Thursday, January 11, 2018

An Introduction to Media Psychology

What is media psychology? What do media psychologists do and how do they do it? What is the intention of the media psychologist as an individual, and media psychology as a discipline? These are the five questions that I would like to explore with you in this essay.

A good place to begin is by defining the words media and psychology. You have learned, no doubt, that the definition of psychology is “the scientific study of behavior and mental processes”. This definition of psychology is not the first, not the last, and not the only definition. In fact, this definition reflects the system of knowledge (called a paradigm) of one of the seven, contemporary systems of knowledge, or schools of thought of psychology; the cognitive paradigm. The cognitive revolution in psychology took place in the early 1960s against the prevailing behaviorist paradigm. From the early 1930s through the 1960s, introduction to psychology textbooks defined psychology as “the scientific study of behavior”. When computer scientists, linguists, and artificial intelligence researchers began treating the brain as a piece of computer hardware and the mind and thinking as software, the definition changed to include mental processes, which means cognition or thinking. It was said at this time that psychology had “regained consciousness,” after a forty-year period of classical and operant conditioning theories of behaviorism.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A Chronology of Media Research

Research and discussion of the media has taken place long before the designation of media psychology as a field of study. The humanities and social sciences have discussed the implications of media since the written text overtook the oral tradition. Philosophers as early as Plato explored the implication of the switch from an oral to a written culture. The influence of mass media has been discussed since the entrance of the movable type printing press in the 15th century. Although thinking about media has taken place for 2,500 years, how we think about media has changed over time.

We will begin our investigation in Ancient Greece. Early philosophers discussed not only the use of persuasion and rhetoric in speaking and writing, they also considered the psychological effects of media including speaking, writing, visual arts, and music. The sophist explored how the way something is said affects how it is received. This research in rhetorical analysis continues in contemporary media studies. Plato (427-347 B.C.E.) discussed the influence of music and visual art on the individual and groups. He warned against the power of poetry and even advised on which music to avoid when sad, angry, or happy.

Friday, December 29, 2017

An Intellectual History of Media Psychology

Premodernity, Modernity, and Postmodernity
In intellectual history, the history of ideas and systems of knowing, we typically discuss three periods of historical contexts. To discuss the difference between premodernity, modernity, and postmodernity, it is most helpful to look at the transitional moments first. We begin with the transition from premodernity to modernity

The year 1650 is typically used as practical demarcation of the boundary between what we call premodernity and modernity. The First World War is typically used as the event (concern) to demarcate the boundary between modernity and postmodernity. Let us sketch the picture of these three worlds.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Some thoughts on learning new tunes for improvisation

For the past three years I have been learning improvisational music. Having come from a classical tradition, much of my study has been concerned with how to approach music in a way that is conducive to improvisation, rather than replication of what is written on the page. For example, learning (by learning I largely mean memorizing) left and right hand parts independently allows for later improvisation, rather than left and right hand interdependence in memorization. This is very different than leaning a classical piece, in which the goal is accurate execution of what is written on the sheet music.

Improvisational music comes in many varieties. From free improvisation; which has no pre-written reference, to more traditional jazz; in which the form, harmonic progression, and melody serve as a starting point for spontaneous music making.  In this essay I am offering some thoughts on the latter, that of learning a traditional jazz piece for improvisation.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Harry Stack Sullivan and Interpersonal Psychology

Harry Stack Sullivan was an American psychiatrist who, along with Erich Fromm and Karen Horney, explored the idea of "personality" as a social phenomenon that emerges from an interpersonal context. Sullivan's theory was described by Eastern philosopher, Alan Watts, as one of the most promising Western systems of psychology, and described it as a bridge to Buddhist psychology. In this series of podcasts, I introduce the basic theory of Harry Stack Sullivan and discuss its practical value in our everyday lives.

Stack Sullivan wrote one book, Conceptions of Modern Psychiatry, but kept extensive notebooks and transcripts of his lectures. These notebooks were later edited and published, and are valuable resources to understanding Stack Sullivan's insights into the human condition. Many of these texts are available at