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An ecological psychology approach to the study of audiences
Unformatted Document Text:  ecological theory...8 with certain soap actors being abused by viewers in public – take pains to distance themselves from the role. Either way, the rules of the frame are less clear than in first- order parasocial interaction. Third-order parasocial interaction concerns media figures that have no physical representation. These figures are typically cartoon characters (e.g., the Simpsons) or other fantasy characters (e.g. the Teletubbies). Logic dictates that a social relationship of any sort would be impossible with such figures, although there has long been a tradition for cartoon figures to be represented in the physical realm by actors in costume. But clearly the nature of any social relationship with such representatives would be different in quality even from a relationship with an actor performing their soap role out of context. Nevertheless, it is the particular interaction frame that determines which affordances these encounters make available. 1 Problems with ecological theory Ecological theory is useful for placing the media within a psychological framework and providing explanations for some of the more difficult aspects of audience activity. However it has a number of limitations for media psychology that need to be addressed. The most important of these is its rejection of subjectivity, which makes it difficult to discuss individual experiences of media use. In most cases, this is not a problem, since the media are necessarily entwined with other aspects of social and 1 While some people are incredulous at the very idea that an adult could form a meaningful relationship with a cartoon or fantasy character, this is a surprisingly common phenomenon of great significance to the study of psychology, media and culture. For example, Hinerman (1992) discusses some spectacular cases of intense attachments to Elvis Presley, and the website http://www.fortunecity.com/millenium/byker/9/ is also worth a visit; here, a Mickey Mouse fan describes (among other things) multiple visits to Disneyland, where she had her “picture taken with Mickey so many times he started remembering me”.

Authors: Giles, David.
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ecological theory...8
with certain soap actors being abused by viewers in public – take pains to distance
themselves from the role. Either way, the rules of the frame are less clear than in first-
order parasocial interaction.
Third-order parasocial interaction concerns media figures that have no physical
representation. These figures are typically cartoon characters (e.g., the Simpsons) or
other fantasy characters (e.g. the Teletubbies). Logic dictates that a social relationship
of any sort would be impossible with such figures, although there has long been a
tradition for cartoon figures to be represented in the physical realm by actors in
costume. But clearly the nature of any social relationship with such representatives
would be different in quality even from a relationship with an actor performing their
soap role out of context. Nevertheless, it is the particular interaction frame that
determines which affordances these encounters make available.
1
Problems with ecological theory
Ecological theory is useful for placing the media within a psychological framework
and providing explanations for some of the more difficult aspects of audience activity.
However it has a number of limitations for media psychology that need to be
addressed. The most important of these is its rejection of subjectivity, which makes it
difficult to discuss individual experiences of media use. In most cases, this is not a
problem, since the media are necessarily entwined with other aspects of social and
1
While some people are incredulous at the very idea that an adult could form a meaningful relationship
with a cartoon or fantasy character, this is a surprisingly common phenomenon of great significance to
the study of psychology, media and culture. For example, Hinerman (1992) discusses some spectacular
cases of intense attachments to Elvis Presley, and the website
http://www.fortunecity.com/millenium/byker/9/ is also worth a visit; here, a Mickey Mouse fan
describes (among other things) multiple visits to Disneyland, where she had her “picture taken with
Mickey so many times he started remembering me”.


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