Monday, December 1, 2014

Gender stereotypes in children's media contribute to unrealistic expectations of both sexes

Photo by Getty Images
According to recent studies, children today spend approximately 7.5 hours every day consuming media primarily through television, music, video games, social media and the occasional book. Human's brains are not fully molded until age 25, giving the media the opportunity to shape our outlook on the world for over 54,000 hours in total.

With this immense power comes detrimental aftermath. By advertising girls and boys toys as polar opposites, the media places children into categories very difficult to escape without copious amounts of criticism from those still stuck in the black and white mindset. The gray area consisting of masculine girls and feminine boys makes up a large percentage of the American youth population, and the media creates a culture that deems these qualities unacceptable.

Furthermore, the gender bias and stereotyped visions of both women and men in children's media are internalized by youth and utilized later in life when deciding women's and men's roles in society. According to Educational Psychologist, Lori Day, "Media shapes perception, and perception becomes reality."

The traits used to establish gender norms in the media immensely enhance the lack of acceptance in the adult world, but parents are also to blame.

Hegemonic masculinity is commonly portrayed by the media with characteristics of:
-lack of emotion
While many perceive this to put men on a pedestal, men who don't fit this definition are harassed and estranged by society. Men are pressured by both the media, and numerous other socializers as a result, to comply to this definition in order to be socially accepted, leading to unhealthy emotional distress by copious amounts of males.

On the other hand, women are frequently depicted as:
Along with the mental inferiority that women feel on a daily basis as a result of this, blatant simplification of women's capabilities, in various children's media outlets provides ammunition for the gender pay gap, which is still a prominent issue in American culture. For every $1 that a male worker makes, a female worker will make anywhere from 54 to 91 cents, depending on race, location, and field of occupation.

While the media is partly responsible for stereotypical gender roles advancing into the adult world, parents are also a main socializer of their children. By purchasing stereotype-enforcing gifts for their children, allowing excessive media intake, and reprimanding children for straying from norms, parents are greatly impacting America's youth.

A recent social experiment was performed where a male child who wanted to be princess for Halloween was submerged in a costume shop, and numerous adult reactions were recorded. Unfortunately, America isn't as accepting of diversity as advertised. Take a look at the full experiment here, which received over 1,000,000 views.

When asked why parents refuse to allow children to stray from the norms sculpted by the media, University of Maryland Sociology Professor, Perry Threlfall, shares a unique perspective. Being a parent herself, as well as an instructor of numerous sociology courses, Threlfall is particularly familiar with why parents may have such strong opinions regarding their child's straying from the norms.

Advertisements for young children characterize women through personality traits, while those for adolescents depict women based on physical attributes.

While youth aged 0-12 and 13-18 typically fall into the same general age category in large-scale observations, the media appeals to these two groups of people very differently. For example, the advertisements on Saturday morning cartoons varies drastically from those on MTV.

In advertisements for toys and sugary foods, targeted at a younger audience, boys spend significantly more time interacting with the product, which creates a sense of ascendency, while girls often appear in the background much less instrumentally. Additionally, around 66 percent of ads for young children include a male narrator, while 15.1 percent have a female narrator. Since only 15 percent of these ads are aimed towards a male audience, this brings up the point that male narrators often dominate gender neutral ads as well.

On the other hand, for teenagers, advertisements often include significantly more women,
Using Hawkin's Consciousness Scale, researchers concluded that 56.9 percent of MTV ads portrayed women in a condescending manner. Instead of including significantly more men like in the children's ads, MTV features roughly the same amount. 77.4 percent of the women in these ads had exceptionally beautiful bodies, while only 2.2 percent of males did, according to study participants. In addition, 53.4 percent of the female actors wore "sexy" clothing, but a mere 6.5 percent of men did. Lastly, 60 percent of women in these commercials served the sole purpose of being admired.

