Media Effects On Behavior

Disney Princesses

The word “media” refers to the main means of mass communication that reach the public. Media can be regarded by people of all ages, and is often used to influence behavior and/or thoughts. “The integration and connection of television and other media with the rest of social life presents another serious problem for effects research: does the media present viewers with new attitudes and behaviours, or merely reflect these as they already occur?” (Guantlett, 2005, p.15) In class, we debated whether media that causes unwanted behaviors or thoughts should be banned. This question was brought up in regards to Eminem and Rihanna’s music video for Love the Way You Lie. The lyrics to the song and the video, arguably glorifies abusive relationships, which led to people trying to get the video removed for it’s take on such a sensitive topic. During this discussion, I took the side that media of this nature should not be banned. In my opinion, it should be restricted for those under the age of legal consent (18), but after that age an adult should be allowed to make certain decisions on their own. As an adult, one should be able to decide for themselves rather than to be influenced completely by what they hear or see in the media.

I also was brought to the conclusion that all media has an effect on thoughts and behaviors in some way, no matter whether we think that we are left unscathed or not. Everything we hear, and see, and experience in the media has a message. Even media meant for children can cause unwanted thoughts and behaviors. “Cumberbach asks why it is thought that children (or an viewers) will imitate criminal or violent acts simply because they have seen them on the screen. The viewer may learn how to commit certain acts from screen media (although most people would probably be able to devise techniques without such help) but lack the desire to enact them; the barrier which stops most of us from committing such acts is more motivational than knowledge based (1989b:36). One could add that since media producers most frequently show police and crime-fighting action as positive and worthy of reward, if the imitation hypothesis had any substance then children would be significantly more likely to imitate that prosocial behaviour than other genuinely antisocial acts, which are rarely rewarded on screen” (Gauntlett, 2005, p.16).

Disney is a company that is geared for our society’s youth, and therefore we would want the media that The symbols that Disney has created over the years produce nostalgia for our childhoods, but what common messages are found in Disney princess movies? Are there themes that are interwoven into each animated movie that negatively influence behavior for young girls? I think, yes. Disney movies do not promote violence, but they stress gender roles and could lead young girls to behave in certain ways since the Disney Princess are all rewarded at the end of the movies with happy endings. This makes me think that young girls may be led to imitate the pro-social behaviors of the Princesses that stress gender roles because they think that they too will be rewarded with a happy ending.

To figure out whether this little theory of mine was true, I made a list of all of the popular Disney princess movies, and wrote down some common themes. As I already knew, each of the movies influence behavior by setting gender roles. The girls are shown that love is the ultimate goal in life, and that men are, or should be, the most important things in their lives. In The Little Mermaid, Ariel gives up everything for her prince. She leaves the only world she’s ever known, and loses her voice to be apart of his world. Should we really be allowing young girls to watch movies that demean women, and teach them that in order to be happy we have to give up everything we know for a man?

Disney princess movies set unrealistic and ridiculous standards for women (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, Pocahontas, Sleeping Beauty, Tangled, Alladin, etc.), label unattractive people as evil (Every Disney movie known to man), indirectly tell children that parents are not important or don’t need to be listened to (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Frozen, Pocahontas, Alladin), and more. Disney princess movies also add to the stereotypes of women and men. The women in these movies (with an exception for a few including Brave, The Princess and the Frog, and Mulan) rely on men in some way. They also teach girls that men are their job to ‘fix’.

The only Disney movies that I can praise for attempting to break gender roles are Brave, The Princess and the Frog, Mulan, and Tangled. Brave and Mulan focus on princess Merida and Mulan who are their own heroes. In The Princess and the Frog, princess Tiana puts her dreams and work first. She is not a damsel in distress by any means. Finally, Tangled features a spunky Rapunzel who doesn’t fall for the first guy to climb into her tower. I think that having more movies for children that feature empowering female roles would be a good way to influence young girls, as opposed to ones that set gender roles. If media is going to influence the behavior of our youth, we should at least allow the influence to be good. The media effects model can be justified with reference to Disney princess movies.



Gauntlett, D. (2005). Moving experiences. Eastleigh, UK: John Libbey Pub.

What I’ve Learned From The Disney Princesses. (2016). [image] Available at: [Accessed 11 Feb. 2016].

One thought on “Media Effects On Behavior

  1. The most important thing to teach young girls
    (and young boys) is to THINK for themselves,
    to challenge the “norm” and to be willing to
    take risks.
    PS just like you!!!

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