Psychology, Department of


Document Type


Date of this Version

June 1977


Published in Journal of Communication 27:3 (Summer 1977), pp. 176–188. Copyright © 1977 the Annenberg School of Communication; published by Blackwell Publishing. Used by permission.


During the last decade, the literature on media exposure has been dominated by a single theoretical system of personality functioning—the social learning model. The model emphasizes that the disinhibition of already-learned behavior, the learning of new behaviors, and the establishment of patterns of personality result from observing the behavior of other people (models) and from vicarious reinforcement upon viewing those models successfully engaging in rewarded sequences of behavior.

It is a tribute to the degree to which social learning oriented psychologists have successfully influenced intellectual and governmental thinking that the model is seldom questioned as providing the appropriate basis for interpreting both the Pornography and Violence Commission reports. The findings and recommendations of the Surgeon General’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behavior (hereafter called the Violence Commission) seem to affirm the social learning model, and hence, to be generally believed. The findings and recommendations of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography (hereafter called the Pornography Commission), on the other hand, do not affirm that social learning model; those findings, therefore, often have been discredited and/or disbelieved.

An alternative to disregarding the research of the Pornography Commission as erroneous or insufficient, of course, is to question the social learning model as the appropriate theoretical framework for interpreting those data. Before discussing how alternative psychological approaches outside of the social learning model can render these two sets of findings non-contradictory, I shall discuss the different levels of apparent contradiction between the two reports, and the degree to which media specialists, government officials, and social scientists have either focused upon those contradictions or denied or ignored the Pornography Commission findings.