Expectations of social behavior and cognitive dissonance

among college freshman as influenced by mass media


by: Erica Bozzi



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Thank you for visiting my site. This is a modified version of extensive research.  If you have any questions please feel free to email me.

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I would like to take this opportunity to thank a few people that have helped to keep me alive during the past year.

Nick, thank you for always loving me and never giving up on me when I was impossible to reason with.  Night after night you sat there taking the time out of your insane schedule to make sure I never lost confidence in my ability to finish my thesis.  I appreciate everything and ever little word you said to me.   I will never forget what you have done for me.  I love you.

To my girls, you poor roommates having to put up with one miserable mood after another.  I do not know what I would have done without the nights of complete craziness.  We shared laughs and tears throughout the past year and without our friendships I would have definitely lost my mind.  A special thanks to Coley for keeping her head on straight while mine spun.

A special thanks to all psychology majors who had to suffer through this process with me.  It was the unbelievable support system provided from all individuals that amazed me everyday.  No matter how upset someone could be, that same person would still provide a word of wisdom to help another get through it all.

Lastly, I would like to thank Professor Ossoff for her patience and guidance throughout the past semester.

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The current study tested 34-college freshman from a small liberal arts college in southern New Hampshire.  The individuals were prescreened for level of media exposure were separated into high media exposure and low media exposure groups.  Both groups were administered two questionnaires.  The first 25-item questionnaire was to determine one’s perception of college and use of media by the individual.  The second survey conducted was the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire or SACQ, (Baker & Siryk, 1989).  This instrument determined the participant’s level of adaptation to college.

            Results of the experimenter’s questionnaire indicate that those individuals of the high media group do tend to relate their lives to those seen on television more than the low media group.  The hypothesis was also supported showing significance that the high media users did believe media portrayed an accurate depiction of college.  However, contrary to the hypothesis, scores on the SACQ support that individuals exposed to high media have a more comfortable adaptation to college then those of the low media group. Reasons for such findings could be that the participants exposed to high media allow themselves more time to relax during the week and socialize on a more frequent level, maintaining a well-rounded college existence. 

            A series of Pearson Product Moment correlations was also conducted to assess the relationship between the experimenter’s questionnaire and the SACQ, and also to measure the relationships to each specific question with in the experimenter’s questionnaire.  The correlations were conducted within the high media group, within the low media group, and between the two conditions combined.  Results indicate a more positive correlation between the high media group being exposed to a large amount of media and adaptation to college.  Furthermore, results also support that media did create a false perception of college within the participants of the high media group.  However, the hypothesis was not supported, in that, with the false perception of college, there would be a development of cognitive dissonance leading to an unhealthy adaptation to college life.  On the contrary, there were fewer correlations detected within the low media group indicating a less positive adaptation to college life, with less socialization and relaxation.

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       From childhood to old age, people view various movies and watch countless hours of television.  The average amount of television viewed by 18-years old and older is 1,588 per year, approximately four hours per day(Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2001); movie after movie, program after program, some never realizing the impact of what they are watching.  For the past few years there has been substantial research attempting to assess the influence of television violence on young children (Sappenfiled, 2002).  Violence in movies, television, and music has been scrutinized, in part because of such occurrences as the shooting at Columbine High School, and other schools through out the nation. While focusing so much time on the violence imitated from movies and television, there has been less concentration on other aspects of life that individuals seem to be imitating from the mass media. 

Watching such movies as “PCU” presents the notion that college is a fun-loving party at all times.  Is it possible that while children grow and are subjected to movies such as “PCU” they look for or expect to find the same kind of college experience?  Do High school seniors look forward to the years of college, because they have been persuaded through mass media that college is a 4-year party of fun and friendships never reaping consequences for one’s actions? Hollywood’s vision of college is usually a less than accurate dramatization displaying inaccurate social norms to the viewers.  The present research will investigate these media portrayals influence on what college aged adolescents do, what they say, what they wear, and what they expect in most college situations. 

Research Defends Influence of Mass Media

A study by Wolburg and Pokrywczynski (2001), state that although the new generation labeled generation Y (sometimes also called generation X) is the most educated generation in all of history, it is also the generation which has been the most exposed to technology and media. These young people are highly influenced by the mass media.  They propose that generation Y searches for gratification through the mass media.  The study researches a number of different questions concerning the effect and influence advertisement have on 18-24 year old college students relating to self-identity, gender, and media depictions. There were 329 participants in the study, at a private Mid-western urban university with a population nearing 10, 000.  A survey, which was divided into four subgroups, was presented to each participant.  First, they were to choose words from a list provided that best described their personality.  Second, each participant listed the top 8 most frequent informative advertisements.  Next, they were asked to determine how accurately mass media portrayed the life of an 18-24 year old.  Lastly, demographic information was provided.  In response to the question of how well media portrays college students, the study found that 58 percent of participants believed that the media does not accurately depict their generation.  The researchers concluded that the effect media has on an individual depends on the particular individual and his/her own personality. 

