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Expanding Your Career with Media Psychology

Media psychology is the application of psychological science to media and technology. It looks at the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the full spectrum of behaviors where human experience intersects media and technology. While the broad scope of media psychology leads to many career paths, nowhere is it more important than dealing with the education and development of young people. From education and parenting to using, designing and managing technology in education, media psychology delivers the rich toolbox of psychological theory and research skills to solve problems and gain insights that can lead to new and better processes, programs and products.

Focusing on the fundamentals of psychology keeps our eye on the prize—the human side of technology. It doesn’t matter what technology does, it matters what technology does to us and how we can use it—and use it well. Thus, we continually ask the question, how can media psychology promote positive individual growth and supportive community development?

Media psychology is an applied field—we take what we learn in research and the classroom and apply it in the real world, right away. It’s not uncommon for students to report that they are applying what they learn daily in their roles as manager, teachers and communicators.

As tempting as the promise of each new technologies can be, we remain anchored in psychology theory. This foundation in psychology as the lens is critical to maintaining the balance necessary to navigate the ever-shifting media landscape.

While media psychologists tackle many topics across many industries, here is a glimpse of some of topics that we deal with in research, in the courses we teach and out in the ‘real world’ every day:

  • How do I effectively support learning styles using technology?

  • How can I design curriculum to fit technology?

  • How do I create appropriate boundaries when my students want to friend me on Facebook?

  • How do I communicate the value of digital citizenship among teens?

  • How do I prepare students (and adults!) to find and evaluate good information?

  • When does technology make sense and when doesn’t it? How do I manage the limits?

  • What constitutes positive media use?Time, content, intention?

  • Can online learning environments be effective in delivering a sense of social connection

necessary for good learning?

  • What are the developmental, perceptual and motivational factors that I need to harness to deliver content—in person or online?

  • How do I teach people how to teach with technology?

  • How does virtual game play impact individual beliefs about self-efficacy, resiliency, or social dynamics?

  • How can we create compelling nonlinear narratives?

  • How can media be educational, positive and still be fun so kids will use it?

  • What are the elements that allow us to attract and engage attention and emotion when social life moves from screen to screen?

  • How can I effectively leverage technology to deliver social services to diverse populations?

  • How can we construct and use media technologies that promote positive social values?

  • How do we establish appropriate social media and communication guidelines for our employees?

  • How should we communicate with our stakeholders, from parents to board members, in a social environment?

  • How can we create immersive environments by developing multiplatform strategies?

  • How do social technologies disrupt traditional business models and what can we do to protect ourselves from extinction?

  • How can entertainment content increase empathy, self-efficacy or resilience?

  • How do fan communities impact member emotions?

  • How do we establish appropriate social media and communication guidelines for our employees?

  • How should we communicate with our customers in a social environment?

  • What are the psychological dynamics of interactive media that increase use in educational experiences?

  • How do social technologies disrupt traditional teaching models and what can we do to protect ourselves from extinction?

  • How can media content increase empathy, self-efficacy or resilience?

  • How do online communities impact member emotions?

  • What is it that people are trying to do where technology can make it better, easier, or faster?

People on cellphones

There is no end to the list of questions we can ask. The list will always grow as there will continue to be dramatic social and economic consequences enabled by the emergence of every new media and technology. Many people find this a frightening thought, but I would argue that it’s the opposite. The potential for technology is extraordinary. Imagine the world without electricity or automobiles. Every new tool is an opportunity for media psychologists to provide insight and guidance to ensure that we stay focused on what matters—the quality of human experience—and that we learn to use the technology well.

A mark of the importance of media psychology as a burgeoning field, for the first time, APA’s Career Paths in Psychology: Where Your Degree Can Take You includes a chapter on Media Psychologists. The rapid adoption of technology across society is opening people’s eyes to the need for media psychologists to help manage the impact of social and technological change. For example, the cell phone is the most rapidly adopted consumer technology in world history, making communication technology both personal and mobile. (Remember landlines?) In the U.S., not only has cell phone ownership among U.S. adults long passed the 90% mark (Rainie, 2013), but 75% of mobile subscribers have smartphones, enabling mobile video, music, and social network consumption (Sterling, 2015).

You likely know that teens’ social life is centered on their smartphone, but did you know that in sub-Saharan Africa, 60% of the population now has mobile phone coverage? That rural farmers in Ghana are able, for the first time, to access the prices of corn and tomatoes before making the over-200 mile trip to market (Aker & Mbiti, 2010)? Citizens from around the globe participate in political and social events, learn to read and expand their opportunities as information ripples across the world, real time, on mobile and social media. I don’t know about you, but I think this is exciting stuff.

If you are intrigued or inspired by how people can use media and make a difference in any number of fields, then media psychology may be the perfect path for you.


Aker, J., & Mbiti, I. M. (2010). Mobile Phones and Economic Development in Africa. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 24 (3), 207-232.

Rainie, L. (2013). Cell Phone Ownership Hits 91% of Adults. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved June 15, 2015 from

Sterling, G. (2015). Report: U.S. Smarphone Penetration Now at 75 Percent. Marketing Land, February 9. Retrieved June 12 from

Dr. Rutledge is faculty at Fielding Graduate University in the Media Psychology Program. She is the co-creator and faculty for two concentrations: Brand Psychology and Audience Engagement and Positive Psychology and Media. Dr. Rutledge is also Director of the Media Psychology Research Center and sits on the advisory board of the Internet and Social Marketing Certificate at UC Irvine Extension.

Dr. Rutledge consults on a variety of media projects identifying behavioral drivers to frame strategy in marketing and entertainment properties. She speaks internationally and has published both academic and popular work. Her most recent publications include The Transmedia Trip: The Psychology of Multi-Platform Engagement, ‘Media Psychologists’ in APA’s Career Paths in Psychology and Bridging Research and Practice: Using Proactive Narratives for the U.S. Department of Defense. She has written on various aspects of media behaviors, such as the psychology of mobile technology for Global Mobile and the role of community development in amplifying entertainment experiences in The Psychology of Twilight.

Dr. Rutledge is the author of “Positively Media” on and is a frequent expert source on media use and popular culture for mass media outlets, such as The NY Times, The UK Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Good Morning America,, BBC, Men’s Health, Cosmopolitan, Time and USAToday. She holds an PhD and an MBA.

#mediapsychology #drpamelarutledge #fieldinggraduateuniversity

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