Written by Zoe on . Posted in Myths

THE MYTH: Young people are more vulnerable to media influence than adults

The reality

When people talk about media influence, they often speak as though they are immune from this, but there are other, more vulnerable, people who are susceptible to the media. Children and young people are generally seen as more vulnerable than adults; and girls and women are seen as more vulnerable than boys and men. Our research shows no evidence that young people are more easily influenced by celebrities or less critical of the celebrity industry than any other people or that young women are more vulnerable than young men. While the celebrities that young people talk about and the means by which they find out about them are often different, their conversations are similar to the ones that people have when they’re older.

Indeed, young people, like those of all ages, tend to see other people, particularly younger girls, as susceptible to media influence, while feeling able to act largely independently of it. The term that they used to refer to someone who excessively adores a celebrity is ‘fangirl’, emphasising both the gender and age of the fan. The term fangirl was almost always used negatively, with only one person applying the label to herself. This tendency we have to feel that mass media messages affect other people but not ourselves is so widely noted within research that it’s become known as the third-person effect.

When young people do talk about their role models or other celebrities who they feel have influenced them, they are very thoughtful. We found that they reflect on which aspects of the celebrity they like, and usually value them for their hard work and their authenticity, stressing how they have remained true to themselves despite the pressures of their celebrity status. We also found that young people are very alert to who society views as good and bad celebrity role models, often defending those people who they find inspiring but who they know to be socially-disreputable choices.

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The data

I think that they shouldn’t be too fussed on how they look all the time, coz celebrities looks have a big effect on how their fans and younger people want to dress. It’s like, they have all these like make up artists and like all the stuff done to their face and that makes it impossible for like younger girls, they don’t have all the money to spend on all this, on all this like surgery and stuff, it makes it hard for them to look good I guess. Well, but in their eyes, but in other people’s eyes they look fine.

[I want to meet Tu Pac] coz I genuinely like him and ah, he’s real, and like, he talks about the struggles that people go through, and he’s not just saying that he’s a thug or where he came from the streets. He just explains, whereas the other rappers, they just talk about what they’ve done. … Even if there is some people don’t like him, I want to say he is my role model, but, he is my role model. … When I went to my work experience, one of them said to me, they go ‘who’s your, who’s your role model?’ I said ‘Tu Pac’, she goes ‘Right’. And I explain everything to her, she just couldn’t, she said ‘I think he shouldn’t be your role model, you should have another role model’.

Find out more

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School of Sport & Education, Brunel University
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