Entries in Media (4)


Strong Female Characters May Negate Effects of Violent Media

Getty Images(LAREDO, Texas) -- Sexual and violent content on TV may not affect viewers’ attitudes as much as we thought as long as there are strong leading ladies around to save the day, a new study finds.

Study researcher Christopher Ferguson, assistant professor at Texas A&M International University, dubs this the “Buffy Effect,” named after the popular TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The small study included 150 college students at a southern university who agreed to participate in exchange for extra credit.  The group was equally comprised of men and women, and 95 percent of the students were Hispanic.  The average age of the participants was 21.

The students were randomly assigned to watch an entire episode of one of the following: a neutral show without sexual or violent content, a sexually violent show with negative depictions of women, or a sexually violent show featuring strong independent female characters.

The neutral category included 7th Heaven and Gilmore Girls.  Neither of these episodes showed any sex or violence, but rather focused on dramatic or humorous situations between family members.

The Tudors and Masters of Horror comprised the sexually violent shows with weaker female characters category.  These shows depicted sexual aggression toward women, largely in environments where female characters were objectified and dehumanized.

Finally, the sexually violent shows with strong female characters were Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Law and Order: SVU.  While both episodes included sexual violence, they also portrayed heroines fighting back successfully against violence directed at them.

After watching the assigned show, participants were asked to complete several surveys to assess their attitudes toward women, depression and anxiety.  The study assessed depression and anxiety with standard scales used in psychiatry.  To assess attitudes toward women, participants responded to a modernized version of a validated scale used in multiple prior studies in this area.

The study found that women who watched sexually violent media were more anxious, and males who watched sexually violent media had more negative attitudes toward women, but only when strong female leads were not present.

Interestingly, males were least anxious after watching negative female depictions and most anxious with positive female depictions.

Ferguson postulates in the study that the negative depictions may be uncovering negative stereotypes some men may have about women, while the positive illustrations may be challenging those stereotypes.

Surprisingly, women’s negative attitudes towards women were highest among viewers of the neutral shows, even more so than the violent shows with subordinate portrayals of women.

“Negative portrayals of women in sexually violent media may actually provoke a kind of mild ‘backlash’ reaction at such negative portrayals, fostering a sense of female solidarity,” Ferguson writes in the study.

Sarah Coyne, assistant professor in the school of family life at Brigham Young University, was not involved with this study, but she has done research in the past dealing with violence in the media.

“I resonate with the author when he says strong positive females can be good for the media,” Coyne said.  “I think it was a well-done study.”

But don’t gear up for a Law and Order: SVU marathon just yet.  The study had many limitations, so the results cannot be applied to the general population.

First of all, it was very small, and there was significant answer variation among the individual participants.  Second, the fact that most of the participants were of the same ethnic group suggests that cultural factors could have been at play.  Finally, the participants were not surveyed before watching the shows, so it is unclear if and how much the shows were really responsible for the differences between groups.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Men’s Mag or Rapist? Study Claims Few Can Tell

Digital Vision/Getty Images(LONDON) -- What do men’s magazines and convicted rapists have in common? How they describe women, a British study has found.

When presented with quotes taken from popular men’s magazines like FHM or The Rapist Files -- a collection of interviews with convicted rapists -- men were unable to distinguish the source, according to the study coming out in the British Journal of Psychology.

“Our research showed an overlap in the content of popular lads’ mags and the kinds of things that convicted rapists say when they’re justifying sexual violence against women,” study co-author Peter Hegarty said in an interview posted on the University of Surrey’s website.

Hegarty and colleagues say the quotes from rapists, which cover topics ranging from how to tell a woman wants sex to what to do when caught “red-handed,” legitimize hostile sexist attitudes.

“Rapists try to justify their actions, suggesting that women lead men on, or want sex even when they say no, and there is clearly something wrong when people feel the sort of language used in a lads’ mag could have come from a convicted rapist,” lead author Miranda Horvath, senior lecturer in psychology at Middlesex University said in a statement.

