Media Representation and Effects – AS & A level Sociology Notes

This article deals with the understanding of the concept of media representation and the effect it has upon the society. The article proceeds with observing how the axes of social division like class, ethnicity, gender, age are represented by media. The models of media effects are also discussed in the article  along with understanding how human behaviour is influenced by the media in both positive and negative way.

media notes for sociology students

Media consist of a myriad of elements of the society that it represents from time to time via medium like television, books, social media etc. Portrayal of societal aspects like gender, race, class, ethnicity etc. shapes human thoughts and behaviour by broadening our scope of perception. But the way these aspects of society are represented is very important to note or else media would falsely design our perception regarding all the issues taking place in the society. Media representation can be understood as the portrayal of certain established ideologies or facts pertaining to a group of people. This representation has several effects in the society when media serves it to the mass of people who then design their understanding of the society as per what they receive from media.

Media Representation of Class, Gender, Ethnicity and Age Groups

Below are a few markers of social identity that the media represents –

  • Media Representation of Class

 Class is determined on the basis of the socioeconomic categories that divides the society. The media represent the lower class in a negative light portraying them to be a problematic section of the society which possibly might be because lower class people hardly belong to the media houses. The elite class or the middle class people are always portrayed to be the driver of society who takes the responsibility of the development of the society.  For example, the King of the Royal Family is portrayed as the head of the nation and the activities of the entire family is constantly being covered by the media stimulating a sense of national importance of the elite family.

  • Media Representation of Gender

Media representation of gender is highly stereotypical that promotes the ideas of masculinity and femininity by reinforcing gender stereotypes. Women are always portrayed as docile, submissive, dependent, nurturing acknowledging the notion of femininity and men are always portrayed as strong, aggressive, independent, loud and courageous acknowledging the notion of masculinity. Even the representation of sexuality has always been heterosexual where the LGBTQ+ community has always been marginalized and portrayed in a negative way.

  • Media Representation of Ethnicity

Ethnicity which means the cultural characteristics of a given group,  enables members of that group to claim their belongingness to that group and distinguish themselves from others. But the media representation of ethnicity has always been flawed where ethnic minorities are often represented as being problematic. For instance, Asian and Black people are often represented stereotypically to be the cause of social unrest and disorder in a community, causing riots or committing more crimes than their White counterparts.

  • Media Representation of Age Groups

Media has always stereotypically represented various age groups like children, youth and the elderly people. Children are often portrayed as vulnerable group who depend on their elders and are often termed as cute and notorious beings. Youth are always represented as restless, immature group of people who are engrossed in fashion, gadgets and all the fancy things available to them. The fashion and music industry produce their products keeping the youth as their target audience. The elderly people are often portrayed by the media as burden to the younger generation because of their dependency on the young people for taking care of them. They are also portrayed as conservative group of people who resist change thus sticking to their traditional ways and mindsets.  

Media contributes to gender socialization

Media is also an agent of socialization that stimulates the masculine-feminine dichotomy.  Media bombards the minds of people into convincing the preconceived gender roles. For example, it is always the women in detergent ads because of stereotypical gender role that it is the women who do the household chores. Men are always shown to be engaged in activities outside the domestic realm. Such representation of the media perpetuates a flawed idea of gender socialization.

Media leads to moral panics around class, gender, ethnicity and age groups

Representation of the above mentioned markers of social identity – class, gender, ethnicity and age groups brings to light the moral panics that media generates in the society. This moral panic occurs due to exaggeration of media while representing various groups or section of people. For example the exaggerated representation of the youth or the ethnic minorities stimulate fear in the minds of people that they would stain the social and cultural fabric of the society.

Media contributes to spread of popular culture

Media is  responsible for the spread of popular culture that comprises of the cultural products like literature, fashion, art, music etc. that a wide group of people consume. Popular culture disseminated through media invoke a sense of belongingness among people as the proliferation of TV channels and other mediums  of entertainment that telecast shows and programs from worldwide connects the people as they consume similar kind of media content.  For example, the pop genre of music is not restricted to one part of the world rather it has spreaded worldwide due to media.

