Do Media Stereotypes Affect People in Real Life?

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8th Feb 2020 Psychology Reference this

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Research Question: Do stereotypes created and propagated by media texts affect the way people make snap judgements in real life situations based on personal characteristics?

 The general topic of this study is to test if media texts are a key attributor to implicit bias which affects individuals’ snap judgement of people based on personal external characteristics such as race, gender, level of attractiveness amongst many others. When making decisions, particularly quick decisions, the brain employs use of a mental activity called a heuristic. Heuristics make use of implicit knowledge and biases to make quick, on the spot decisions. Implicit knowledge and bias are built and strengthened by a number of factors which include family and personal values, media texts (television, film, social media and print media) and personal interactions.

 The purpose of the study is to see if people who engage with media texts; specifically, film and television, as these two forms of media texts are the most common amongst a wide demographic, are more likely to make snap judgements based on implicit bias/stereotype that are constantly propagated by these media.

 It is not new that the media employs the use of stereotypes to make content more ‘relatable’ and wildly acceptable even if it is at the expense of the portrayed group of people. For example, for a long time in Hollywood, the romantic comedy genre has portrayed women as weak, overly emotional and most time needing of men. The same can be said for the action genre which also portrays women as being weak and most often needing to be saved by men. This school of thought is not only held by men but also women. The situation is similar when race is at the helm as well, minorities (Black, Latinos) are often portrayed in film and TV as violent, truant, unintelligent and ignorant.

 The effect I hope this study has on the media/communication is to give equal and just representation to all groups of people and stop the propagation of negative stereotypes as they may affect how people relate with individuals who are a part of these unfairly represented groups.

 This project draws a lot from scholarly articles on race and gender representation in the media, and a lot of psychology scholarship as well. I cite a number of studies focusing on human behaviour in relationship with stereotyping. This study will also make use of an online survey to test the research question proposed.

 For this research study, I will be making use of quantitative data in the form of surveys. Surveys are a set of uniform questions people are asked to gather information, their opinions or experiences relating to a particular topic. For the question design, I have decided to frame the question according to the Implicit-Association Test created by Anthony Greenwald in 1995. The version of this test that I will revise will include participants stating their age range from the options provided as well as how often they engage with media texts (film and television).  These participants will be selected using a convenience sampling. Upon completion of this, the standard IAT style test will commence. The reason for this is to compare how people that engage with media texts more frequently fare with implicit bias based on personal characteristics. For this study, the personal characteristics that the IAT will be framed around race, attractiveness and gender.

The data to be collected in this study is quantitative data through the above explained survey design. The results of each individual that participates in this study will be collated and the outcome with the most occurrences will contribute to the concluding result, which will be if the frequency of engaging with the mentioned media texts affects the implicit biases of individuals.

This study will contribute to knowledge about media and communication to show just how much stereotypes that were created and are constantly propagated by these institutions affect the daily life and inherently the judgement of individuals, without them even realising. Mainstream media constantly presents certain groups of people as having particular character traits, most of the time said traits are negative. I want this study to bring the media’s attention to this and take steps to eliminate these stereotypes from media texts so that these implicit biases do not affect the young and impressionable and redefine what these stereotypes have caused individuals to think is the norm.

This method is predicted to be easy to use and understand, very easily accessible to participants as the survey will be online. It is also very cost effective and time efficient as it is able to reach many people and collect a large amount of data with no stress. The only limitations that I worry this study may have is that the length on the survey may deter people from completing it as well as it may possess a lower validity due to the high number of responses in a short frame of time.

I plan complete this study within a semester. I plan to allow time for approval from the University of Tulsa IRB, following this I will create the website were the survey will be created and posted. The website link along with a brief of what the study is about, will be sent out to students and staff of the university after obtaining permission using the university mailing list. I will allow 30 days for convenience reasons, so I can get the most turnout possible in that time frame before collation of the results and drawing conclusions.

A brief example of how the survey will be mapped out;

For the gender aspect of the test, words such as weak, small, bossy, pushy, strong, smart, fast and wise will be used in IAT style to test the implicit bias of willing participants.

Annotated Bibliography

Introduction

Burgess et al cite an argument made by Amodio and Devine in a 2006 study which states that ‘stereotypes have both cognitive (e.g., generalizations) and affective (e.g., fear) components. Further, exposure to these stereotypical images triggers access to thoughts, preferences, and evaluations, ultimately predicting discriminatory behavior’ (Amodio & Devine, 2006). The purpose of this research project is to evaluate how personal characteristics (such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, physical attractiveness etc.) of subjects presented in media texts and in real life can trigger snap judgements due to stereotypes created and propagated by media texts.

Burgess, Melinda C. R., et al. “Playing With Prejudice: The Prevalence and Consequences of Racial Stereotypes in Video Games.” Media Psychology, vol. 14, no. 3, July 2011, pp. 289–311. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/15213269.2011.596467.