In a related study Lloyd (2002), also looked at how mass media affects adolescents.  The article defends the idea that teenagers, while viewing movies and watching television, sympathize with characters and situations, searching for social competence and development.  Lloyd discusses a theoretical perspective known as the, “Adolescent Identity, Media, and Sociocognitive Schema” (AIMSS). The AIMSS theory connects a chain of events of how the mass media influence a person.   Lloyd explains that the theory is made up of four components: the ecology or environment, salient development tasks, how one processes information, and relevant outcomes.  It supports the standpoint that the mass media do have an influence on adolescents, not an external one, rather an internal influence focusing on the individual’s own mind and identity, depending on the adolescent, as presented in various developmental models.  For example, Lloyd discusses similar developmental models ranging from Eric Erikson’s Identity Formation Theory and compares it to James Marcia’s Identity Status paradigm.  Identity formation, as Erikson would describe it, is through a person making choices by exploring options and committing to roles (Rice, 1998). Identity formation assists in the development of an individual’s personality and characteristics, what makes a person an individual.  Identity formation, however, is does not promise for a positive outcome in every person.  Lloyd explains, because adolescence is a confusing period, the teenager is searching for identity.  While forming one’s identity the person is searching for social competence, a way to interact positively with one’s peers.  The adolescent turns to television or radio, where the individual draws answers and guidance through these difficult years (2002).  This model defends the notion that it is common for an individual to forget that what is on the movie screen or the television is fictional and not a model for proper survival.  This can become a dilemma for those individuals watching movies such as “Animal House,” a movie from 1978 which depicts the college life in a fraternity setting.  There is drinking during the weekdays, in the morning, in the evening, and on the weekends.  It is a constant party of crude behavior and vandalism.  While having a D- average, the characters never truly experience consequences for the actions committed. There is little representation of schoolwork and responsibilities.  It portrays college as easy and a time of carefree experience.  The only experiences are the parties, which is a very poor portrayal of college.  This presents the dilemma that Hollywood has created.  By developing a movie such as “Animal House,” it has destroyed an accurate perception of college to many individuals.  After viewing such a movie, individuals may be prone to believe that college is an easy ride of parties and fun.  Because of this perception, when a person enters college and realizes the amount of responsibilities and hard work which is needed to successfully perform, it may develop a more difficult transition to college.

Furthermore, if a child is watching a music video, the AIMSS suggests that the video is affecting the individual’s social competence.  Lloyd states, depending on the environment, the video is now affecting the child’s identity formation, the options presented by life are being explored (Rice, 1998).  This presents the occurrence of identity exploration because of the exposure of the music video.  The adolescent uses the video to determine aspects of identity such as self-perception; he/she uses the mass media as answers to life.  By what is viewed in media the adolescent discovers the options accessible in life and decides what choices are right for the individual.  The choices that are made become developing characteristics of the individual.

On a different note, Tesser, Millar, and Wu (1998) conducted a study which determined that there are typically three types of moviegoers.  The researchers tested 100 college students at a large southern university campus.  The researchers provided a questionnaire to gather background data and to rate the importance of various variables, which may contribute to one’s choice of what movies to watch.  Through this questionnaire individuals stated why they would attend a movie and for what reasons.  Based on that information the following categories where created:  for self-escape function, self-development function, and entertainment function.  Those watching movies for self-development watch ones that demonstrate emotions of how others feel or think.  These individuals also search for a sense of self.  Self-development individuals view movies that seem realistic in plot and enhance identification, such as serious movies like “Ordinary People” or “Kramer vs. Kramer,” disliking films of comical satire as “Zapped” or “Porky’s” (Tesser, et al 1998).   The self-development viewers unknowingly look to the mass media for direction and accuracy in real-life situations.  Individuals may mimic behavior modeled in movies in situations that involve “uncertainties” or novelty.  Movies are sometimes seen as a guide through emotional upheaval in life.  One must remember that mass media portrayals are fictional, the product of Hollywood, and are not always focused on accuracy.  However, it is very easy for an individual between the ages of 15-20, because they are experiencing a tumultuous period in life of change and confusion, to be more likely to forget that what is seen in the movies is not reality.   While the study maintains that only certain types of individuals referring to media, whether consciously or unconsciously, for guidance, it does support the hypothesis, in that, there are some individuals who enhance identification through media.

Movies are not the only source of media to which adolescents are exposed; television is perhaps a more accessible outlet for teenagers.  Baker (2000) relates what meanings adolescents gain from television to Albert Bandura’s social learning theory.  The social learning theory states that people learn certain behaviors by watching others of authority or respect act in such certain ways (Aronson, Wilson, & Akert, 2001).  The studies support hat many human actions are mimicked through Bandura’s concept of social learning.  Some research states that aggressive parents raise aggressive children, because the children grow learning and imitating the parents (Aronson, et. al, 2001).  Of recent, Bandura’s theory has been utilized in studies rating the effects of violence in television on children.  Many studies have found that the more violence viewed early in life, the more violent a person will be in later years (Eron, Huesmann, Lefkowitz, & Walder, 1996).  

Bandura’s theory creates a relationship between behavioral, cognitive, and environmental social factors; Baker (2000) connects these aspects to television in his study.  He utilizes a qualitative method based on a series of interviews with 8 adolescents.  The study tried to determine the understandings young adolescents draw from television and how the meanings relate to whom and where they are in their development.  One’s status in life, depending on the individual, determines how one related television to certain experiences in life.  For instance, a teenager would relate more to shows categorized as dramas encompassing emotion, rather then a program like “Friends,” which is more directed to young adults.  What was discovered is that television did not create new information, rather reinforced existing information.  While they were able to separate most fictional attributes of television from reality, they used television as a tool to compare themselves and their experiences to the lives and situations of characters that they recognized as fictional.  They became active viewers taking cues from the characters and judging the good and bad behavior.  This study supports the notion that media are not just entertainment but play an active part in molding a person’s character.  The current research is also expecting to support this idea by finding research which maintains that individuals view media and whether consciously or not, it molds a perception of college.  A perception that is fabricated by ideations, glorifying a life if parties, rather than responsibilities and obligations.

