Media dependency, or media systems dependency theory, is a theory by Sandra Ball-Rokeach and Melvin DeFleur. It is a simple concept that posits the more a person uses the media for various needs, the more it will affect that person. The model is reliant on one or more of three needs being fulfilled, according to the theory put forth by Rokeach and DeFleur.
The needs hypothetically met by media
Some people are able to keep on top of their social world by using media. They can see what is popular, what their peers are doing, what other groups are doing and more. Of course, a person can also meet their social surveillance needs by getting out socially and relying on their core social group instead of media. However, that would remove the dependence on media.
The media can provide a means of mentally escaping a stressful life. You can become immersed in the lives of celebrities, the fantastic stories of people you do not know and much more. In this way, the media fulfills a need to escape, and you can hypothetically become dependent on that.
Media can affect how you decide to do things for others. For example, it might help you decide how to spend a weekend volunteering. Media can also help you decide which issues are important to you. Unfortunately, if the media you ingest is biased, you may be making decisions based on misinformation.
The concept is not that people are constantly consuming the same media and meeting the same needs, but rather that when people feel a pull to fulfill one of these needs, they may turn to the media to do so. In this way, media will influence aspects of their lives.
In some instances, there is more need for media than in others, and it is expected that people rely on the media for their information. For instance, if it is storm season in a hurricane-prone area, people will turn to the news to find out what is happening. National or international events like wars and elections create the same heightened need.
The posited effects of media dependency
It is thought that people who depend on the media a lot will lose their sensitivity to violence and danger, as they are exposed to it frequently through the media. It is also thought that it may make people disproportionately frightened, as they are being told bad news all of the time.
There is some speculation as to whether media dependency can affect your behavior. In other words, can the media influence you to do things or cause you to do things you would not have normally done? For example, a media campaign might cause you to vote for a candidate you would not have otherwise voted for.
Lastly, media can affect how we think and feel about things. Our sentiments about certain groups of people, individuals, products and more can be affected by the media. It can also help people point their moral compasses, so to speak.