changes in infants and toddlers introduce new complexities in understanding the pathways by which media influences may interact with developmental stages.
Fifth, new research designs are emerging that make it possible to infer causal relationships from nonexperimental data. Methods drawn from social epidemiology and environmental studies offer a unique opportunity to strengthen the quality and rigor of current and future media research designs. These methods are especially valuable in examining conditions in which it is not possible to isolate certain media exposures or to establish control conditions because of the pervasiveness of the media environment.
In the course of the discussions, a number of participants offered suggestions for specific research topics that deserve further exploration, including:
how children and adolescents watch television and how viewing habits can be improved;
the potential benefits of media consumption;
interventions that might dilute negative effects or promote positive ones;
how family contexts influence the impact of media exposure on children’s health outcomes;
how people choose media experiences;
documentation of what aspects of contemporary media have negative or positive effects on development, at what ages they have those effects, and what individual or familial characteristics affect risk or opportunity for benefit;
whether appropriate use of educational video games increases language acquisition and reading in preschool children; and
whether modeling appropriate eating and sexual practices reduces obesity and risky sexual behaviors.
This brief sampling of the kinds of issues researchers want to explore suggests that the field has much work to do, but several larger themes emerged as well. First, many participants noted that a greater degree of interdisciplinary cooperation, as is common in research on diet and nutrition, would be very useful in media research. Communications, economics, neuroscience, pediatrics, psychology, psychiatry, sociology, all have valuable contributions to make, but not all have been as involved in media research as they could be. Several participants pointed out structural problems, such as lack of funding and a dearth of younger researchers, that have limited both this kind of cooperation and the growth of the field.
Others focused on methodological challenges, such as the kinds of validation studies that are needed and the question of the degree of precision that is needed in measuring exposure. For Vandewater, for example, priorities in the field should be nationally representative samples, longitudinal designs, samples incorporating very young children, the inclusion of family context and interaction measures, a focus on program and game content, and the inclusion of appropriate covariates.
Others focused on practical concerns. For them, ways to influence two key targets—parents and producers of media—should be the guiding goal of media research.