Internet Usage and Perceptions of Racism

Student Researchers

Nicole Gardner, Cindy del Rosario, Michelle Stine, & Brian Wadiak (BA Students)
This paper is based on a project from an undergraduate Media Effects course.

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar


The proliferation of websites put up by hate groups and the widespread prevalence of racism and violence on television and websites may lead to negatively skewed perceptions of reality. For example, people who watch excessive television and are frequent internet users may estimate that there are more hate groups than there really are, or that the real world is much more violent than it actually is. This study examines perceptions of reality based on the amount of television watched as well as internet usage.


Cultivation theory suggests that the amount of medium (in this case television and the internet) shapes a person's perceptions and beliefs of reality. It does so through repeated exposure. Further, there are differences between heavy and light television viewers. Based on cultivation theory, it was hypothesized that heavy users (compared to light users) would overestimate the prevalence of hate and racism in the world.


One-hundred respondents were selected using a convenience sample. Each respondent was given a survey which had items pertaining to media usage (particularly television and the internet), as well as questions pertaining to racist stereotypes.


Four scaled questions about perceptions of racism were grouped to form a 'Perceived Racism' index. In general, the results indicate that those respondents who spend more time surfing the web are more likely to perceive a higher estimate of racism. Also, the amount of time spent using the computer for entertainment purposes (as opposed to school/work/e-mail etc.) was positively correlated to perceived racism.


The amount of time a person spends surfing the web does seem to affect his/her perceptions of racism. Respondents who spent more time surfing the web were more likely to report a higher number of active hate groups. It is likely that those who spend more time web surfing are more likely to be in contact with websites not only of various hate groups, but also organizations such as the Southern Povery Law Center which monitor activities of hate groups.This exposure might induce higher estimates of perceived racism and hate groups than actually exist.

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