  1. Sigall, Harold, and Nancy Ostrove. “Beautiful but dangerous: effects of offender attractiveness and nature of the crime on juridic judgment.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 31.3 (1975): 410-415.

Both authors have a strong background in both health and the social sciences. With Sigall being a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Maryland and Ostrove, an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Georgetown University Medical. This study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

This study tested the hypothesis which states that; ‘An attractive defendant would receive more lenient treatment than an unattractive defendant if the crime was unrelated to attractiveness and an unattractive defendant would receive more lenient treatment than an attractive defendant is the crime was related to attractiveness.’ The study makes use of 120 subjects, divided into 3 groups and given different scales of attractiveness for each group (Group A with the defendant being attractive, B, unattractive and C with no information on the physical appearance of the defendant). All 120 participants chose at random what the scenario of the crime would be, the two options being a burglary (particularly unattractive nature crime) and swindling (more attractive inclined crime). In both cases, the setting for the crime and the victim were quite similar and left no doubt about the guilt of the defendant. In a form, the subjects were asked to give a number of years sentence to the perpetrator and in another rate the seriousness of the crime on a scale of 1-9 as well as rate the attractiveness of the defendant. The results of the study confirmed the initial hypothesis, but the results of the control group implied that the unattractiveness of a defendant may not necessarily provoke discriminatory judgement.

The results of the study really aid my research question pertaining to the leniency given to physically attractive defendants being privileged over defendants that are not considered attractive. This aids my argument on physical attractiveness and its relationship with cognitive heuristics that bias people to thinking that people who are attractive are less capable of committing harsh crimes. However, the study is limiting because it requires that the subject still give a sentence to the defendant implying that the defendant is guilty. This will further test the strength of physical appearance on the judging party and determine if attractive defendants are more likely to be innocent as opposed to unattractive defendants.

  1. Ahola, Angela S., Sven Å. Christianson, and Åke Hellström. “Justice needs a blindfold: Effects of gender and attractiveness on prison sentences and attributions of personal characteristics in a judicial process.” Psychiatry, Psychology and Law 16.sup1 (2009): S90-S100.

This study cites gender as a factor that may alter or influence judgement on defendants in conjunction with attractiveness of the defendant. This study also cites certain physical characteristics as more likely to be more attractive to jurors, like long hair etc.

The hypothesis for this study stated that ‘a defendant with an attractive appearance or of female gender would be evaluated more positively and with greater verdict leniency than one with an unattractive appearance or of male gender.’ The study made use of 232 subjects (178 women and 54 men). The subjects were split into two groups; half to a condition using a female defendant and the other half using a male defendant. Presenting them with a booklet containing six different crime instances as well as photographs of the defendant of female and male to their respective groups. Participants were asked to read the case summary and look at the photograph of the defendant. After reading the case, participants were to answer a questionnaire as if they were jurors, deciding the innocence or guilt of the defendant and give an appropriate sentence from 1 to 12 years. The main findings of the present study were that a female defendant was treated with greater leniency than a male defendant, and that an attractive defendant was judged somewhat less favourably than an unattractive female defendant. A result of particular interest and potential importance is the effect of defendant gender on recommended length of imprisonment, which means that male defendants were in fact punished for their gender. 

The argument of the study is very relevant to my research topic. The study does a good job of citing gender as a prevalent determinant factor in the decision of the innocence or guilt of the defendant and that aids the research question that beckons on the factors that determine guilt or innocence of a defendant.  However, the ratio of men to women in the participants may have incited a gender bias so in my study,. It also helps that all the photographs used in the study were men and women of the same race to rule out the possibility of a racial bias as well.

  1. Abraham, L., & Appiah, O. (n.d.). Framing News Stories: The Role of Visual Imagery in Priming Racial Stereotypes. Howard Journal of Communications17(3), (2006) 183–203. https://doi.org/10.1080/10646170600829584

This study cites the stereotypes associated with blackness as a mode of making snap judgements in media representations. The study asks white people, using news stories involving real public policy crimes and accompanying visual imagery, who would likely be affected by said crimes.

This study makes use of 177 white undergraduate students, all aged between 17 and 30. The population was 62% female and 38% male. There were four hypotheses for this study.

The four hypotheses involved whether the use of pictures or white people alongside news stories will prompt participants to feed into stereotypes or attribute the social problem being addressed to people of either race.

This study made use of two real news stories and real crimes, these stories made no mention of race or used stereotypical pictorial representation. It also involved a disguise story to enhance the reliability and validity of results. Participants were assigned their pictorial conditions at random and asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 7 their perception of how each population will be affected by each specific scenario. Again, in order to enhance reliability and validity, a list of 21 populations and areas were provided. The results of the study confirmed previous theories about stereotypes about black people. H1 and H2 were proven to be correct.

