Dandelions & Orchids: Why Individual Differences Matter


Orchid Dandelion ChildIt is abundantly clear that not all children are affected by media in the same way. Some children experience negative effects, some children positive, and for some children – effects are generally neutral. In a new article published in a special issue of American Behavioral Scientist, CcaM’s Jessica Piotrowski & Patti Valkenburg discuss why researchers must carefully look at individual differences when studying media effects. 

Most people would agree that not all media affect youth in the same way. Indeed, we see that some children seem to be particularly affected by media content – while other children seem to be less affected by media. Why is this? In this theoretical article, Piotrowski & Valkenburg argue that individual differences in children’s disposition, development, and environment explain why some children are more (or less) affected by media content.

The authors refer to a metaphor that has emerged in developmental psychology: the metaphor of the dandelion and the orchid.  Here, they explain that most children are akin to dandelions – relatively hardy and able to survive and thrive in a host of conditions.  However, there are some children – orchids – which are much more sensitive to the inputs they receive.  These children, just like the delicate flower, can bloom magnificently in the right conditions. However, in unhealthy environments, their growth can be quickly stifled. 

Piotrowski & Valkenburg argue that this well-chosen metaphor also reflects children’s susceptibility to media. The majority of children, our dandelions, are likely able to handle a wide array of media content they are exposed to with few consequences. However, there is a minority group of children – our orchids – who likely experience particularly problematic outcomes when exposed to harsh media content (e.g., violent media content), but importantly, likely experience particularly beneficial outcomes when exposed to healthy media content (e.g., prosocial media content). The authors argue that understanding this differential susceptibility to media effects – namely by using individual differences to help identify orchid and dandelion children, is a crucial direction for researchers.

Given this imperative, this article provides researchers with theoretical and empirical examples on this differential susceptibility paradigm. In doing so, the article highlights the value of studying individual differences in media effects research –making the clear point that studying individual differences can go a long way towards providing nuanced answers to the complex questions associated with youth and media effects. 

Click here to read the article “Finding Orchids in a Field of Dandelions: Understanding Children’s Differential Susceptibility to Media Effects” published in the special issue of American Behavioral Scientist entitled “Methodological Advances in the Field of Media Influences on Children”.

If you would like more information about this article, please contact the corresponding author – Jessica Taylor Piotrowski – via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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