Adolescents’ Multi-Layered Media Processing: A Panel Study on Positive and Negative Perceptions Toward Ideals and Adolescents’ Appearance Anxiety

Communication Research, Ahead of Print. Selective exposure literature indicates that not all users take away the same messages from their media exposure; it is suggested that viewers are not merely exposed but rather reactive to multiple—and possibly opposing—messages. The current study aims to introduce an active media-processing perspective, focusing specifically on the media-body image association among an early adolescent sample. Results of a three-wave longitudinal survey among 971 early adolescents (Mage = 11.14; SD = 1.13) show that media-focused peer interactions (W1), but not media exposure (W1), were associated with contradictory perceptions of attractiveness (i.e., perceived benefits and perceived costs for investing in appearance) (W2). Polynomial regression analyses pointed out that the association between these contradictory perceptions (i.e., interaction between benefits and costs; W2) was curvilinearily related to body image investment (W3). The findings emphasize the variable vulnerability of adolescents to the media effect and the importance of acknowledging multi-layered media messages.