Media Psychologists: What they are and how to become one

Media doesn’t just inform us about our world; it shapes our world view and can alter our very brains. Yet it’s hardly a new phenomenon. The Society for Media Psychology & Technology (Division 46 of the American Psychological Association) notes that Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press was an integral part of media history. The Media Psychology Research Center describes media as “mediated communications and experience”. This is the realm that media psychologists explore. Media psychology draws from the cognitive, social, and cultural psychology disciplines. Media is, after all, a social experience; the distinguishing point is that media psychologists don’t study face-to-face forms of communication.

Media psychologists may be researchers or consultants. Some media psychologists specialize in looking at media from a developmental standpoint: How does usage effect children of different ages? The Association of Psychological Science notes that while early media psychologists focused on the dangers and negative influences of media, modern media psychologists also explore how it can be used as a force for good (http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2008/january-08/understanding-media-psychology). A Division 46 Task Force identified the following among the fundamental functions of media psychology:

  • Development of media standards
  • Development of materials for the disabled
  • Study of psychological and sociological effects of media
  • Making technologies more user-friendly
  • Use of technology in clinical psychology

Articles published by Division 46 explore the use of apps and augmented reality in combating psychiatric disturbance. Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center and educator at Fielding Graduate University, brings up another function of media psychology: helping people adjust to changes in technology and communication. The sky is not falling, she declares.

Research tackles many aspects of mediated experience, from social networking to medicine. Dr. Stuart Fischoff ponders: As the average person captures their lives on video, will family history be enhanced or compromised?

Media Psychologist Education Requirements

Psychology is a graduate level profession. Media psychology can be studied at either the master’s or doctoral level. Programs may allow students to select a sub-specialty, for example, health and the media. Division 46 has compiled a list of graduate educational programs in media psychology and media studies.

Grand Canyon University (GCU) offers a variety of Master’s in Psychology programs modeled after the standards and recommendations set by the American Psychological Association with emphases in: Forensic Psychology, General Psychology, GeroPsychology, Health Psychology, Human Factors Psychology, Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Life Coaching. Three Bachelor’s in Psychology programs are also offered. Click here to learn about GCU and their programs.

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers online Bachelor’s and Master’s in Psychology programs with several emphases to select from as well as a CACREP accredited online Master’s in Counseling. Click here to learn about SNHU and their programs.

Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers several online bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in psychology including both clinical and non-clinical specializations. Capella University also offers three online CACREP-accredited programs: MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, MS in School Counseling, and PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision, as well as a COAMFTE-accredited program, MS in Marriage and Family Therapy. Click here to contact Capella University and request information about their programs.

Click Here to learn more about psychology education options based on your current educational attainment.

Programs are often multidisciplinary and are not necessarily license-qualifying. However, this is an area where one doesn’t necessarily need a license. Media psychologists do not typically treat patients (though a clinical psychologist can become a leader in the field).

Another option for those interested in doctoral level research is to enroll in a program in social psychology — one where faculty members have media as a research interest. A PhD program will include a dissertation, or extended research project; students sometimes work on this over a period of multiple years. Writing a dissertation in a relevant area can go a long way toward establishing oneself in the field. One can get a sense of the breadth of the field by reading professional journals. Journals of interest include the following:

The Social Psychology Network includes links to journals covering all aspects of social psychology. Some prospective students use journals to identify potential programs – many contributors are affiliated with schools.
Division 46 offers a dissertation/ research award for outstanding student work.

Media Psychologist BLS Salary Information

The Bureau of Labor Statistics places media psychologists, along with other social psychologists, in the “psychologists, all other” category and lists a mean salary of $86,380 in 2012. A 2010 survey by the APA found a starting salary of $60,727 for doctoral level researchers and $78,727 for applied psychologists working for consulting firms (http://www.apa.org/workforce/publications/09-doc-empl/index.aspx?tab=4).
Both the BLS and the APA report that master’s level psychologists earn less than those with doctorates.