These statistics illustrate that lack of female presence is not the only way the media showcases male superiority. The objectification of women in ads for older audiences creates a culture of male lust and female admiration. Men want women similar to those in the ads, while women want to be like the women in the ads, causing both demographics to buy the product at hand. As a result of this, the self esteem of females with high media intake has plummeted in recent years. Copious amounts of teen girls are being diagnosed with depression, eating disorders and other similar mental illnesses, because of the unachievable high standard the media advertises as "natural".

In this day and age, children are exposed to roughly 3,000 ads a day. The media will continue to cross questionable boundary lines in order to make a profit, and that is not going to change any time soon.  Threlfall believes that in order to change the mindset of our youth, it is the parents' responsibility "to limit media intake," because corporations will continue doing what sells. Why would companies be inclined to change their advertising strategies to match actual behavior, when their current techniques are increasing profit?

Creating products for male children with more purpose and substantiality thrusts inferiority upon young women, leaving pernicious long-term results.

Numerous renowned publications have deemed Mattel, Inc. to be the largest toy franchise of the world. Inarguably, Mattel has proven successful. However, their design strategies, particularly for virtual worlds, suggest a one-tracked mindset for what interests girls in contrast to boys, which could lead to feelings of discomfort for youth who don't fit the stereotypical mold.

According to a recent study comparing the Barbie Girls and Xtractaurs websites, though both sites have a target audience of youth aged six and above, they subtly enforce gender inequity, offering goal-oriented and mentally straining activity to on Xtractaurs, and mindless, shallow games on Barbie Girls.

The avatar customization for the Barbie site takes place in a pink dressing room, with a Caucasian model with an irremovable full face of makeup. Out of the 15 hair styles offered, 12 are waist-length, out of the seven shirts only two cover the midriff and out of the 99 outfit choices, only four are profession-oriented. Interestingly, these four could only be purchased through the Kooky Costume shop, implying that they were just for dress up and had no applicable use. In contrast, the Xtractaurs avatar design takes place in a high-tech laboratory, with each dinosaur part offering a special skill to the player, enhancing the user's combat success. Even in such a simple aspect of the games, female users are taught to focus on superficialities, while males are challenged to better their abilities.

Additionally, the Barbie Girls game contained much more derogatory computer-automated comments, numerous hints encouraging female submission to men, and overall less purpose than Xtractaurs. In a random text-sampling from both websites, the Barbie Girls excerpt contained much less advanced content, with significantly more misspellings and fewer academic words than on Xtractaurs.

After noting significant differences between the two games, researchers surveyed 26 young girls who consistently played on the Barbie Girls site. When asked if they believed they could succeed in a stereotypically masculine job such as a police officer or lawyer, the majority said no. Researchers then dressed Barbie dolls in clothing matching these professions, and nearly all the girls said they could be successful after seeing Barbie do it. This speaks immensely of the impact of stereotypical games. Women are taught to feel inferior from a young age through virtual entertainment, and as the technology becomes increasingly popular, these effects will only amplify.

Both games have recently been shut down after harsh criticism. Regardless, the impact they made on millions of young children is irrevocable.

While gender stereotypes in animated cartoons are still a prominent concern, gender equality has increased drastically since the 1980's.

In a longitudinal study, researchers analyzed 175 children's cartoons and the number of male and female protagonists and minor characters. In the shows that aired between 1935 and 1980, these shows produced 74 females leads, but 170 male leads. Additionally, they featured 107 minor female roles but a whopping 354 male minor roles. In general, for every three female characters, there were seven males. Zero gender neutral characters made appearances in any of these programs. Overall, these statistics proved drastically different than the proportion of each gender in America, leading females and gender neutral individuals to not only feel subordinate, but also be treated oppressively.

