Monday, April 13, 2009

Education and Political Knowledge

A study in the latest Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media points out how important education is in understanding how different media help people learn about politics and public affairs. The study by Grabe, Kamhawi and Yegiyan examines how medium (TV, newspaper, web) interacts with education to predict different levels of learning.

No surprise, if you're immersed in this literature, that they found participants with greater education got more out of the print versions and those of lower education got more out of the TV version. Oddly they didn't hypothesize this, despite a recent consensus among scholars that TV best serves those who know little (or have less cognitive ability -- measured badly by education). That's a quibble about what otherwise is a pretty damn good study, especially in the part where they examined effects over time, something you don't often see.

The study is framed in the knowledge gap hypothesis and the tongue twisting LC3MP, which I first thought was a character from Star Wars but instead is Limited Capacity Model of Mediated Message Processing. Not sure what the hell the 3 is all about, but the model is basically a fancy mass comm restating of a history of social cognitive work on how much, or how little, we can process at one time.

So what's it all mean? First, education is just a surrogate for cognitive ability, and not a particularly good one. Indeed one study found an interviewer's estimation of a respondent's cognitive ability to be a better predictor of how well respondents did in a survey than their level of education. So education is a blunt instrument, but it does suggest the importance of TV news for those who don't know much, or spend a great deal following, public affairs. It helps close the gap that would otherwise exist if only print news existed. And it shows how important print is for those with greater cognitive ability, those who want more depth and context and actual news.

No comments: