The Effect of Media Consumption on Perceptions of Romantic Relationships
Student Researcher

Omotayo Banjo (Undergraduate Student)
This paper is based on a McNair Scholars Senior Research Project.

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar

For a complete report of this research, see:

Banjo, O. (2002). The effect of media consumption on the perception of romantic relationships. The Penn State McNair Journal, 9, 9-33.


In every interpersonal relationship, a social exchange takes place whereby people tend to balance their emotional investment in the relationship by constantly comparing their current relationship to perceptions of what they deserve. Cultivation theory suggests that heavy media consumption might create false schemas about relationships, thereby creating false perceptions of what we deserve. The present study seeks to find any correlations between media consumption and people’s expectations of their ideal romantic relationships, by investigating television, print media, and Internet aspects of mass media. Based on cultivation theory and findings from previous studies, the following hypotheses were proposed:


H1: The increase in media consumption will be positively associated with fantasy rumination (people’s tendency to fantasize about marriage).

H2: The increase in media consumption will be positively associated with idealistic material expectations.

H3: The increase in media consumption will be positively associated with idealistic intimacy expectations.

H4: The increase in media consumption will be negatively associated with trust and commitment.

H5: The increase in media consumption will be negatively associated with relationship satisfaction.


A total of 108 participants were randomly selected from the Penn State University Park campus to take part in a survey during the month of July, 2002. The administered questionnaire took 10-12 minutes to fill out and consisted of 23 items. It included measures of media use, current relationship status and direct marital intentions, consumption of various forms of media, importance of emotional rewards, emotional /costs and perceived comparison, reliability of and attention paid to different forms of media, TV viewing, genre-specific TV viewing, perceived TV realism, fantasy rumination, idealistic marital expectations, idealistic intimacy expectations, marital tendency, trust and commitment, and relationship assessment.


H1: Partially supported. Consistent with predictions, TV viewing, and romantic comedies consumption in particular, showed a significant positive relationship with fantasy rumination. Also, we found a significant positive correlation between attention paid to, as well as trust in magazine love quizzes and scales, and the tendency to fantasize about romance. Contrary to prediction, however, there was a negative correlation between fantasy rumination and news reading.

H2: Supported. Analyses revealed a positive relationship between people’s trust in magazines and television and their idealistic marital expectations. Also, participants who trusted romance novels and the internet as reliable sources for relationships and those who trusted the validity of love quizzes were shown to have higher idealistic marital expectations.

H3: Not supported. Although a significant positive correlation was found between daily internet consumption and idealistic intimacy expectations, the relationship disappeared when controlled for gender. Moreover, negative correlations were revealed between soap opera consumption and idealistic intimacy expectations, and also between internet use and reality shows consumption and a person’s trust in a magazine’s portrayal of relationships.

H4: Supported. Participants’ trust and commitment showed significant negative correlations with the consumption of talk shows and reality shows about relationships, and also with news consumption.

H5: Not supported. Contrary to predictions, analyses indicated that relationship satisfaction was positively correlated to entertainment readership and also to romantic comedy consumption.


This study attempted to find any possible correlation between media consumption in general and perceptions about romantic relationships. Results indicate that contrary to cultivation theory, the sheer amount of media consumption is not as good a predictor of unrealistic expectations and perceptions about romantic relationships as the genre of media. Most of the unrealistic expectations were shown to come from those who viewed more romantic comedies or paid more attention to love quizzes in magazines.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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Media Effects Research Lab at College of Communications, Penn State University