Colloquium, Prof. Jessica Taylor-Piotrowski, 19.12.17: Finding Orchids in a Field of Dandelions

Prof. Jessica Taylor-Piotrowski, Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR) at the University of Amsterdam (UvA)

12:15-13:45, 19.12.17

Terrace building, Room 4026

"Finding Orchids in a Field of Dandelions"

 In 1961, in a now-classic text, Schramm, Lyle, and Parker summarized their understanding of the influence of television on children:

For some children under some conditions, some television is harmful. For other children under the same conditions or for the same children under other conditions it may be beneficial. For most children under most conditions, most television is probably neither particularly harmful nor particularly beneficial. This may seem unduly cautious, or full of weasel words, or, perhaps, academic gobbledygook to cover up something inherently simple ( . . . ). We wish it were. Effects are not that simple.

More than fifty years later, not much has changed.  Except everything has changed. The media space is more diverse and personalized than ever before. Children are accessing media at younger ages, and their rates of use continue to climb. The digital revolution has challenged traditional theories of media effects as users negotiate the space between consumers and producers. And with these changes, scholars are clamouring to understand who is affected by media, when these effects occur, and how these effects unfold. Embracing complexity seems to be the mantra of the day.

But how? How do we embrace the complexity of today’s media space? How do we resolve the seeming contradiction between a public rhetoric that suggests large media effects and a scientific literature which increasingly argues the reverse? One way may be through the paradigm of differential susceptibility. Rather than looking for omnibus patterns across users and content, the key to modern-day media effects may instead be found by looking for patterns within the intersection between consumer, content, and context.

Borrowing from developmental psychology, in her talk, Dr. Piotrowski will rely on the metaphor of orchid and dandelion children to illustrate the application of differential susceptibility in media-effects scholarship. Orchid children, like the flower, are able to develop beautifully in conditions of support and nurture but promptly decline in conditions of neglect. In contrast, dandelion children are relatively hardy and able to survive and thrive across a range of environments. But who are the orchids? Who are the dandelions? How do we find them? Presenting results from a series of studies conducted with more than 1000 children in The Netherlands, Piotrowski will highlight how she and her colleagues are attempting to find orchids in a field of dandelions, the theoretical, methodological, and analytic challenges that have emerged during their search, and why these challenges are worth the effort.

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