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Abstract

Media literacy interventions offer relatively new and promising avenues for the prevention of risky health behaviors among children and adolescents, but current literature remains largely equivocal about their efficacy. We propose that (a) much of this ambiguity stems from the lack of conceptual clarity in the literature regarding the cognitive process through which media literacy interventions influence their target audience, and (b) that the ability to track this cognitive process by means of valid and reliable measures is necessary to evaluating the effects of media literacy programs on their audience. Accordingly, the primary objective of this study was to develop and test theoretically-grounded measures of audiences’ degree of engagement with the content of media literacy programs based on the recognition that engagement (and not participation per se) can better explain and predict individual variations in the effects of these programs. We tested the validity and reliability of this measure with two different samples of 10th grade high school students (Study I N = 294; Study II N = 171) who participated in a pilot and actual test of a brief media literacy curriculum. Responses to an inventory of items measuring evaluation of the media literacy program underwent an exploratory factor analysis for Study I. Four message evaluation factors (involvement, perceived novelty, critical thinking, personal reflection) emerged and were confirmed through CFA (Study II), demonstrating acceptable reliability as scales as well as item-level convergent validity and convergent and discriminant validity with other measures. We discuss the implications of including process of effect measures in the design and evaluation of media literacy interventions.

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