If it is true that those characters found in mass media reinforce individual’s beliefs, as Baker (2000), states, then it is easy for a person to confuse what is reality and what is not.  Therefore, if a person has not been exposed to a certain situation besides what has been viewed in media, then it is possible that the cues discovered in media depictions about that situation may be easily believed. Bahk (2001), demonstrated this is his research on 158 college students and each watched one of two movie vignettes that portrayed alcohol drinking either negatively or positively.  He found that role-attractiveness in the drinking characters increased favorableness toward alcohol related attitudes.  Though favorableness was presented toward the characters, viewers did come away with the realistic assessments about alcohol consumption and its consequences.

 Bahk’s (2001), study glorified the same type of glamorous characters such as those of alcoholics living good lives as in the movie from 1996 “PCU,” which enforces the same notion.  It presents a “stiff’ liberal Arts college being overturned by the “slackers.”  Reference to drinking, drugs, and lack of responsibility plagued the movie.  This movie also incorporates the influence of Rock ‘n’ Roll in collaboration with drugs.  There are characters making jokes of the importance of an education and how foolish a thesis project is.  This Displays the message that using a person’s mind and applying oneself is a waste of time.  In the end the partygoers are victorious in reforming the traditional Liberal Arts College into a campus of chaos.  When people watch movies such as these, they too may believe their lives can be a party with no consequences. They simply view the movie and accept it for the message it delivers.  So, perspective students watch programs such as “Animal House” or “PCU” and may believe that their college experience will compare to those depicted by Hollywood as research above suggests (Baker 2000; & Lloyd 2002; & Steele 1995; & Tesser 1988). However, once settled into one’s environment one will learn that one’s perception is inaccurate and will be left deciding what action to take next to maintain a life of equilibrium.

The Role of Cognitive Dissonance

When watching movies and television which inaccurately portray college life individuals may react in certain ways.  When placed in an uncomfortable situation, one that is either not familiar or contrary to previous beliefs, individuals may experience what social psychologists refer to as cognitive dissonance introduced by Leon Festinger. Cognitive dissonance is a feeling of discomfort caused by the holding of two or more contradicting beliefs/or actions (Aronson, et. al, 2001).  The importance of the element in question to the individual, determines the amount of dissonance produced.  Dissonance as a psychological state is unpleasant.   What a person has believed all one’s life to be true one may now realize to be false and are forced to switch from a state of automatic easy thinking to critical thinking.  When a person is consumed with dissonance, an immediate inclination may be to reduce the feeling.  An example of this would be that of a smoker.  Most likely, if a person smokes they are aware of the damaging, sometimes lethal effects produced by smoking.  This causes cognitive dissonance.  To reduce the feeling, one may quit smoking and thus their behavior would be consistent with their belief.  Gibbons, Eggleston, and Benthin (1997), conducted a study to investigate a smoker’s situation and the effect of one’s decisions.  They tested heavy smokers who attended smoking cessation classes and succeeded in quitting.  However, there were some individuals who relapsed.  What the researchers discovered was that those who relapsed succeeded in reducing the perception of the dangers of smoking.  They could now continue to smoke without feeling uncomfortable about it (Gibbons, et. al, 1997). 

The mass media has a way of forcing a person into a state of dissonance by constantly depicting one idealistic view of college after another.  Once an individual attends college, he/she soon realizes that, yes it is a time of fun, parties, and friendships, but first and foremost, the reason for attending school is for education.  When students are hit with the reality that college life is not just a party, they may experience emotional dissonance.  Emotional dissonance is the same feeling of unease that occurs with cognitive dissonance; however, it is driven by an emotional experience, which occurs as a threat to one’s identity  (Jeroen & Timmers, 2002).  Jeroen and Timmers argue that individual experience forms one’s identity and that experience is then used as a standard for evaluating emotional feelings.  The decisions made to in order to reduce dissonance are very important according to Jeroen and Timmers (2002), because it will set the standard for future experiences.  The question is if the knowledge held about a situation is determined to be false, how and where will an individual decide what is acceptable and what is not?  Once mass media’s messages are discovered as inaccurate, the individual must decide what is now the truth.  The most logical way to find out what college is all about is to look to those individuals who seem to be comfortable and familiar with the surroundings, but if a person wants to discover what college is like before entering the environment, one may take to presentation provided by media and believe the message portrayed.

The Present Study

The present study is hoping to investigate the idea that the mass media influences individuals on their perception of college.  It is the belief of this study that mass media does influence adolescents on more then one account.  The purpose of this study is to determine to what extent if any, media has influenced college freshman in their perception to the college life.  It hopes to present data that supports the idea that media has inaccurately presented the college life.   Once arriving to college and learning of the fabrications, it can be predicted that, one is then placed into a state of cognitive dissonance.  The hypothesis of this study predicts that media portrays a false perception of college, and due to that inaccurate notion adolescence will be left in a state of dissonance.  Due to this state individuals who have viewed countless hours of television will have a more difficult adaptation to college life.  It is predicted that the following procedures will validate the theories presented.


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            The participants consisted of 34 students (30 females and four males), from a small Catholic liberal arts college in southern New Hampshire.  The participants in this study were on a voluntary basis and received course credit towards his/her General Psychology course.  Each participant was in one’s first semester of one’s freshman year.  Prior to testing the individuals were pre-screened in order to match the specific criteria needed to participate which depended on the amount of media one has been exposed to.  Eighteen out of the 34 participants have been exposed to little media, or no one person watched more than one hour of soap operas (i.e. Days of Our Lives) or one hour of teen dramas (i.e. Dawson’s Creek) a week.  The remaining 16 individuals have been exposed to a high rate of media, no less then 3 hours of teen dramas and no less than 2 hours of soap operas a week.


