The RECS Scale

In rating the ethical content in media, the Rating Ethical Content Scale (RECS) occupies a niche separate and distinct from other media ratings systems. The RECS seeks to sharpen the focus of common sense evaluations of media and to more precisely identify moral content. Such an approach will be a valuable resource for psychologists, educators and parents.

The ratings system is based on the Four Component Model (Rest, 1983; Narvaez, & Rest, 1995) that identifies four psychological processes that must take place to complete an ethical action: Ethical Sensitivity, Ethical Focus, Ethical Judgment, and Ethical Action. For example, a story with Ethical Sensitivity has evidence of concern for others and awareness of the consequences of one's actions. A story with an Ethical Focus addresses the ethical demand in the situation, prioritizing moral goals and responsibilities over selfish interests. A story with Ethical Judgment shows characters deliberating about ethical choices. A story with Ethical Action has a character who takes several steps to reach a moral goal and perseveres to complete the ethical action. See the list of RECS Key Questions attached.

The RECS has evolved over several studies. For example, Narvaez (1998) compared the virtue categories in the Book of Virtues (Bennett, 1993) to the Model for Moral Text Analysis (MMTA), finding that the MMTA offered a finer-grained analysis more useful to educators and parents. Narvaez, Endicott, and Bock (1999) tested children and adults with an episode of the television show "Arthur." Children under age 7 had a difficult time rating anything in the show other than concrete behaviors. Narvaez, Endicott, Bock, Mitchell, and Kang (2000) asked groups of teachers to use a positive RECS (rating positive behaviors) and a negative RECS (rating negative behaviors) with an episode from the television show, "Family Guy." Because the program had more negative behaviors in it, the teachers had an easier time using the negative ratings system.

More recently, a test-retest study was performed with novice raters (Gomberg, Orlova, Matthews, & Narvaez, 2004) over a two-week interval. There was consistent, significant reliability for each of the four score categories (sensitivity, judgment, focus, action).

How RECS Works

For each of the four processes (sensitivity, focus, judgment, action) there are eight questions. Each is answered on a scale of 0-2 based on whether the item was in the story (0=Not At All; 1= Some, 2= A Lot). The answers are added up to create a rating for each process which will be conveyed as "stars" for each of the four processes. In addition, there are other questions on the RECS that allow for a richer description of the story, including which virtues were emphasized.

Advantages of the RECS

The RECS is standardized and practical. The RECS presents a standardized, scripted analysis for story evaluation. In addition to clarifying standards for developmentally appropriate content, the RECS is a tool to help parents tailor their children's media selections/use to their specific needs within the Four Process Model. Thus, the rating system provides excellent moral developmental suggestions for many different age groups, without making the decision for the user; the experts' ratings inform and assist the consumer, rather than merely labeling a media product and suggesting parents follow these guidelines.

RECS is focused on positive ethicality. Unlike other ratings systems, the RECS focuses on the elements that support ethical development in children.

The RECS is theoretically and empirically supported. The RECS is based upon the Four Process Model (ethical sensitivity, ethical judgment, ethical focus/motivation, ethical action), which is empirically-derived.

The RECS is non-partisan and culturally flexible. Clear-cut decisions are not and cannot be made in evaluation of children's films and stories. Thus, a purpose of the RECS is to evaluate media not as generally "good" or "bad" for the population at large, but to clarify developmentally appropriate content for different age groups and specific groups. In doing so, the system successfully negotiates a variety of cultures and traditions; individuals may decide for themselves if the materials considered are appropriate for their intended use and audience.

The RECS will allow experts and non-experts to collaborate. In its final form, RECS will be available for use by the public on the web. The web will offer expert ratings of children's books, shows and movies, and at the same time allow the public to rate materials as well.