New Research Methodologies in Studying
Digital Media and Adolescence
Speaker: Michael Rich, MD, MPH
Director, Center on Media and Child Health (CMCH), Boston Children’s Hospital;
Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Associate Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences,
Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health
Pediatricians are publishing media-related health policies, but not basing those guidelines on rigorous, up-to-date research. Comprehensive, child-based multidisciplinary research is needed to generate informed guidance for children and their parents.
Much “media effects” research is compromised by two weaknesses: poor quality measures of viewing, and small, convenience samples. “Device-centric” studies don’t make sense when people are traveling through media-rich environments, carrying mobile digital devices. A new approach is needed that treats media as part of children’s environments, rather than as discrete vectors of education or harm. Interdisciplinary teams can compensate for disciplinary biases. Peer-to-peer data gathering can generate more complete, accurate, and current information. So, too, can devices that capitalize on such technological advances as speech processing to provide personalized, real-time information about test subjects’ media-related behaviors.
Taken together, these new tools and methods will promote three major improvements in digital media research:
1. the standardization of measures and nomenclature for media exposure,
2. the systematic review and meta-analysis of existing data, and
3. study designs that assess and account for neuro-developmental and individual characteristics that may give rise to differential susceptibilities.
Is food marketing data being collected?
Not currently. Our research indicates that television is the only screen medium with a correlation to BMI. The relationship between weight and media exposure is about sedentary behavior, but rather, about the media content we consume. Unlike computers, mobile phones, and video games, TV leaves the viewer’s hands free – which we often use to consume high sensation food, distracted and disconnected from hunger and satiety cues.
How can this community form consensus without losing the nimbleness it needs to follow changes in the environment?
We have to understand “first principles” finding of the research, factors that can be extrapolated to other media, even media not yet invented. And we need to abandon long-held panaceas like screen time limits. So much of our communication, education, business and social relations occur on screens now that determining the value of media content – educational or entertainment? quality content or diversion? invites disagreements that cannot be resolved for all. It may be more productive to focus on the needs of each child. His or her needs and goals can guide the development of individualized guidelines for leading a balanced, functional life that includes media as part of a diverse menu of activities and experiences.