In terms of the Social Learning Theory, we learn new behaviours through observing and imitating through 'vicarious reinforcement'. It is therefore likely that characters on TV might act as powerful role models, who either positively or negatively reinforce addiction.
In support of this, Sulkunen looked at 61 scenes from nearly 47 films that portrayed nearly every type of addictive behaviour. It was found that most of these films tended to focus on the more positive effect of drugs.
A psychologist also found, through studying over 80 of the most popular films in the past 20 years, that:
- Weed featured in 8%
- Nicotine in 68%
- And alcohol consumption in 32%
The portrayal tended to be positive with negative consequences.
These studies have shown that the more adolescents are exposed to smoking in films, the more likely they are to start.
This can be a method to either promote or discourage addiction. It can be used to promote the sales of tobacco, alcohol, lottery cards or online poker. On the other hand it can be used to promote government health campaigns such as 'Anti-Smoking' or 'Talk to Frank'.
In support of this Chapman and Fitzgerald studied underage smokers and found a preference to heavily advertised brands. This shows that the advertisement of addictive products does seem to increase people's awareness of them.
Due to the 'Health of the Nation Strategy' in 1992, The British Psychological Society called for a ban on advertising all tobacco products, which was passed. Government research has suggested a relationship between advertisement and sales, and in 4 countries that have banned advertising smoking, there has been a significant drop in tobacco consumption.
An issue underlying media influences on addiction is that much of the research remains inconclusive, therefore more research is needed in order to investigate the effects of media portrayal in addictive behaviour. It also does not take into account individual differences, suggesting we are all influenced by the media in the same way.
Furthermore, the findings in advertisement and addiction have mainly been focused on correlational research. It is therefore hard to show whether advertisement caused a direct effect on the consumption of addictive products; the effects are often hard to measure due to the influence of extraneous and confounding variables.