Videos of twerking and lyrics of casual sex might have a greater psychological influence on us than we realise. Many psychologists make it their work to quantify the developmental effect of our constant exposure to these types of content.

One such psychologist, Dr Theresa DiDonato at Loyola University, Maryland, recently explained in an article, “Should I say something?”, for Psychology Today how the song “My stupid mouth” by John Mayer can function as an example of the importance of communication in relationships. To Elré Sauerman, a second-year BSc Genetics student, this is very relatable. “I agree with Dr DiDonato because the song is written by someone who went through a certain experience and [they] give their interpretation of the experience and we can thus learn from their experience.”

Monize Heunes, a second-year BA Languages student, disagrees. “Music is just melodies of different instruments put together and lyrics are only a tool used to include the human voice [in] the harmony. Music, especially pop music, is for simple entertainment, not for revolutionary enlightenment of the human psyche.”

For journalist and author of Alphabet Kids: From ADD to Zellweger Syndrome: A Guide to Developmental, Neurobiological and Psychological Disorders for Parents and Professionals, Robbie Woliver, it is not the content itself but the people delivering it that have negative effects on the development of children. In his article, “Snooki, Katy Perry, Glenn Beck: Pop Culture tells our kids it’s cool to be stupid,” Woliver wrote. “Dumbing down is the pervasive message today, from music to TV, and now, even, with the news.” Woliver added that, “When Snooki complains, ‘I feel like a Pilgrim from the friggin’ ‘20s,’ it becomes ingrained in our kids’ psyches, and they equate Snookie’s dumbness with her stardom.”

Maryke Nel, a first-year BEng Industrial Engineering student, disagrees with Woliver: “I think unintelligent celebrities allow young people to realise how bad it looks when they act the way they do and make [young people] more aware of that kind of behaviour. These celebrities can much rather encourage younger people to act with integrity.”

Further in the article, the incident of 16-year-old classical piano prodigy Alexander Bui being buzzed on America’s Got Talent by Sharon Osbourne for not being “pop” enough is mentioned. However, Ulrich Paul, a third-year BCom Investment Management student, understands the need to sell and says, “People always want television and other entertainment media to be authentic and driven by emotion, but they must remember that without sales, production cannot be funded, and there will therefore not be a product, hence it being called ‘popular media’. It should come as no shock that America’s Got Talent wants to be more ‘pop’, because they have to boost ratings to continue the show.”

Some pop media content can have deeper effects than we realise, and can alter our understanding of morality. Defined as “a particular system of values and principles of conduct” by the Oxford English Dictionary, Dr Rubin Lawrence, a leading psychologist in the field, uses an episode of the hit American television series The Walking Dead to explain his observations. He explains how in one episode a character that asks for mercy for a captive, as killing is morally wrong, is then killed in mercy when he is attacked by a zombie. On this Dr Lawrence contemplates: “As a teacher, parent and therapist, I saw in this episode a powerful teaching moment for those of us interested in imparting lessons of morality to our children. Why was the ‘bad’ man saved, while the ‘good’ man was put to death?” To Stephany van Heerden, a second-year BSc Genetics student, this is a realistic notion. “I know how some television programs can, unfortunately, deliver wrong messages to people, with or without the intention by the production team, which can easily cause younger generations to lose moral values. It’s evident in the gap between the generation of our parents and our own,” says Van Heerden.

Not all pop media is negative. A famous, almost redundant study area of the psychological effects of pop media, is the antisocial behaviour acquired when playing violent video games. Many research papers have been published on this matter with numerous newspaper articles bringing these findings to the attention of their everyday readers. This makes the readers believe that all video games are harmful and should be avoided.

Tobias Greitemeyer from the University of Sussex and Silvia Osswald from Ludwig-Maximilians-University did a study on the effects of playing pro-social video games. The study found that 20 of the 40 participants who played the pro-social game had an average reduction in aggressive responses – the complete opposite of when playing violent games.

Other positive effects of pop media include increased learning platforms from educational content made available, decreases in disputes due to cultural differences and even increasing awareness in crucial subject matter.

Some new disorders have been classified and validated by numerous studies that are linked to pop media and the accessibility of it. This includes Internet Addiction Disorder. Addicts are connected to their screens; their minds trapped for hours to the exclusion of the world around them. Addicts neglect family, work, studies, social relationships and themselves.

So guard your mind when you see Miley Cyrus swinging naked on a wrecking ball, the Kardashians having another family feud over Kim’s 75-day marriage or when you play Grand Theft Auto with your friends – it might not all be as innocent as the media makes us believe.

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