The current paper is a critical review of Working Paper 21360 titled ‘Economic and
Social Impact of Media’ by Stefano Della Vigna and Eliana La Ferrara. The research was
prepared for the Handbook of Media Economics and published July 2015. The following paper is
not a simple summary of the ideas but aims to critically evaluate the information in the article
and the way it was processed by the authors. Critical review contains the following sections:
Introduction, Overview, Evaluation and Conclusion. The overview will summarize the key
points of the working paper. The Evaluation part of critical review will evaluate the information
in the article highlighting both its strong and weak points. This is the biggest part of the paper,
which provides both support and criticism for the article. Finally, a conclusion will be made at
the end to give readers an overall picture.
The paper dwells on the impact of media exposure and talks mainly about five aspects of
it: 1) the demand of entertainment, 2) direct versus substitution effect of the media, 3)
identification and time horizon; 4) the role for entertainment media; and 5) policy impacts. The
article analyzes studies on different types of media – traditional (newspaper, radio, TV) and new
(Internet social networks, video games etc.). The article suggests that demand for entertainment
is the main reason for the existence of media. Moreover, media with entertaining purposes has its
effect not only on social but political and economic fields of life as a by-product. Media effects
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can be divided into two variations. First kind of media effect is shock. The best example of this is
violent movies. The second type is called substitution effect in which viewers live the lives of
screen heroes (by watching soap operas) (Dahl and Della Vigna, 2008).
Another key theme for the survey is imitation effect of the media. According to some
studies, society is likely to imitate the actions seen on TV. Here the authors of the paper try to
understand short-run and long-rum imitation effects. The fourth theme is role for entertainment
media. Here TV, movie, and Internet play a major role while such media as newspapers and
journals do not show any direct effect on society (Stromberg, 2015). The last theme in the paper
is policy impacts. Surprisingly, according to existing research the number of violent movies and
their popularity in society do not influence the crime level in it. However, there are some other
researches that provide results proving that media does have its impact. One of such impacts is
fertility rate, which reduced significantly in developing countries and is associated with large
number of telenovelas.
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In interpreting the media effects, the paper proposes a simple framework that highlight
the different channels for the media effects. The framework assumes a discrete choice model
with the audience choosing between activities x 1 , x 2 …x n with some activities being media choices
like watching a new cast, listening to prime news on radio or reading a newspaper. Other
activities on the other hand represent alternate utilization of time for instance, going to a picnic,
watching a movie, or meeting friend. With a series of equations, the model adopted arrives at a
linear relationship between the outcome variable y, which may represent family decisions,
education or crime as related to the activity choice. The model in simple terms is represented as:
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The implication of the model is that each activity x 1, contributes to the outcome y with a
“direct-effect” coefficient αi. For instance, if watching a certain television show, is represented
by activity x 1 while activity x 2 represents group meeting, it could be assumed that exposure to the
specific TV show has tendency to reduce fertility (α 1 < 0) while going for group meeting
increases it (α 2 > 0). A key assumption that is adopted by the model is a person does not take into
consideration the impact on y in the choice of utility-maximizing activity xi. For instance, by
choice of a TV show, the person does not consider the effect it has in his or her attitude towards
The outcomes of the study indicates that Television plays a double role as far as
educational outcomes are concerned, where it provides content while at the same time competing
with other activities for the use of time. Accordingly, the TV programs embed useful information
and a rich enough language and thus exposure to the media may improve one’s knowledge as
well as proficiency in language. The implication of substitution effect however is that watching
TV crowds out activities such as study, social interaction among others. In terms of family
outcomes, the paper establishes a link between fertility decline and watching of telenovelas
especially in developing countries like Brazil. Television and media also contributes to migration
of people towards areas of high income.
The paper present a comprehensive well thought research supported by multiple sources
of literature. Almost every assertion in the paper is adequately supported by the existing
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literature making the research work believable and practical. The abstract succinctly and
adequately summarizes the paper and give the reader what to expect without necessarily
preempting the findings of the study. The introduction sets pace for the research explaining
various concepts to be delineated in the study together with their backgrounds. The model used
in the methodology is comprehensively and well explained in a step-to-step explanation. It is so
well explained that even a person without background in such mathematical models can well
follow and understand. Various assumptions taken when developing the model are well
explained to the reader, which increases its credibility. Moreover, the authors explains that the
model have been used in a number of papers explaining the effect of media which implies it is
already tested and thus the results arrived at can be relied upon.
Throughout the paper, the reader is engaged in various ways such as provocative
question. For instance in the introduction, the paper poses the questions; “Does television
exposure impair educational achievement? Does violence in the media trigger arousal and violent
crime? Can media content affect deep-seated decisions like fertility choices? Is there consistent
evidence of imitation of media behavior?” (Vigna and La Ferrara, 2015) which are meant to
provoke the mind of the reader to come into to terms with the issues being addressed.
The presentation of the findings or outcomes of the research is another area that the paper
does very well. The outcomes are broken down and presented systematically and it becomes very
easy for the readers to follow. Each outcome is represented as a sub heading with detailed
information. The paper adopts an excellent format where a specific outcome is stated, explained,
and then supported by relevant literature.
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Just like any other paper, this paper has its share of weaknesses, which can be criticized.
The introduction section of the paper, although informative, is extra-long and can make the
reader forget they are still in the introduction. So many concepts are reviewed in the introduction
and it more than introduce the paper. A suggested improvement would be to split the
introduction into two. The first part should be the introduction which should explain what the
paper is all about and summarize the rest of the sections. The second part should be the literature
review, which should be dedicated in the discussion of past researches relevant to the study.
Despite of the research majorly relying on recent literature there are some few instances where
“old” literature has been quoted. For instance in the family outcomes sub-section that paper
quotes Fernandes, (2000), Johnson, (2001) and Scrase, (2002) all which are more than ten years
old since the paper was written in 2015. Another example is in the health outcome section where
the researcher quotes literature as early as 1982. The problem with such literature is that it may
no longer be valid hence the need for more recent literature.
In conclusion, the paper under review presented relevant findings, which is a huge
addition to the existing literature. The paper has many strong points including adequate literature
supporting its key assertions. The model used is reliable and verifiable. The introduction of the
paper however need to be reviewed and possibly be split to introduction and literature review.
Similarly, some literature sources used are too old and more recent literature need to be
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DellaVigna, S., & Ferrara, E. L. (2015). Economic and social impacts of the media (No.
w21360). National Bureau of Economic Research.