            As stated above, each person was pre-screened using a brief questionnaire created by the researcher (Bozzi, 2002).  The Questionnaire was used to interpret approximately how much media one has been exposed to (see appendix A).  Before testing each participant was given a standardized informed consent form provided by the college’s psychology department.  During testing each student was given a questionnaire created by the researcher (Bozzi, 2002).  The questionnaire consisted of 25 questions based on a Likert scale of one to seven ranging form not at all to extremely.  The questions answered not at all would indicate no similarity between the participant and the action being described. The questions were used to gather information pertaining to one’s expectation of college whether the individual created the idea on their own or if media influenced one’s perception of the college life.  The questionnaire was also designed to collect information on whether or not each participant viewed movies and television shows as accurate to real life, also if each participant compared one’s self to characters found in media.  Validity and reliability could not be established.  However, face validity was determined by a Ph.D. in social psychology (see appendix B).

            The second test the participants were exposed to was the Student Adaptation to Psychology Questionnaire (SACQ) (Baker & Siryk, 1989), which assesses one’s level of adaptation thus far to college.  The questionnaire contained 67 items in which the participant chose 1 of 9 choices on a scale on how closely the statements on the questionnaires applied to them. Lower choices on the scale applied to a close relation to the statement, and a higher choice indicated that the statements did not apply closely to the participant. Each item belonged to one of four subscales including academic adjustment, social adjustment, personal-emotional adjustment, and attachment, testing the person’s adaptation to each category (see appendix C).


Upon arrival to the study participants were told the study was to measure   adaptation to college. They were then explained to what the procedure was going entail and that they were able to leave at any point during the study and still

receive course credit.  Also, the groups were told that any individual question they did not feel comfortable answering they could omit.  Lastly, they were told that all data collected would be completely anonymous and their identity would never be discovered.  Next, informed consent forms by each participant were read, signed, and collected by the researcher. Then, the individuals were given the first questionnaire of 25 questions.  While that was being filled out the researcher passed out the SACQ to be administered second.  Once an individual completed the two surveys and they were handed to the researcher, the individuals then received a debriefing form, which described the study and hypothesis in specific detail (see appendix D).  Finally, participants were given their individual credit slip and were thanked for volunteering their time as they departed.

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The present study is researching to what extent, if any; media has influenced college freshmen’s perception of college life.  The research hypothesis is that media provides a false perception of college and given that, it is expected that those who have been exposed to more media would have a more difficult time adapting to college.  The dependent variable of this study is that of the individual’s adaptation to college.  The researcher administered the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire (SACQ) (Baker & Siryk, 1989), and using the raw scores, higher scores here indicate a better adaptation to college.  A series of questions created by the researcher was also given to each participant to compare the degree of expectation media have created.  This survey was scored on a seven point scale, the higher the score the greater personal agreement between the question and individual.

In order to test the hypothesis, an independent samples t-test was conducted to compare the high media exposure group to the low media group on each of the 25 questions designed to assess expectations. There was significance found in five out of the 25 questions.  Question four compares the amount of parties attended and the results indicate a significantly high attendance to parties on the weekends in the high media group as opposed to the low media group [t (32) =2.051, p< .05].  Question five states that a significant amount of people within the group exposed to high amounts of media significantly believe media accurately portrays life, while those exposed to a low degree of media do not [t (32)= 2.726, <. 01].  Question nine presents that those exposed to high media have more time to relax during the week, than those exposed to low media, [t (32)= 2.355, p<. 05].  It was found that individuals in the high media condition relate characters in media to themselves, while the participants in the other condition do not, as in question 14, which displays a significance of [t (32)= 2.645, p< .05].  (see table 1).

Table 1

T-test Summary of Individual items from the Experimenter’s Questionnaire.


                                                High Media                   Low media        t-value

Ques. 4                                  5.50                                         4.17                      2.1*

Freq. Of parties                                  SD=1.63                                  SD=2.09                

on weekends


Ques. 5

Media as an accurate         3.43                                         2.55                      2.7**

portrayal of life                SD=.89                   SD=.98


Ques. 9

Amount of relaxation         4.19                                          3.22                       2.6*

during week                  SD=1.17                                   SD=1.21


Ques. 14

How well characters        3.25                                           2.78                        2.6*

in media relate to            SD=1.0                                     SD=1.2



note.  * p < .05

          **p < .01


It was hypothesized that media portrays college life in an inaccurate way, and therefore, those exposed to high media were expected to have a lower adaptation to college score, meaning they would have a harder time adapting to the life and responsibilities of college.  The results showed the contrary.  An independent samples t-test shows that the individuals exposed to high media overall are adapting to college better then those in the low media exposure [t (32)= 2.6. p < .05].  The SACQ, is also separated into four subscales and in three out of the four there was a significant difference; in academic adjustment [t (32)=2.120, p< .05]; social adjustment, [t (32)= 3.153, p< .01]; and attachment displays, [t (32)=4.125, p< .01].  The results can be better interpreted from the table (see table 2).

