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Media Detective

Program Goals/Target Population
Media Detective is a media literacy education and substance use prevention program for third through fifth grade students. The goal of the program is to prevent or delay the onset of underage alcohol and tobacco use by increasing students’ critical thinking skills about media messages, particularly those related to alcohol and tobacco products, and to encourage healthy beliefs and attitudes about abstaining from substance use.

Program Theory
On average, youths between the ages of 8 and 18 spend more than 7½ hours a day involved with media activities, such as watching television, listening to music, and playing video games (Rideout, Foehr, and Roberts 2010). Youths often are exposed to many media messages that advertise risky and unhealthy behaviors, including substance use. Media literacy education programs, such as Media Detective, are designed to improve youths’ abilities to deconstruct media messages so they can understand the underlying persuasive elements and develop skepticism about advertisements that attempt to send positive messages about certain behaviors such as alcohol and tobacco use. The program intends for students to apply those critical thinking and deconstruction skills in everyday life and to encourage students to stop and think before accepting media messages.

The program is based on the Message Interpretation Process (MIP) Model, which provides a framework for understanding the cognitive processes associated with the interpretation of media messages. The MIP Model, used in the design of the Media Detective program, draws on social cognitive theory, dual-process theories of attitude change, and the theory of reasoned action to illustrate how individuals use media messages in their decision-making process about certain topics such as substance use. According to the MIP Model, individuals apply both emotion and logic to their processing of media messages. Messages that seem more relatable and realistic to an individual’s life and experiences are more likely to influence decisions in ways that are consistent with the message content. For example, if a message about alcohol or tobacco makes  these substances seem cool—and individuals perceive the message as realistic or similar to them—then the message will be more likely to influence individuals’ substance use.

Program ComponentsThe Media Detective program has 10 lessons lasting about 45 minutes each that build cumulatively on one another. Each lesson is scripted in a teacher manual to facilitate program implementation. The program uses a detective theme to engage students and teach critical thinking skills. Students learn to look for five “clues” when they view an advertisement: 1) the product being sold, 2) the target audience the advertisers are trying to attract, 3) the ad hook used to attract attention, 4) the hidden message, or what the ad is suggesting will happen to a person who uses the product, and 5) the missing information about health consequences from using the product. Students not only learn the clues and how to apply them in their analysis of advertisements, but they also learn to provide a logical rationale for their responses.

Students first learn to apply these skills to deconstructing print advertisements for a wide variety of products and then work on deconstructing specific advertisements for alcohol and tobacco products. Students practice deconstructing ads in whole class discussions, small group activities, and individual writing assignments. The curriculum culminates in a media advocacy activity in which each student creates a counter-ad. The classroom activities concentrate on decreasing students’ perceptions of the realism of alcohol and tobacco advertising messages compared with people and things that they know, with the goal of reducing their interest in the purchase or use of those substances.

Intervention ID
251
Ages

7 to 13

Rating
Promising
Outcomes

Study 1
Deconstruction Skills

Kupersmidt, Scull, and Austin (2010) found that there was a significant difference in students’ posttest deconstruction skills. Students in the intervention group, who received the Media Detective program, were better able than students in the control group to deconstruct advertisements. Fifth grade students were significantly better able than third and fourth grade students to deconstruct advertisements. Students who had never used alcohol and tobacco were also significantly better able to deconstruct advertisements, compared with students who had used these substances before.

Understanding of Persuasive Intent
There were also significant differences in the posttest scores measuring understanding of persuasive intent. Students in the intervention group were better able to understand persuasive intent than students in the control group. Fifth graders had significantly better understanding of persuasive intent than third graders, but not fourth graders.

Interest in Alcohol-Branded Merchandise
There were no significant differences in students’ posttest scores measuring interest in alcohol-branded merchandise between the intervention and control groups. Boys in the intervention group were significantly less interested in alcohol-branded merchandise than boys in the control group and girls in both groups. Students who had never used alcohol or tobacco products before were significantly less interested in alcohol-branded merchandise than students who had used before.

Intentions to Use Alcohol and Tobacco
There were no significant differences between the intervention and control groups on measures of intentions to use alcohol and tobacco. Students who had never used alcohol or tobacco in the past were significantly less likely to report intentions to use in the future, when compared with students who had used alcohol and tobacco before. Among students who had used alcohol and tobacco, students in the intervention group were significantly less likely to report intentions to use in the future than students in the control group. Among students who had not tried alcohol or tobacco in the past, there were no significant differences between the intervention and control groups.

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