Models of Media Effects

  1. Direct effect
  • Hypodermic Syringe Model

The hypodermic syringe model perceive audience to be passive and homogeneous mass who believes what they see in media without questioning its content by being directly influenced by it.  Two feminist sociologists Susi Orbach and Naomi Wolfe pointed to the perpetuation of  ‘beauty myth’, like the representations of size zero as normal, has led to increase in eating disorders and increase in mental health issues especially among young women.

Strength and limitations of the model

The main strength of this model is its ability to influence a large number of people with little effort and attractive presentation of content that convince them to believe what media serves them.  

Although this model has been popular for quite some time due to the evidences found supporting it yet this model is not feasible anymore when audience are no longer passive consumer of media and are not homogeneous anymore.  

2. Indirect effect

  • Use and Gratification Model

Uses and gratifications model views audience as active media users who control their media consumption. This model stress on the power of individual as a result of which effects of media are taken by people differently in whichever way media seems to impact them. For example, many people use the Internet to seek out entertainment, to find information, communicate with like-minded individuals, or to express one’s thoughts  and feelings. Each of these uses gratifies a particular need that determine the way in which media is used.

Strength and limitations of the model

The main strength of the model is that it focus on “What do people do with media?” rather than  “What does media do to people?” which depicts that people have power over their media usages and have the power to deliberately seek out media to fulfill certain needs like entertainment, relaxation, or socialization.

This theory sees a limitation as the importance of media is brought down with giving weightage to individual perception of media content. Also, it is not always true that audience are always be active or passive consumer of media.

  • Two Step Flow Model

Two-step Flow Model is where information and influence are transmitted  from mass media to mass audiences. In this model, media facilitates communication that mass audience receive from the source illuminating the fact that media can influence public via indirect means.  One of the most common examples of the two-step flow model is in the field of politics where  media organizations  inform the public about political issues through television, radio, newspapers, and the internet. Political opinion leaders like politicians, commentators etc.  also influence people  by sharing their views on several issues in their social network.

Strength and limitations of the model

The strength of the model is that it enables audiences to be active participants in the entire communication process and also this model stimulates the formation of public opinion.

The two-step flow model is considered to limit the power of mass media and is believed to become outdated with the coming of social media where the flow of information has changed.

  • Normative Model

Normative Model theorize that  media content is shaped in the environment in which they operate. The media houses shape their information as per the whims of those in power having control over media be it the government, authority, leader and public.

Strength and limitations of the model

An important strength of the Normative model is that media brings forth to people the socio-political side of the society by introducing the people to various policies formulated by the government as the media system is shaped and operated by the governing body.

Normative theories are limited on the ground that media pays much attention upon its relationship with the government rather than the audience and are concerned regarding the ownership and control of the media rather than providing any scientific explanation or prediction.

  • Cultural Effects Model

The cultural effects model holds that the media contains ideological messages reflecting the values of media owners and professionals who expect audiences to agree with what they prefer and believe. This model sees that media is  influenced by the dominant and most powerful groups in society which is why their interests strongly influence the content of the media that gradually shapes the common sense of people.  But the cultural effects model recognizes that the media audience is made up of people from different social backgrounds that make them interpret media content in different ways.

Strength and limitations of the model

One important strength of this model is that it does not view the audience as simply passive but acknowledge that people interpret the media they consume. The extent to which audience is affected by media depends upon their social experiences despite media spreading dominant ideologies. For example, media might promote gender stereotypes but there will be some women in the society who will resist gender stereotyping.

One of the main limitation of this model is that it seems increasingly unlikely that dominant homogenous content has homogenous effects in the postmodern age of new media as this model believes that journalists and all other media persons conform to the dominant authority who approves media content.

Extent to which human behaviour is influenced by the media

Media has become a part and parcel of our life and an important tool of transmitting information in the society. Excessive use of media has blurred the line of real life and virtual life that confuse people about what to believe and how to behave. The prevalence of social media has further heightened this dilemma. The society is enveloped with social problems like discrimination, stereotyping, stress, phobia, toxic peer pressure etc. which comes from the media content that people are exposed to throughout the day. It brings a sense of insecurity in those individuals who don not find themselves confining to what they see on media. In the process of relating themselves to what media serves them, a false identity is being developed which in the long run takes a toll on both physical and mental health of the individual. Increasing crime rate is another fatal consequence of media use where people without any remorse harass another person for their benefit.   

