly, although, the use of this technique might seem unethical, due to the inclusion of social media in products/services it has become extremely important in order to assure quality. For instance, if a technically competitive smartphone (with a new OS) is launched in the market, but it isn’t successful in making huge sales; that’ll mean that there is a relatively low amount of population on the platform. Consequently, the threshold population for better apps/services would not be met, and a technically competitive product would not have good apps or support; thereby failing entirely. In situations like these, where a technically competitive product is in question, the bandwagon effect can greatly help, both the consumer and the business in introducing a new quality product.


|CONCLUSION Following the research statement biological, cognitive and socio-cultural topics of psychology were explored in order to find the roots of major designer practices, such as limiting the number of elements in a graphic ad, and marketing strategies, such as bandwagon effect and testimonials. On one hand, while exploring the process of registering media, the memory model by Atkinson and Shiffrin was explored, and used to explore why the number of elements on a graphic ad are kept below 7. Through this model the importance of repetition was also noted. Furthermore, through the study on Mirror Neurons by Marco Iacoboni, the importance of using the human face in ads was explored and established. On the other hand, while exploring the sociocultural impact, the social learning theory by Albert Bandura was used to outline the purpose of advertising, and then to explore the use of authority figures in testimonials. It was also seen how the general population can also be used as an authority figure. Afterwards, through the study on conformity by Solomon Asch the bandwagon effect explored and understood. Furthermore, it was seen how this relatively controversial technique, needs to be used in certain situations in order to ensure quality service.


|BIBLIOGRAPHY • McLeod, Saul, Richard Atkinson, and Richard Shiffrin. "Multi Store Model of Memory Atkinson and Shiffrin." Simply Psychology. N.p., 2007. Web. 28 Nov. 2016. • Abbas, Abid. Replication of Peterson and Peterson. N.p., 26 Feb. 2015. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. • Coca-Cola New Zealand. “Summer as it should be.” Adbranch. Publicis Mojo, Auckland, 2007. Web. 30 Nov. 2016. • Iacoboni, Marco. “Supporting Study 4: Iacoboni (2004).” IB Guides. N.p., 2004. Web. 30. Nov. 2016. • Bandura, Albert. Bobo Doll Experiment (1963). IB Psychology Notes. N.p., 2012. Web. 30 Nov. 2016. • Proactive. “Success Stories.” N.p., 2016. Web. 1 Dec. 2016. • Tajfel, Henry. “Tajfel (1970) - The minimal Group Paradigm.” IB Guides. N.p., 2012. Web. 01 Dec. 2016. • Asch, Solomon. Asch’s Paradigm Experiment. IB Psych Notes. N.p., 2013. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.


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Graphic Design Research Paper An analysis of the influence of mass media through the lens of psychology.


Graphic Design Thesis Dec. 2016  

An analysis of the influence of mass media through the lenses of psychology.

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