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J Health Commun. 2012;17(4):460-76. doi: 10.1080/10810730.2011.635770. Epub 2012 Jan 24.

The role of media literacy in shaping adolescents' understanding of and responses to sexual portrayals in mass media.

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  • 1Murrow Center for Media and Health Promotion, Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington 99164, USA.


This study was a theory-based, pretest-posttest quasi-experiment conducted in the field (N = 922) to determine whether and how a media literacy curriculum addressing sexual portrayals in the media would influence adolescents' decision-making processes regarding sex. Results of the evaluation, based on the Message Interpretation Process Model, indicated that participants who received media literacy training better understood that media influence teens' decision making about sex and were more likely to report that sexual depictions in the media are inaccurate and glamorized. In addition, participants who received media literacy lessons were more likely than were control group participants to believe that other teens practice abstinence and reported a greater ability to resist peer pressure. An interaction effect existed between gender and condition on attitudes toward abstinence, suggesting that the lessons helped girls and boys in somewhat different ways. Overall, the results indicated that media literacy strengthened key aspects of participants' logic-oriented decision-making process.

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