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Master's Degrees in Media Psychology

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While it's certainly fair and accurate to say that media psychology is a new field of academic inquiry, that very statement risks erring on both sides of the truth. In fact, academic theorists and public intellectuals have been studying the evolution of mass-media technologies and its impacts on perception, ideation, and behavior in individuals and the culture at large for decades now. For example, it's now been over 50 years since a Canadian-born English professor named Malcolm McLuhan introduced the concept that "the medium is the message" in his seminal treatise Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Implicit in that simple, five-word phrase was the notion that mass media changes the way we think, the way we behave, and the way we interact on a psycho-social level with one another and with the world at large.

So the idea that psychology is related to media, or that innovations in communications technologies impact human psychology, is nothing new. However, as a distinct field in academia, media psychology is still finding its bearings in a way that makes it both exciting and difficult to pin down. As Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center (MPRC) and editor of the Media Psychology Review, so bluntly puts it in an MPRC post, "It's a field with no consensus definition, no clearly-defined career paths, and no easy answers… This is a field that changes every time iTunes releases a new mobile app. "

Rutledge, who holds an MBA and a PhD in Psychology, is quick to point out what media psychology is not. It's not a clinical degree, and it's not media studies. It's also, in her words, not "appearing on TV, having a radio show, or being in a movie"; and it's not "running the AV department for your organization"; and it's most definitely not "watching TV for a living" or "hanging out with movie stars." Instead, as we'll see, it's an evolving area of academic interest that lies on the cutting edge of innovations in mass media and advances in behavioral science, the point where your Facebook profile meets your psychological profile and the Internet intersects with the internalized consciousness. Or, in the words of the Society for Media Psychology & Technology (SMPT), one of the newest divisions of the American Psychological Association (APA), "Media Psychology applies the science of psychology, from cognitive psychology and neuroscience to clinical practice, to research, analyze and develop mediated experiences using technology with the goal of benefiting society."

Master's in Media Psychology Concepts

  • Impacts of media and technology on human behavior
  • Statistics and research of psychological impacts of media
  • Analyze the impact of social conditions on human behavior
  • Business concepts for the media psychology consulting professional
  • Consulting for organizational change
  • Lifespan development (childhood, adolescence, and adulthood)
  • Psychology of personality
  • Psychology of memory and learning
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Human motivation
  • Psychological impact of film and television
  • Psychological impact of the Internet and mobile technologies

Benefits of Earning a Master's in Media Psychology

One of the more obvious benefits to earning a master's degree in media psychology is that you'll be among the first generation of students to have done so. Media psychology degrees and media psychologists are just emerging and evolving, much in the same way and for many of the same reasons that industrial-organizational psychology degrees and specialists did a decade earlier. I-O psychology grew out of the realization that studying and understanding the workings of the human mind and cognitive behavioral processes -- i.e., psychology -- has very real and valuable practical applications in the realm of business, management, marketing, and consumer decision making. Having a trained psychologist on hand can give an organization a competitive edge when it comes to worker productivity, employee satisfaction, leadership strategies, and consumer demand. And, as of the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, I-O psychologists stand at the top of the list of the fastest growing occupations, with a projected increase of 53 percent in employment through 2022.

Just as the proto-I-O psychologists of 40 or 50 years ago were, essentially, MBAs with psychology degrees, the early adapters in media psychology have been those savvy enough to combine a degree in media studies or, perhaps, business marketing, with a psychology degree. Again, in the words of Pamela Rutledge, drawn from an essay for the MPRC subtitled "Media Psychology is a new and emerging field, so the early entrants have the excitement and burden of defining the path": "Not all people doing what I would call 'media psychology' are psychologists. In fact, much of the early work came from marketing and advertising and the bulk of the research in media psychology has been published in academic and applied disciplines beyond psychology, such as sociology, communications and media studies, education, computer and information sciences, as well as business management and marketing."

A master's degree in media psychology is meant to integrate those multi-disciplinary components, obviating the need for a dual degree.

It should be noted that a license to practice as a psychologist requires completion of a PhD, and that the same is true for those who aim to lead research in the field. However, there are currently no licensing requirements in media psychology per se, and media psychology doesn't necessarily involve treating patients or, in some cases, even working directly with the subjects of psychological research. Much like the trailblazers in I-O psychology, media psychologists who have a deep familiarity with communications theory, behavioral science, and new media technology possess a skill set that has value and applications in a broad range of employment settings.

The SMPT mission statement, "Media Psychology: the Intersection of Psychology with Technology," lays out the far-reaching benefits of a media psychology expertise this way: "Media psychologists can be researchers, user experience designers, communicators, mental health providers, consultants, educators or application developers. Media psychology includes research and applications dealing with all forms of media technologies: traditional and mass media, such as radio, television, film, video, newsprint, magazines, music, and art as well as new and emerging technologies and applications, such as social media, mobile media, interface design, educational technologies, interactive media technologies, and augmented, virtual and blended environments."