Table 2

T-test Summary of SACQ Results


                                        High Media                 Low Media               t-value

Academic  Adjustment            142.7                                  122.3                                  2.1*

                                           SD=36.1                             SD=18.1


Social Adjustment                    134.4                                  109.7                                  3.2**

                                            SD=20.5                             SD=24.6


Attachment                                     104.6                                   74.1                     4.1**

                                                         SD=23.2                             SD=23.7


Total                                       409.5                                  347.2                                    2.6*

                                            SD=71.3                            SD=67.8


note.  * p < .05

          **p < .01


                Furthermore, a Pearson Product Moment Correlation test was performed to assess the relationship, if any, between specific questions on the researchers questionnaire with the subscales of the SACQ (Baker & Siryk, 1989).  Within the high media group there was a significant positive correlation found between question 12 and the academic adjustment and attachment subscale, such that, the more time a person has available in a day, the more academically adjusted one is [r = .57, p < .05] and the more attached one is to his/her surroundings [r = .63, p < .01].  Moreover, there were significant correlations found between question 15 and three subscales of the SACQ.  The more participants believe one’s college experience is similar to those of one’s friends, the more academically adjusted one is [r = .50, p < .05], the more emotionally adjusted one is [r = .58, p < .05], and the more attached one is to his/her environment [r = .65, p < .01].  Lastly, question 25 asks of whether or not the individual is experiencing the college life as expected and, the closer the experience is to what was expected the higher their social adjustment [r = .58, p < .05] and the higher their attachment is [r = .55, p < .05].

            There were fewer significant findings for the participants of low media group.  Question 12 correlates with emotional adjustment.  The more time one seems to have during the day, the more emotionally adjusted one is [r = .52, p < .05] (see table 3).

Table 3


Pearson product Moment Correlation Between SACQ Results and Experimenter’s Questionnaire in High and Low Media Groups


High Media


 Academic             Social           Emotional             Attachment

Ques. 12 Amount of                     .57*                                                                       .63**

Available time


Ques. 15 Similar college              .50*                                                       .58*         .65**

Experience with friends      


Ques. 25 College expectations                                     .58*                                                                .55*



Low Media


Ques. 12 Amount of                                                       .                              .52 *

Available time                      


note.  * p < .05

          **p < .01


            Continuing with the correlation tests, each question of the experimenter’s survey was also tested using a Pearson Product Moment Correlation and within the high media group there were numerous relationships.  For example, questions one and four were found positively significant, such that, the more academically challenging individual’s found this particular institution to be, the more they attend parties on the weekend [r = .60, p < .05].  There was a positive correlation found between question two asking the amount of socialization during the week and question five referring to media as an accurate portrayal of real life, the more one reports to socialize, the higher number of parties one attends [r = .50, p < .05].  Also, positively relating to question 14 is question four, the more individuals relate to fictional television the higher the attendance to parties, [r = .74, p < .01].  Finally, comparing question 17, and question 23, such that the more an individual compares one’s life to what is seen on television, the more one expected college was as seen on television, the results indicate a positive correlation [r = .50, p < .05]. 

Again there were fewer significant findings in the low media condition.  Opposite of the high media condition, there was a negative correlation found between question one and question nine.  The more individuals find this particular institution academically challenging (question one), the less relaxed they seem to be (question nine), [r = -.51, p < .05].  However, a positive correlation was found between question two and 15.  The more time they do find to socialize during the week (question two), more similar they report their friend’s college experiences to be (question 15), [r = .58, p < .05]. A negative correlation was found in question five, the more truthful they believed media to be, the less the college experience has been what was expected, as in question 25, [r = -.49, p< .05].  The table below further demonstrates significant findings.

Table 4


Pearson Product Moment Correlations Between the Experimenter’s Individual Questions for High and Low Media Groups


High Media


                    Ques.1        Ques.2       Ques.4        Ques.14       Ques.15     Ques.23

Ques.1                                               .60*            

Ques.4                                                                        .74**

Ques.5                             .50*

Ques.17                                                                                                       .50*          


Low Media


                        Ques.9              Ques.15              Ques.25

Ques.1                -.51*

Ques.2                                          .58*

Ques.5                                                                     -.49*


note.  * p < .05

          **p < .01

Question 1. To what extent the school is found academically challenging.

Question 2.  Amount of time spent socializing per week.

Question 4.  The amount of parties attended on the weekends.

Question 5.  How strongly of a belief that media is an accurate portrayal of life.

Question 9.  What amount of time do you relax during the week?

Question14.  How strongly do characters on television relate to you?

Question 15.  Similarity of peer’s college experience.

Question 17.  To what extent do you often compare your life to those characters on TV?

Question 23.  To what extent do you believe college would be as soon in media?

Question 25. How strongly has your college experience been what you expected?

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The purpose of this study was to determine what effects, if any, media contribute to one’s perception of college life.  Furthermore, the study tested each participant’s adaptation to college hoping to support the hypothesis that those exposed to a high level of media would have a more difficult time adapting to college since they would be struggling with a sense of cognitive dissonance trying to settle their false perceptions. 

The results of this study indicate that a portion of the hypothesis has been supported. The findings defend the hypothesis that individual’s who have been exposed to a high amount of media tend to use media for an informational purpose as found in the experimenter’s questionnaire.  These individuals seem to identify themselves with various characters seen in television and movies.  However, findings show that while media may have been used for informational purposes and viewed as an accurate portrayal of life, there was only a slight difference found when asked if one believed college life was as seen in television or movies.  The high media group did score higher on the scale, but that was not a significant difference.  These findings could be the result of having known individuals or siblings that are or have attended college.  It is also possible that after experiencing two months of college, individuals may have already neglected the inaccurate perception created by media, and now has a better understanding of college, and therefore no longer believes that TV/movies provide a correct depiction of college.   Previous research may also provide for an explanation to these findings.  A study documented by Tessar, Miller, and Wu (1988), state that the amount of information one assumes to be accurate from media depends solely on the individual and ones personality.  The study by Tesser, Miller, and Wu (1988) infer that a general statement cannot be determined to categorize individuals on this particular subject, because it is dependent on the personal preference and psychosis of the individual. 

