The Desirability Paradox in the Effects of Media Literacy Training

This study examines a paradox in findings regarding the effects of media literacy training on adolescents' decision making about tobacco use. Recent experiments have found that media literacy training successfully reduced participants' beliefs associated with risky behavior, whereas at the same time, their positive affect toward individuals portrayed in advertising increased. Study results confirm the hypothesis that media literacy training changes the way individuals think about the desirability of portrayals in the media. Although desirability usually represents individuals' affect toward portrayals, reports gathered after media literacy training also appear to reflect participants' increased awareness of the efforts made by advertisers to produce attractive portrayals designed to sell products and services. This awareness reduces or eliminates the impact that positive affect otherwise would have on decision making. Because this analysis suggests that individuals may respond to survey questions differently depending on their level of skill or involvement, the results raise important issues regarding issues of reliability and validity that may extend well beyond tests of this theoretical model or particular evaluation.