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An ecological psychology approach to the study of audiences
Unformatted Document Text:  ecological theory...6 young as three can identify different media genres (initially, commercials), and that they are much more discerning consumers of media than adults sometimes imagine. The notion of sharp divisions between fantasy and reality has been challenged in developmental psychology more generally, by pointing out that much adult behaviour – beliefs in astrology and paranormal phenomena, for example – would fail the tests of the reality/fantasy divide (Woolley, 1997). In terms of audience activity, the acts of soap fans might be similarly classified as “fantastic”, and yet, as Geraghty (1991) and others have argued, soap fans are fully aware of the artificial nature of the programmes. In ecological terms then, is fantasy/reality another tenuous dualism? This is a difficult question to answer because, while adult audience activity rules out fantasy/reality as an explanation of media interaction, the concept of parasocial relationships demands that we pay attention, to some degree, to the ontological status of media figures of different kinds. I will return to this issue shortly. Ecological psychology and parasocial interaction An important concept for understanding the way that media affordances work to produce parasocial relationships is the idea of interaction frames (Reed, 1996a). Interaction frames have been used by ecological psychologists to describe contexts in which rules of communication are established (Bateson, 1955; Fogel, 1993). Bateson originally applied the idea in the context of play; for example, in a game like peek-a- boo there are specific rules that define the kinds of activity which are permissible and forbidden, and what kind of affordances are made available. Humour is another

Authors: Giles, David.
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ecological theory...6
young as three can identify different media genres (initially, commercials), and that
they are much more discerning consumers of media than adults sometimes imagine.
The notion of sharp divisions between fantasy and reality has been challenged in
developmental psychology more generally, by pointing out that much adult behaviour
– beliefs in astrology and paranormal phenomena, for example – would fail the tests
of the reality/fantasy divide (Woolley, 1997). In terms of audience activity, the acts of
soap fans might be similarly classified as “fantastic”, and yet, as Geraghty (1991) and
others have argued, soap fans are fully aware of the artificial nature of the
programmes.
In ecological terms then, is fantasy/reality another tenuous dualism? This is a difficult
question to answer because, while adult audience activity rules out fantasy/reality as
an explanation of media interaction, the concept of parasocial relationships demands
that we pay attention, to some degree, to the ontological status of media figures of
different kinds. I will return to this issue shortly.
Ecological psychology and parasocial interaction
An important concept for understanding the way that media affordances work to
produce parasocial relationships is the idea of interaction frames (Reed, 1996a).
Interaction frames have been used by ecological psychologists to describe contexts in
which rules of communication are established (Bateson, 1955; Fogel, 1993). Bateson
originally applied the idea in the context of play; for example, in a game like peek-a-
boo there are specific rules that define the kinds of activity which are permissible and
forbidden, and what kind of affordances are made available. Humour is another


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