Results produced by the SACQ found the opposite of that of the hypothesis.  Instead of the individuals in the high media group suffering a sense of cognitive dissonance and having a more difficult time adjusting to college, the SACQ shows that these individuals tend to be adapting better than those participants in the low media group.  There was a significant difference over all, and significance was also found in three out of the four subscales, academic adjustment, social adjustment, and attachment.  It was expected that for the subscale personal/emotional adjustment, the high media individuals would score lower, showing they were suffering form emotional dissonance as discussed in the article presented by Jansz & Timmers (2002).  They state that emotional dissonance occurs when a person’s identity, what makes a person one’s self, is threatened.  Once the person feels threatened a discomfort presents itself within the individual and the person is left with determining how to alleviate such a feeling, and thus the difficulties of adaptation to college would be presented.  Therefore, it was expected that the individuals whom use media as a tool to provide accurate information on real life situations would be left with a discomfort in having to create a new perception of what college life is and how to react.  That was not the case.  The high media group shows a better overall adjustment to college and within each subscale, including the personal/emotional subscale, however not to a large significant amount. 

            These results could be explained in the idea that participants in the low media group could be experiencing a higher level of stress which would inhibit a positive emotional adjustment.  These individuals may be spending more time studying due to the level of academic performance demanded by this particular institution.  It could be that the participants in the high media group are no longer looking to television and movies for direction concerning college life, but are now taking time to use media as a relaxation tool, as discussed in the study by Tesser Miller, and Wu (1998).  The research determined in that study categorized individuals into what type of  movie viewer each person was.  The three categories consisted of:  self-escape, self-function, and entertainment (Tesser et al., 1998).  This study also defends the theory that many people watch movies for pure entertainment, while others for self-escape, in other words, perhaps eliminating stress, and lastly, there are those who unconsciously identify themselves within the aspects of the movies (Tesser et al., 1998). The students that are viewing for entertainment or self-escape may not be as stressed because they are spending more times at parties, socializing, as indicated by the results, and enjoying time at school. This explanation is consistent with each group’s perception of amount of time in the day.  

Another theory to be considered is found in research by Bahk (2001), though viewers prefer characters that glorify college life with parties and drinking, they also do consider the consequences that are not presented with in the script.  This study maintains that individuals do consider the consequences to individual actions, and therefore, while watching movies that glorify drinking and partying, individuals are aware that it is fiction and consequences to one’s actions are omitted in the media, while in real life could occur.  As a result, while the individuals spend more time relaxing and socializing going to parties, they may be aware of the penalties which may occur if drinking and partying is taken to the extreme.

            The correlation tests provided for interesting outlooks of the research.  As far as the correlations of the experimenter’s questionnaire and the SACQ are concerned it states that the more time one believes to have available in a day the better academically adjusted one is and the more attached one is to his/her surroundings.  This could account for a person feeling less overwhelmed in their situation and therefore, feeling more comfortable.  Feeling such a way can provide a sense of contentment.  When a person is happy, he/she may be able to perform better then a person who is unhappy. 

            What were found to be very interesting within the correlation tests were the findings between individual questions of the experimenter’s 25-item survey.  For instance, the more academically challenging one finds the school to be, the more parties that are attended on the weekend.  It would be expected to assume that the more challenging a school would be, the more students would study, and however, that was not the case.  This finding maintains accuracy with the rest of the findings, because it shows support to the idea that individuals in the high media condition find more time and ways to relax, spending less time stressing about the demands that have been placed upon them.  Furthermore, similar to the previous result is, the more one relates to characters found in media, the more challenging the school is perceived to be.  This idea supports the thesis statement suggesting that because individuals relate to the characters in media and the situations the characters find themselves in, the less challenging they assumed college would be.  With media always down playing the responsibilities that are expected in college, one could assume those responsibilities do not exist, thus believe that college life would be easier then it actually is.

  Another correlation which remains consistent, is that the more individuals in the high media group believe media portrays an accurate depiction of life, the more time participants spend socializing.  Again, rather then stressing out about one’s situation, one takes the time to spend associating with peers.  The more time one spends with peers realizing that each are having a similar college experience, the more academically adjusted, emotional adjusted, and attached one becomes in to one’s surroundings, as indicated in the present study.  This could be because; knowing that there are many other people experiencing a similar life comforts an individual.  It could also be that the more similar one’s experience is to his/her friends, the closer the bond that develops.  A person who has healthy, strong relationships may be a happier person, and once more, being content in a situation helps for better adaptation.

While there were less significant findings within the low media condition it was interesting to see the vast differences between the two groups.  For example, believing as though the amount of time in day available is sufficient benefits both groups, but more for the high media level, as stated above, then for the low media level.  Results for the low media level only show a positive relationship between time and emotional adjustment in the SACQ subscale.  This could infer that that the more available time a person has, the better opportunity one has to form bonds amongst one’s environment.  Further research could question why available time does improves one’s academic adjustment for those who are exposed to low degrees of media as opposed to high amounts of media.

Moreover, a different theory that could be approached could be not how much television a person watches or many movies a month a person goes to, but how they interpret what media they are exposed to, as little of amount or as high of an amount.  Reason being is that there were some individuals who believe that media does portray a somewhat accurate representation of life, and for those individual who do, they are not having the college experience they expected to have.  This could result in the lower level of adaptation the low media group is experiencing as opposed to the high media group.

Also, as expected by the hypothesis, overall, the more individuals believe media illustrates life accurately; the more the same individuals attend parties.  Continuing, the more media is perceived as accurate, the more individuals believe that college presents too many responsibilities.  Finally, similarly, the more individuals relate themselves to characters seen in media, the more they believe that college creates too many responsibilities.  All of these results indicate, once again, what the hypothesis expected.  The more an individual believes the messages provided by the media industry, the less more time they spend going to parties and the less prepared they were for college.  What was not supported was the idea that because of the perception of media one was left with an uncomfortable feeling of dissonance and because of that adapted to college more negatively.  That has not been the case.  Perhaps the statements of further research found above could help to determine how is it that the individuals who have been exposed to large amounts of media are adjusting to college more positively then those who have been exposed to small amounts of media.

