Phyllis Anastasio, Ph.D.

Professor of Psychology

Areas Taught: Psychology

Expertise: Subtle Effects of the Media on Judgements and Opinions

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Decoding the Media and Its Messages

From controversial new violent video games to underlying messages in television commercials, Phyllis Anastasio, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, has her finger on the pulse of the media at all times. Anastasio specializes in the effects media has on the public – how media subtly affects our perceptions, our opinions, and even our behaviors.

“I often hear people say that media – commercials, video games, the news, movies – does not affect them,” says Anastasio. “But the research says otherwise.”

Anastasio is a principal researcher on the effects of exposure to media violence. Forty years of research points to a causal connection between violent media and aggressive behavior in some children, and Anastasio is a vocal supporter of educating parents and children alike about the subtle effects of media violence.

“Not everyone who watches violent media becomes aggressive,” Anastasio says. “It’s the continuous consumption of violent media over time that increases the likelihood for later aggression and violence.”

Anastasio is also an expert on often unrecognized media phenomena, such as how groups and opinions are portrayed. In one study, Anastasio discovered that African Americans who play law enforcement agents on crime shows have significantly lighter skin than those who portray criminals, and a follow-up experiment demonstrated that people did indeed associate a darker-skinned African American male with criminality more so than either a white or light-skinned African American male. In another study, she discovered that female victims of crime are often referred to in a less personal manner than males in newspaper reports. “If a victim has a lot of personal information mentioned about them, if they are referred to by name, people have more empathy toward them, and blame them a lot less” says Anastasio. “When women are referred to less personally, it very subtly says that women are to blame for their own victimization.”

“Media can and often does affect people,” says Anastasio, “without the viewer or reader ever consciously recognizing it.”

Dr. Anastasio earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Millersville University in 1981, her master’s degree in Experimental Psychology from Villanova University in 1987, and her Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of Delaware in 1992. She has been teaching at the college level since 1986, and joined the faculty of Saint Joseph's University in 1997.