The study showed that white people will automatically use stereotypes associated with black people to fully grasp public policy issues. The results of this study are relevant to my topic because it shows that people do make negative snap judgements against a group of people due to their personal characteristics, in this case that characteristic is being black. The method used in the study had high reliability and validity.

  1. Appiah, Osei. “Stereotyping and the media.” The International Encyclopedia of Communication (2008).

The author is a professor at the Ohio State University, with expertise in Communication and Media.

The article describes stereotype as a ‘positive or negative generalisations indiscriminately attributed to members of a group.’ The article also cites how stereotypes are made and cultivated in the media through the recurrent use of simple and easily identifiable images. It also cites an argument made by LaFerle and Lee stating that ‘to provide an efficient path to cultural understanding, mass media employ stereotypes as a convenient categorization tool (2005)’. The media often uses stereotypical categorizations of individuals or groups based on attributes such as ethnicity, gender, class, employment, sexual orientation, religion, mental or physical disability, and age. The article cites that stereotypes were not made to cause harm and negative. Also, it gives examples of previous research done to prove the negative stereotyping of certain ethnic groups like negative stereotyping of Arabs can be found in Russian media. One of these examples cited is an argument by Yelenevskaya and Fialkova (2004), who argue that ‘since many Russians have had no direct contact with Arabs, the negative stereotypes Russians hold toward Arabs that characterize them as hostile, dogs, and dirty are borrowed from the mass media’.

This article is relevant to my research topic because it cites different personal characteristics that may influence snap judgement in media articles and other media texts. This article, unlike my previous sources does not contain any experiments but rather bases its conclusion off of review of previous literature.

  1. Monahan, Jennifer, et al. “Priming and Stereotyping: How Mediated Images Affect Perceptions in Interpersonal Contexts.” Conference Papers — International Communication Association, (2003)  pp. 1–9. 

This article describes, with evidence of previously conducted studies, the relationship between stereotypes created and reinforced be media texts and how it affects people’s perceptions of the stereotyped groups.

The article cites the ‘activation-recency hypothesis’ formulated by Hansen and Hansen in 1988 that suggests that ‘individuals who are primed with media content are more likely to use the content for subsequent information processing than those not primed.’ It also describes a study carried out by Ford in 1997 that made use of the activation-recency hypothesis to test if European Americans would make negative social judgments of an African American/Black target subject. The article cites that there is barely any previous work comparing stereotype within group but rather between groups. The hypothesis for the research is that mediated images of African American women activate a specific African American female conception and make it easily noticeable for further information processing.

This research proposal provides supporting literature that have evidence that people do use stereotypes that they have seen through the consumption of media texts to make snap judgements about people belonging to that group in their daily life. This evidence is relevant to my research question.

  1. Burgess, Melinda C. R., et al. “Playing With Prejudice: The Prevalence and Consequences of Racial Stereotypes in Video Games.” Media Psychology, vol. 14, no. 3, July 2011, pp. 289–311. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/15213269.2011.596467.

This article is concerned with the representation of racial stereotypes in video games and the consequence of such representation.

This article cites previous work that contains evidence of video games affecting ‘thoughts, behaviors, feelings and attitudes.’ It also states that there is proof that there is a significant lack of representation of Latina and Native American characters in video games.

In this paper, three studies are conducted to support the argument that there are consistent stereotypes portrayed in video games; magazines and packaging. The general result found that the stories told about minorities through games and gaming media are largely told by underrepresentation of races and minorities and heavy reliance on the use stereotypes.

This article is relevant to my research topic because it tackles another form of media texts that makes use of racial stereotypes especially as gaming is an outlet that is proven to have lasting effects on the brain, therefore etching these stereotypes into the brain of the gamer.

Works Cited

  • Abraham, L., & Appiah, O. (n.d.). Framing News Stories: The Role of Visual Imagery in Priming Racial Stereotypes. Howard Journal of Communications17(3), (2006) 183–203. https://doi.org/10.1080/10646170600829584
  • Ahola, Angela S., Sven Å. Christianson, and Åke Hellström. “Justice needs a blindfold: Effects of gender and attractiveness on prison sentences and attributions of personal characteristics in a judicial process.” Psychiatry, Psychology and Law 16.sup1 (2009): S90-S100.
  • Appiah, Osei. “Stereotyping and the media.” The International Encyclopedia of Communication (2008).
  • Burgess, Melinda C. R., et al. “Playing With Prejudice: The Prevalence and Consequences of Racial Stereotypes in Video Games.” Media Psychology, vol. 14, no. 3, July 2011, pp. 289–311. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/15213269.2011.596467.
  • Monahan, Jennifer, et al. “Priming and Stereotyping: How Mediated Images Affect Perceptions in Interpersonal Contexts.” Conference Papers — International Communication Association, (2003)  pp. 1–9. 
  • Sigall, Harold, and Nancy Ostrove. “Beautiful but dangerous: effects of offender attractiveness and nature of the crime on juridic judgment.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 31.3 (1975): 410-415.

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