See if you can guess the source of these quotes used in the study:

  1. “There’s a certain way you can tell that a girl wants to have sex… The way they dress, they flaunt themselves.”
  2. “You do not want to be caught red-handed… go and smash her on a park bench. That used to be my trick.”
  3. “I think girls are like plasticine, if you warm them up you can do anything you want with them.”
  4. “You’ll find most girls will be reluctant about going to bed with somebody or crawling in the back seat of a car… But you can usually seduce them, and they’ll do it willingly.”

In a follow-up study, men were asked to rank quotes based on how derogatory they were. Men’s magazines came out looking worse than rapists.

“We hope that our results inform policy debates by shifting attention to the possible dangers that lads’ mags might pose to their intended audience of young men, and to the young women with whom those men socialize,” the authors wrote.

Surveys suggest young men do look to magazines for advice about relationships and sex. But Hegarty says censorship is not the answer.

“Instead, I think it would be more useful if the government were to invest in really high-quality sex education for young men and women so that people didn’t have to rely on these kinds of media to fill the gap,” he said.

Answers: 1. Rapist, 2. Men’s Mag, 3. Men’s Mag, 4. Rapist

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


What Media Platform Makes Us Happiest? Radio, Study Finds

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- New British research finds that "radio" tops the media charts in terms of what makes people feel the happiest.
Forget about TV. Forget about online surfing. In life's "happiness sweepstakes," radio is the king of all media, according to research commissioned by the Radio Advertising Bureau.

British researchers found it came out on top -- by a large margin -- in terms of making people feel the happiest and in giving media consumers the highest energy levels. The researchers reported that the medium plays an important role in people's lives, used by many as a lifestyle support system and influencing emotions in a very "positive way."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Does Media Spotlight Encourage Teens to Become Moms?

BananaStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The visibility of teenage moms has exploded in pop culture. Lifetime's The Pregnancy Pact, the Fox hit Glee and ABC Family's The Secret Life of an American Teenager have explored the subject.

But, without a doubt, today's most notorious young mothers are the stars of MTV's hit reality series Teen Mom. The popular documentary-style show chronicles the highs and often trashy lows of teenage girls dealing with the fallout of diapers, dead-beat "baby daddies" and demanding grandparents.

Pick up any tabloid -- Us Weekly, OK! magazine, Life & Style, In Touch -- and these high school moms are elevated to near-celebrity status. Even Saturday Night Live has poked fun at the trend. In a skit spoofing MTV as "Maternity Television," actress Scarlett Johansson plays a 16-year-old girl partying her way through delivery, screaming, "I'm rich, I'm beautiful and I'm fully dilated."

While teen pregnancy may be exploding on TV, teen birth rates decreased six percent between 2008 and 2009, reaching a new low, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

While that's good news, the United States still has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world -- twice as high as the U.K., and three times as high as Canada. One in six U.S. girls will become a teen mother, and the annual public cost of teen childbearing is estimated at $9.1 billion.

"There is no fear and shame in teen pregnancy anymore," says Michelle Hankins, who runs a Young Moms support group in Rome, Ga. "Seeing all these teen moms in the media, it makes them less fearful. It's desensitized them, there's just an immunity to the shock value of it."

Media critic Jessica Coen, editor-in-chief of, says when a reality show becomes a popular hit series with multiple seasons, fame is inevitable.

"MTV can be as objective as they want about it, but once these women, these young women, are being followed by tabloids and on TMZ and on the cover of Us Weekly, it's hard to view them as documentary subjects. They're reality stars," she said.

MTV gave a full statement to ABC News:

As part of the filming process we sometimes ask cast members to talk about their stories to provide context and background on what they're going through, but we do not influence the stories in any way -- this is a documentary and our cameras are there to capture real life situations as they unfold.

We absolutely don't solicit and would never knowingly cast anyone who chose to get pregnant on purpose -- that is the exact opposite of the intent of the show.

"16 and Pregnant" is designed to cast a light on the harsh realities teens face when dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. In fact, the show has been called one of the best public service announcements for preventing teen pregnancy because it is a gritty, unvarnished look at the reality of unplanned teen pregnancy, and research by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that among teens who have watched "16 and Pregnant,' 82 percent think the show helps teens better understand the challenges of teen pregnancy and parenthood and how to avoid it.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio