Queer Eye on the Media: Television Viewing Habits and Stereotyping of Sexual Minorities
 
Student researchers

Emily Chen, Matt Leifer, Jayme Paynter, & Stacia Stasnek (BA Students)
This paper is based on a project from an undergraduate Media Effects course.

Faculty Supervisor

Corina Constantin

Introduction

There is a growing body of research attesting TV’s potential of propagating and/or reinforcing gender and racial stereotyping. However, not much has been done concerning sexual minorities. This study comes to fill in this gap by examining the relationship between TV viewing habits and personal biases against sexual minorities.

Hypothesis

Personal bias has been previously defined as an attitude (Hara, et. al., 2004), slanted positively or negatively toward individuals or groups belonging to a racial or sexual minority. This can include the acceptance and preservation of common stereotypes. Stereotypes have been defined as set of traits believed to be characteristic of a social category (Greenwald and Banaji, 1995, qtd. in Abreu, 2003). This is been noted as developing over a long-term period, as opposed to short-term exposure (Priest, 1995). Polarization can also come into play, as an "us" vs. "them" mentality. On the other hand, television is thought to imitate “real” life and, therefore, has the power to influence an individual’s social experience, judgments and beliefs, especially when people have little or no contact with the minority group (Fujioka, 1999). Therefore, it was expected that heterosexual individuals that are also heavy TV viewers would show more evidence of stereotyping compared to light TV viewers or individuals of a different sexual orientation.

Method

Thirty-one (N=31) college-aged individuals participated voluntarily in an experiment (coupled with a survey) that tested both implicit and explicit attitudes toward sexual minorities against TV viewing habits. TV viewing habits were measured as amount of TV viewing and Preferences / Intensity of Preferences for various TV programs (Will & Grace, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Cops, etc.). Explicit attitudes were measured via a questionnaire using direct and indirect (hiring or befriending scenarios) questions. Implicit attitudes were measured via a priming / reaction time test (Rudman, 2004) administered via SuperLab. Images of gay couples and gay-related words were used as primes, while participants were asked to recognize as fast as possible either positive images/words (flowers, children, peace, love) or negative images/words (bombs, war, crime).

Results

Non-heterosexual identifying participants could identify positive images and words faster than heterosexual identifying participants.

Neither racial identification nor amount of TV viewing did affect reaction time.There was no significant relationship between a person’s racial background and their views toward non-heterosexual people when looking at racial minorities or white people vs. all others.The people found to be the least biased (when looking at views toward sexual orientation), enjoyed Queer Eye For The Straight Guy.

There was a positive correlation between the amount of TV a person watches and his/her biases against racial and sexual minorities, such that the more TV a person watched, the more bias toward minorities one had.

Conclusions

The results suggest that TV viewing does reinforce personal beliefs, in this case in terms of sexual bias. Although the amount of TV viewing did not significantly impact implicit attitudes, it had a significant effect on explicit attitudes.Interestingly, people who identify as sexual minority were generally less likely to have stereotypes towards other minorities (racial) although the opposite was not true. Overall, there is a correlation between a person’s personal bias and his/her TV viewing habits.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at sss12@psu.edu or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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