Post-1980, the media underwent drastic change in both its quantitative and qualitative portrayal of women. Female characters began to radiate more verbal-assertiveness, individualism and leadership, and the number of male and female characters in cartoons began to balance. Gender neutral characters were also introduced, yet even today they are not nearly as represented as they need to be to stop the harassment they suffer through because of their self-identification. It is majorly important that children's cartoons include proportionate representation of female and gender neutral individuals, in order to create a universal acceptance and sense of respect in regards to all people.

Today, many television shows such as Modern Family, Game of Thrones and X-Files work to break gender norms. These shows are rapidly gaining support, but their audiences consist of mostly adults. While it is important to engage all audiences in situations that stray from stereotypes, if children are not introduced to this concept at a young age, they are likely to grow up unable to freely express themselves in fear of straying from traditionally masculine or feminine behavior.

While the media has come a long way since the early 20th century, it still has a long way to go in order to create an egalitarian society. Threlfall is extremely fond of the detrimental aftermath of the media's suppression of female characters, as she teaches numerous courses that include heavy discussion on radical feminism. While the researchers of this study suggest that time will continue to strengthen gender equality in the media, Threlfall hypothesizes a more immediate approach.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

University of Maryland professor awarded Packard Fellowship for further research on Earth's inner structure

In recognition of his efforts to integrate computer science and geological studies, Vedran Lekic joined the ranks of 17 other early career U.S. scientists and engineers who were awarded a Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering last week.

Lekic is working to map the United States' seismic activity in both the Earth's layers and on the surface.

Lekic’s research is based on ground vibration recordings, which he and his students use to detect the scattering of seismic waves across the North American tectonic plate. In conjunction with the National Science Foundation’s EarthScope Facility network, the data is collected from the 49 states and Puerto Rico and makes up about 3.8 million square miles, Lekic said.

From this data, Lekic is creating a map that will not only cover all 48 contiguous states, Alaska and Puerto Rico, but also dive deep into the Earth’s crust and core.
“EarthScope is kind of like our Apollo mission, but not as costly,” Lekic said

With recent technological advancements, Lekic is able to create a model of the Earth's mantle structure using seismic waves collected around the U.S.

Nearly 2 million data lines fill the screen of Vedran Lekic’s computer every day, each representing seismic waves that are detected from of the more than 1,700 seismic stations around the U.S.

Lekic has already used the seismic information to investigate why and how the crust moves over the Earth’s mantle. As of now, the deepest any machine has been able to dig was about 12 kilometers into the Earth’s crust, a minuscle fracture of the roughly 6,730 kilometers it takes to get to the Earth’s core. Using the seismic information helps geologists see the shapes and sizes of the Earth’s layers.

“What we do is comparable to how an ultrasound let’s us see through our bodies,” Lekic said. “But this lets us see through the Earth.”

As a doctoral student at the University of California, Berkley, Lekic formulated higher-resolution images of the Earth’s mantle structure, stemming from his creation of a global seismic velocity model. Not only is the model able to give geologists a better understanding of plate tectonics, but it also helps explain the movement of continental plates and their evolution, Lekic said.

Lekic and his partner, geology professor William McDonough, are "both interested in the energy that moves the tectonic plates and creates the magnetic shield around the planet,” McDonough said.

Together, they are attempting to harness that energy to create another way to build a model of the Earth.

Besides studying seismic activity, Lekic has taken an interest in researching the molecular aspects of geoscience.

Other than his seismology research contributions, Lekic is also a forerunner in the new geological field of neutrino geoscience. 
Neutrinos are a type of electrically neutral subatomic particle that are created during radioactive decay or some kinds of nuclear reactions. The particle, which was only physically detected for the first time last year, moves through every kind of object, McDonough said.

“It sounds magical; it’s like a particle that exists but you can’t really see,” Lekic said of neutrinos.
With generous funding provided by the fellowship, Lekic plans on making significant advances to his previous research.

Lekic is now one of five alumni faculty members who have received the award while at this university, and he will be given access to unrestricted funds of $875,000 over a five-year period to support his extensive research on Earth’s inner structure.