Though the hypothesis was not fully defended, the present study does consist of important issues, which can be applied to various organizations.  This study presents the importance to individuals within various fields of research.  It could be beneficial to those who work within the media industry, because it could help them better understand how individuals perceive what they view.  It may also influence media to focus on themes that are entertaining, rather than attempting to be accurate, because it seems as though the leading reason why students watch television and movies is to relax and decrease stress.  This study could also present importance to parents.  Parents are often concerned with the amount and type of media children are exposed to, because they worry about the effects media may cause.  This study supports that media does not damage a student’s adaptation to college, on the contrary, it represents aspects that media may be a positive assistance to school adjustment.  Lastly, college boards could also have the chance to improve their notion of what a typical student should represent.  Professor consistently preach the importance of studying and work habits, perhaps this study could be an example that while studying and maintaining good grades is important, so is decreasing the amount of stress in one’s life.  It may not be the amount quantity of one’s studying, but the quality, and therefore presenting more opportunities for relaxation and socialization.

For many years media has been blamed for causing tragic incidents such as homicidal school shootings and personal endangerment.  The research presented here supports the idea that media are not harming the individuals consuming it; instead, they may be improving their adaptation to college.  It could be to the benefit of future research to study the reasons as to why one person is attracted to certain media and another is not.  With that information, it could also be studied as to how one utilizes the media one is exposed to.  Whether an individual enjoys drama, which stimulates emotion, or comedies that entertain, and if the person refers to the media viewed for social cues or understanding.  It is possible that one profits from media exposure by taking time in the day to relax decreasing the amount of harmful stress.  .

To conclude, results indicate that individuals exposed to a high amount of media tend to relate their individual life experiences to those characters seen in media.  While they do believe media is an accurate portrayal of life, participants overall believe it is a less accurate depiction of college.  It is also interesting to note that media does not inhibit one’s adaptation to college, nor does it create a feeling of cognitive or emotional dissonance.  And so, during the stressful months of grueling academic demands, instead of spending all available time studying and keeping the brain working, it is just as important to take time to relax, watch a movie or television, to alleviate some stress.

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Appendix A

Pre-screening for thesis research

Using the following scale please rate how much media you are exposed to in each category during a typical week:

1 = less than 1 hour per week

2 = 1-3 hours per week

3 = 3-5 hours per week

4 = 5-7 hours per week

5 = 7-14 hours per week (that is, an average of 1-2 hours per day)

6 = 14-21 hours per week (that is, an average of about 2-3 hours per day)

7 = more than 21 hours per week (that us, an average of more than 3 hours a day)


TV news                                              1          2          3          4          5          6          7

Sports broadcasting                              1          2          3          4          5          6          7         

Sitcoms                                                1          2          3          4          5          6          7         

Soap Operas                                        1          2          3          4          5          6          7

Teen Dramas (i.e. Dawson’s Creek)     1          2          3          4          5          6          7

Other programming                               1          2          3          4          5          6          7


Was St. Anselm College your first choice?  If not, why did you attend?       YES                        NO


Have you ever seen the movie “PCU?”                                                      YES                        NO

Do you know of any relatives or close family friends that attended St. A’s? YES                        NO     

Did either of your parents attend college?                                                    YES                       NO

Do you live less than 3 hours away form St. A’s?                                        YES                       NO

Do you live on campus?                                                                              YES                       NO

Do you have any siblings?  If so, how many?                                               YES                       NO

Thank you for taking the time to honestly fill out this brief questionnaire.  If you would like to be contacted to participate in this study please write your full name, ext., and POBOX number.

If I do not contact you by Oct. 18, 2002, it means you did not fit the criteria for this research.

_____________________________     ________________________    ___________________


Appendix B

Study:  Adaptation to College


 Please use the following scale to rate your answers: 1 being the Not at All and 7 being the Extremely:

1. To what extent do you find this school academically challenging?                               

            NOT AT ALL  1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

2.What amount do you socialize during the week?                                                                    

           NOT AT ALL   1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

3. How similar do you find your fellow students to be to you?

NOT AT ALL  1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

4. Do you frequent parties on the weekend?                                                     

NOT AT ALL  1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

5. How strongly do you believe media is an accurate portrayal of real life?                                

           NOT AT ALL   1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

6. To what extent are your weekends spent studying?                                                     

NOT AT ALL  1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

7. To what extent do movies such as “PCU,” “Animal House,” and more recently

   “National Lampoon’s: Van Wilders” depict an accurate college experience?  

          NOT AT ALL    1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

8. To what degree are you satisfied with the accommodations of your dorm room?                               

           NOT AT ALL   1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

9.What amount of time do you relax during the week?

          NOT AT ALL    1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

10. Does your dorm room meet your expectations?                                                      

         NOT AT ALL     1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

11. Do you find the campus too loud at night?                                                  

            NOT AT ALL  1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

12. Do you seem to have enough time in the day to relax, go out with friends?

     and do your homework?                                                                                         

NOT AT ALL  1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

13. To what extent do you feel college encompasses too many responsibilities?             

NOT AT ALL  1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

14. How strongly do the characters on television relate to you?                         

NOT AT ALL  1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

15. If you know of other people attending different colleges, to the best of your knowledge,

      approximately how similar are their experiences to yours?       

