Darwin goes to Hollywood: Evolutionary perspectives on mediated emotions
In a recent issue of the Journal Media Psychology Sherry (2004) criticized media effects theories for their nature blindness. Current media effects theories could be described as "learning only" approaches that could benefit a lot by taking into account the nature of man and allow for evolutionary thinking.
Since the 1980s evolutionary explanations of human behavior and particularly emotional processes increased (Buss, 1989; Buss & Barnes, 1986). In addition to the classics like altruism and aggression evolutionary explanations for competition and cooperation, information processing, jealousy, homicide, cheating and fairness, and their accompanying emotions are to be found. Even art and aesthetics are currently addressed by evolutionary thinking. First and foremost through media coverage the popularity of evolutionary approaches is extremely high. Courses in evolutionary psychology are also standard in North American Universities. A growing number of educational books (e.g. Buss, 1999) is another indication of this development. But not only within general psychology an evolutionary perspective is to march up. In communications research, media psychology and media theory, the reference to evolutionary arguments is becoming increasingly popular (e.g. Schwender 2006; Schwab 2006; Vorderer, Steen & Chan 2006). Does our preference to be emotionally touched by the mass media reside in an adaptive function of /Homo sapiens sapiens/ or is it only an evolutionary by-product of other adaptations (Ohler & Nieding 2006)? Furthermore, which selection constraints may have produced this adaptation (natural or sexual selection)? Some approaches suggest that mass media products are an evolutionary byproduct (leisure-time approaches: Mood Management: Zillmann; Cheesecake Metaphor: Pinker). Other approaches assume an adaptive function: one of them uses sexual selection as explanation (the ornamental mind theory; Miller 2000); while others start with natural selection of a play module and attempt to reconstruct the destiny of this module in later stages of phylogeny. Even outside psychology Darwinian themes and theories of media psychological relevance are promoted. Grammer and Voland (2003; Evolutionary Aesthetics) - for instance - are describing art and design as detection systems for biological fitness risks and chances.
The presentation will give an overview on evolutionary thinking about the aspect of emotions and the mass media. It will discuss problems and misunderstandings and introduce some first studies.