What to Expect in a Media Psychology Master's Program

Students entering master's degree programs in media psychology have the advantage of being able to help define the contours of a field that is now taking shape, an area in which new avenues of research and theorizing are in the process of opening. However, there are certain clearly delineated parameters of what constitutes proper training in media psychology. That begins with a solid grounding in the quantitative research methods, data analysis, quantitative assessments, and theoretical modeling of behavioral science -- i.e., advanced statistics, research methodologies, and ethical best practices. And it should include a rigorous understanding of the various approaches, or schools of thought, in clinical psychology:

  • Behavioral Psychology -- the ways in which various physical and mental stimuli impact and reinforce thoughts and behaviors.
  • Biological/Physiological Psychology -- how the brain processes, transmits, and stores information on a neural and biochemical level, and the ways in which brain function affects cognition and behavior.
  • Cognitive Psychology -- the mental processes involved in thought, reasoning, perception, learning, memory, language, and other cognitive functions.
  • Developmental Psychology -- how the brain development over a person's lifespan is influenced by biology and conditioning, and the ways in which this impacts cognition, behavior, and identity formation.
  • Social/Cultural Psychology -- the study of how group and family dynamics, social structures, and cultural norms form thought processes, impact cognitive function, and contribute to identity formation.

Media psychology also demands an understanding of communications theory and the various models of mediated communications and mass media. After all, media is the subject of psychological study in media psychology. But, beyond simply integrating two bodies of academic knowledge and applying one to the other in an effort to create better insights into how communication technologies impact human psychology, and how human psychology influences the direction of innovations in media, it's also helpful to be familiar with the media technology itself. As Pamela Rutledge points out, "If you want to practice media psychology, you need to know how media technologies work -- how they are developed, produced, and consumed. And you have to know psychology so you can actually apply it to issues of usability, effectiveness, and impact."

With that in mind, here are some of the kinds of courses that may be considered unique to a master's degree program in media psychology:

  • Consumer Behavioral Psychology and Neuroscience
  • The Psychology of Neuromarketing
  • Immersive Technologies and Virtual Reality
  • Social Media Psychology
  • Politics, Propaganda, and Persuasion
  • Cognitive Psychology and Digital Communications
  • The Psychology of Educational Technologies

Career Options and Salary Outlook in Media Psychology

There are no well-trodden, clearly defined paths to a career in media psychology. That's the present reality, and the opportunity inherent in a master's degree in media psychology. It's a field that looks for new talent, for people who understand the dynamics of digital media, who can use the tools of psychology to make sense of those dynamics, and who have fresh ideas about how to best deploy these evolving media platforms and technologies. A master's in media psychology delves into regions of the brain where digital information is processed, product branding takes hold, content is deciphered and accessed, and neurons signal pleasure, pain, approval, dislike, and any number of other physical and emotional reactions to mediated content. In other words, media psychology has applications in any environment where media platforms exist, and increasingly that's just about everywhere.

So, a master's in media psychology could lead to work as a business and marketing consultant, an online education designer, an app or website designer, a social media specialist, or a psychologist who specializes in media-related issues. There is no template. However, the chart below offers an overview of job growth projections and salary data for related careers based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics most recent Occupational Outlook Handbook:

Occupation Job Growth, 2012-2022 Median Annual Salary
Public Relations Specialists 12% $54,170
Psychologists 12% $69,280
Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers 12% $115,750
Web Developers 20% $62,500
Software Developers 22% $93,350
Computer and Information Research Scientists 15% $102,190
Market Research Analysts 32% $60,300

Similarly, while there was no specific job designation for "media psychologist" when the BLS compiled its latest Occupational Employment Statistics numbers, here is what the earning potential looks like in some of the fields related to media psychology as of May 2014:

Occupation Mean Annual Wage
Media and Communications Workers $70,800
Psychologists $76,710
Web Developers $67,480
Software Developers, Applications $93,450
Computer and Information Analysts $94,390
Marketing Managers $137,670
Public Relations Specialists $74,580

Sources

"What is Media Psychology?," by Dr. Pamela Rutledge, Media Psychology Research Center, visited on on August 28, 2015, http://mprcenter.org/what-we-do/what-is-media-psychology/

"Media Psychology: the Intersection of Psychology with Technology," The Society for Media Psychology & Technology, Division 46 of the American Psychological Association, visited on August 27, 2015, http://www.apa.org/divisions/div46/

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, "May 2014 National Industry-Specific Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates," visited on August 27, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/naics4_541600.htm#27-0000

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, visited on August 27, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/home.htm

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