“The great thing about this fellowship is its flexibility to go chase a really good idea to wherever it leads,” said Franklin Orr, a Stanford University professor. “It is an incredibly valuable fund and gives the researchers an opportunity to take off with a good idea instead of waiting a year or more for federal money.”

Now that a large fund has been granted to his work, he hopes to spend more time plotting the seismic information in graphs and models so that he may better understand the Earth, Lekic said.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Increasing number of teen online friendships leads to potential Internet addiction

Teens around the world report the Internet to be the #1 way they communicate with friends, both new and old.

Networking has always been a key aspect in human socialization; however, the increasing popularity of the Internet has potentially grown to be the quickest and most convenient way for teens to network with their peers. Additionally, a recent study revealed that young adults believe their friends are a more important source of support than family, so they utilize the Internet in order to constantly feel connected and build strong relationships. These relationships can be strengthened by learning strong communication skills and comfortably sharing experiences. Internationally, though the specific applications used differ, friendships are most commonly created and nurtured via the web. 

Data reveals that adolescents consider online relationships more genuine, and copious amounts of offline friendships originated online.
According to this study, all age groups (12-15, 16-19 and 20-24) reported having around three times more friends in 'real life' than they did online. In this case, no definition of 'friend' was provided, so it was completely based on the participant's judgement. When asked how many close friends they had, only two times as many were from 'real life' as they were from the Internet, as depicted in the graph to the left. This implies that though a larger quantity of relationships are formed in person, the quality of these connections is much stronger online. Also, roughly one quarter of the offline relationships reported began online and then transitioned into face-to-face friendships. Surprisingly, no statistically significant conclusions can be made regarding how much of a factor age and gender are in these findings.

Young adults who prioritize fostering online relationships over offline ones often show numerous symptoms of Internet addiction.
Though 'Internet addiction' has no formal definition, nor has it even been deemed a legitimate disorder, various researchers have defined it in a wide variety of ways. For the sake of this study, the term has been operationalized to include six main criteria, which are depicted in the graphic to the right. Addiction typically stems from excessive gaming in virtual worlds such as Second Life, Our World, and more. Addicted teens spend around 25 hours playing a week, which is about as much time as a high school student spends in school. About 26% of 12-26 year olds consider themselves to be "Internet oriented," meaning if given the preference, they would rather communicate behind a computer screen for the rest of their life. With the rapidly growing digital world, this number is only expected to grow in the next few years.

Those with low self-esteem typically feel more comfortable in online conversation as opposed to talking face-to-face, making up a large percentage of Internet-addicted youth.
Findings in this study showed a positive correlation between preference of communicating online and number of hours on the web, but self-esteem was negatively associated with both of these. In simpler terms, those who spend more time on the Internet are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem, making them more prone to Internet addiction. In 1998, a study done by Robert Kraut stating that "Internet usage leads youngsters to social isolation;" however the results of this study contradicted that, because the least amount of friends were recorded by those with no Internet connections. With an overwhelming number of young adults using the web to replace face-to-face interaction, who knows what the future will hold!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Good interactivity leads to high success rates in info retention!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Negative public opinions of search engine personalization don't stop providers from intensifying and 'enhancing' the process!

According to this article which analyzes a recent PEW research study, 65% of people concluded that search engine personalization is a bad thing because it limits the information they are attaining. A new term, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), has been used by numerous companies such as Google and Bing in order to improve users' outlook on the tailoring of search results based on previous internet actions. Even though the average user may not even realize that their searches are being personalized, the list drawbacks of this shift seems to be endless. Eli Pariser brings up the scary evolution of a filter bubble: if search recommendations continue, our perception of the world will significantly differ from reality because we are only educating ourselves on what we're interested in. Another prominent concern is the chance of entering a "bad feedback loop" where you make one out-of-character search, and your results are then based off that outcast search for an extended period of time afterwards. Generally, as people get older, their views on SEO are more negative, as you can tell by the graph above.