Impact of Media on Behaviour

It is an obvious fact that media has a great impact on the behaviour of people as the products of media are continuously being consumed. Below are a few impacts that media has upon human behaviour –

  • Violent media leads to violent behaviour

Exposure to violent media leads to aggression among people. Consuming violent content on media and its application in real life is a real problem in the contemporary times. People who watch a violent movie or play a violent video game are often given the idea that violence can be justified which is why there develops a tendency to participate in that violent activity. For example, if a child or a teenager is continuously exposed to a violent video game that kills people or cause them harm, the child may take that activity as normal and would not think twice to harm someone for real.

  • Deviance amplification and moral panics

Deviance amplification and moral panics goes hand in hand. Deviance amplification is  often performed by the mass media where the seriousness of deviant behavior is exaggerated. Deviance amplification  makes a problem seem much serious than it is which instill moral panics which refers to irrational fear that someone or something will erode cultural values or well being of the society. Focusing on minor issues will lead to miss larger issues that the media  need to cover. It  makes social issues difficult to solve as the focus is put on something that  was artificially created. The media  amplify deviance by the exaggerated reporting, selective reporting and labelling thus creating moral panics about certain groups by making use of graphic images and emotive language. For example, media might show the adolescents as being addicted to alcohol by covering such activities in the news every now and then by reporting it in an attractive manner with visuals and language to show its increased threat to society. This will bring a shock to the older generations or create moral panic and they will label the young people as being a threat to the society. 

  • Positive impact of media
  • Increased Awareness

Media leads to an increased awareness among people regarding the happenings all over the world. Newspapers, web portals, television channels, social media applications leads to dissemination of news and information within fraction of seconds.

  • Source of inspiration

Media through its various forms can be a source of inspiration to the people. For example, movies, books, articles, podcasts etc. can appeal the audience from its content and inspire them. For example, movies like Gandhi and Lincoln portraying the life struggles of these great men can inspire the viewers to do something in life.  TV channels conducting interviews with successful people can inspire people to struggle and achieve their goals.  

  •  Media sensationalism and stereotyping

Media sensationalism and media stereotyping has a great impact upon human behaviour. Media sensationalism distort the content served to people due to the efforts it makes to attract the attention of the viewers or readers irrespective of the authenticity of the content. Media is seen to make  use of exaggerating sentences, attractive pictures and even lies while covering any news or event to call attention of the target audience. The media is seen to cover the most mundane news or event and make it an interesting one with exaggeration. For example, the Covid 19 pandemic witnessed media sensationalism when news channels presented exaggerated reporting on new variants, overcrowded hospitals, deaths that greatly affected people who were already terrified because of the pandemic. Media stereotyping  is another distortion of content where rather than ignoring to promote flawed ideologies, media gives prominence to stereotypical ideas and prepare content accordingly. For example, the portrayal of people belonging to the LGBTQ+ in the media is severely stereotyped. They will be casted either in a villainous character or for providing a comic relief to the plot by portraying gay panic among the heterosexuals in a movie. In the movie ‘Hot Tub Time Machine 2’ the storyline advanced with scenarios where straight characters were disturbed by the social or sexual situations that involved people from LGBTQ+  people. Such stereotypical portrayal feeds the minds of people with false assumptions.


Media representation is crucial in shaping the perception as well as behaviour of people regarding any issue in the society.  The effects of such representation decides how the society would function. Therefore it is seen how socialization, identity, culture are some of the areas that media representation affects.

Also Read: Media: Ownership and control of media – AS and A Level Notes


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I am Monsoon Rupam. I did my post graduation in Sociology from Dibrugarh University. I have a curious mind and it always excites me to find 'sociology' in everything around me. I am a keen observer and take interest in research work and analysis. Gender Studies, Social Stratification, Health are a few areas that holds my attention to work upon. Besides, I find solace in music, moon gazing, sunsets, rain and flowers.