Thursday, April 14, 2005
the power of television, of all things
Apparently, there's some use for "Will and Grace" after all. Who knew?
(Minneapolis Star-Tribune/startribune.com, registration required)
University of Minnesota communications researchers have found that watching TV shows with gay characters tends to reduce anti-gay sentiment.
In three studies, researchers measured feelings toward gays before and after college students watched episodes of the Bravo program "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," the NBC sitcom "Will & Grace" and the HBO drama "Six Feet Under." In all three instances, exposure to sympathetic portrayals of gays appeared to show a statistically significant reduction in prejudice toward gay men, the university reported.
Hundreds of studies have supported what is known as the "contact hypothesis," which suggests that direct contact between majority and minority groups helps lessen prejudice.
The new studies led the researchers, communications professors Edward Schiappa and Dean Hewes and graduate student Peter Gregg, to develop what they call the "parasocial contact hypothesis," which suggests that a similar reduction in prejudice can be achieved by watching members of the minority groups on TV or in films.
Two of the studies have been published in the journal Communication Monographs. The third study, involving "Will & Grace," has not been published.
I suppose that shouldn't be surprising, overall.
That said, I wonder if they might also lead to people having the wrong idea about us. For example, those oft-cited studies about the utter fabulosity of gays, our excessive amounts of disposable income, and so on, most of which are likely subject to some fairly impressive social desirability and response bias -- that is, all the data come from people who are comfortable with telling anonymous pollsters that they're gay, how they manage their income, and so on. But that's rather beside this particular point, which is that it does some good to have positive (relatively speaking) and/or realistic portrayals of minorities on television.