            NOT AT ALL  1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

16. Do you often feel overwhelmed?                                                                

            NOT AT ALL  1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

17. To what extent do you often compare your life to those characters on TV?                         

           NOT AT ALL   1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

18.What amount were you scared or intimidated by the campus when you first arrived?

NOT AT ALL  1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

19. To what degree do your professors enforce strict attendance?                                                        

          NOT AT ALL    1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

20. How often do your fellow classmates seem stressed?

NEVER           1          2          3          4          5          6          7          ALL THE TIME

21. Do you tend to practice good attendance?                                                  

NOT AT ALL  1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

22. To what extent do you relate to any characters on your favorite programs?                         

          NOT AT ALL    1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

23. To what extent did you believe college would be as seen on TV/Movies?                            

         NOT AT ALL     1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

24. How aware were you of parietals?

         NOT AT ALL     1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

25. How strongly has your college experience been what you expected?

NOT AT ALL  1          2          3          4          5          6          7          EXTREMELY

Appendix C:  Select Items from the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire

Erica Bozzi                                                                                                       YOG:

Prof. Ossoff                                                                                                      Professor:

                                                                                                                         Last 4 #’s of ss:


Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire


The 67 statements on the front and back of this form describe college experiences.  Read each one and decide how well it applies to you at the present time (within the past few days).  For each statement, circle the asterisk at the point in the continuum that best represents how closely this applies to you.  Circle only one asterisk for each statement.  To change an answer draw and X through the incorrect response and circle the desired response.  Be sure to use a hard tipped pen or pencil and press very firmly.  DO NOT ERASE.

                                                                                 Applies very        Doesn’t Apply

                                                                                 Closely to me         to me at all  

1. I feel that I fit in well as part of the college environment.                      * * * * * * * * *           

2. I have been feeling tense or nervous lately.                                         * * * * * * * * *           

3. I have been keeping up to date on my academic work.                         * * * * * * * * *           

4. I am meeting as many people, and making as many friends

    as I would like at college.                                                                   * * * * * * * * *           

5. I know why I’m at college and what I want out of it.                           * * * * * * * * *           

12. Being on my own, taking responsibility for myself, has not

      been easy.                                                                                     * * * * * * * * *

13. I am satisfied at the level at which I have been performing

      academically.                                                                                  * * * * * * * * *

38. I have been getting angry too easily lately.                                         * * * * * * * * *                                                                                                             

39. Recently I have had trouble concentrating when I try to study.            * * * * * * * * *           

40. I haven’t been sleeping very well.                                                     * * * * * * * * *           

59. Lately I have been giving a lot of thought to transferring to another

     college.                                                                                            * * * * * * * * *           

60. Lately I have been giving a lot of thought to dropping out of college

       altogether and for good.                                                                  * * * * * * * * *           

61. I find myself giving considerable thought to taking time off from

     college and finishing later.                                                                 * * * * * * * * *           

62. I am very satisfied with the professor I have now in my courses.        * * * * * * * * *           

65. I am quite satisfied with my social life at college.                               * * * * * * * * *           

66. I’m quite satisfied with my academic situation at college.                    * * * * * * * * *           


Appendix D

Feedback to Participants

     Thank you for participating in my study.  From childhood to old age, people consistently view various movies and watch countless hours of television, movie after movie, program after program, individuals watch and enjoy, some never realizing the impact of what they are watching.  While there has been much focus on the violence imitated from movies and television, there has not as much concentration on other aspects of life that individuals seem to be imitating from mass media.  Research supports that adolescents tend to reflect upon mass media for answers and guidance.  The message being delivered by some media productions is that college is a time of fun and parties, drinking, doing drugs, with little to no responsibilities.  The present study is testing the idea that mass media influence individuals on their perception of college, portraying an inaccurate picture of college life.  The research is hoping to find that once arriving and submerging into the college routine, that most individuals will realize that college is not just parties, but also responsibilities and obligations. Each participant was provided with two questionnaires.  The first survey was to gather information about each individual's experience with media.  It also is to collect each individual's perception of college and if that the somewhat misguided picture media created perception presents.  The second survey known as the Student adaptation to College Questionnaire (SACQ), was given to every participant to interpret, how freshman are adjusting to college life.  It is important to remember that for both surveys there are no right or wrong answers this study is seeking to investigate only a possible relationship between media exposure and college adaptation. The findings of this study will remain completely confidential and your identity will never be discovered.   Please refrain from discussing this study with any person even those who participated with you.  It is an ongoing study and any information that may be released may contaminate the study.  Thank you for your cooperation.

     If you would like to be informed of the results, please contact me at, ebozzi@anselm.edu.

Thank you for your help and support.

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            Baker, Kimberly Middleton.  (2000).  Adolescents and the Meanings they make from Television. (Doctoral dissertation, New York University, 2001).  Dissertation Abstracts International:  section B.  p3876.

             Baker, R., & Siryk, B. (1989).  Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire.

             Jansz, Jeroen & Timmers, Monique.  (Feb 2002).  Emotional Dissonance: When the Experience of Emotions Jeopardizes and Individual’s Identity.  Theory & Psychology.  (79-95).

             Lloyd, Blake Te’Neil. (Mar 2002). A conceptual framework for examining adolescent identity, media influence, and social development. Review of General Psychology. Vol 6 (73-91).

           Tesser, Abraham, Millar, Karen U, & Wu, Cheng-haun. (Sep 1988). On the perceived function of movies. Journal of Psychology Vol 122. (441-449).

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Relevant Links 

Saint Anselm College



Media Personnel and the Psychological Effects

The Future of Children

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Key words: media, television effects, movies, SACQ, college adaptation, college adjustment,