Liam Lavelle and Niwako Yamawaki, Department of Psychology
The impact of media on behaviour has long been studied and debated in the field of psychology. Research on the effects of media have primarily focused on the relationship between violent media and real life acts of physical violence. In recent years studies have shown that there is indeed a link between violent media and actual violent behaviours (Anderson and Bushman, 2001). However, little research has been conducted on the effect that other media without violent themes might have. Further, there is relatively no research on the non-behavioural effects of media, that is, how media may influence attitudes and or beliefs. The primary purpose of this study was to explore the potential link between media and attitudes and perceptions.
A common theme in media is the depiction of benevolent sexism, which can be defined as the seemingly positive portrayal of women as deserving of reverence, needing protection and care from men. Often in film this is conveyed through tropes such as the damsel-in-distress, displays of chivalry, and placing characters in traditional gender roles. Although benevolent sexism has been theoretically defined as detrimental it is generally regarded as a pro social, or positive behaviour, as there is not yet a significant body of experimental research to support this hypothesis of benevolent sexism as a detriment. Therefore, it is important to examine the impact of media portrayals of benevolent sexism. The purpose of this research was to examine the effects of benevolent sexism on attitudes and perceptions of victims of domestic violence. It was hypothesized that exposure to depictions of benevolent sexism would have a significant impact on a participants’ attitude towards victims of domestic violence.
An experimental group was randomly assigned to watch a 15-minute video comprised of clips showing various depictions of male characters protecting and overseeing female characters in traditional gender roles. The control group watched a 15-minute clip of the nature documentary “Planet Earth”. After viewing the film, participants took a Qualtrics administered survey to assess their attitude towards victims of domestic violence. The validated measure considered participants’ likelihood to excuse the perpetrator, victim blame, and minimize domestic violence. The data from this survey were statistically evaluated using a two-way MANOVA analysis.
The final sample of this study had 140 participants and consisted of 47% males (n= 66) and 53% females 53% females (n= 74), drawn from undergraduate psychology classes at Brigham Young University, other demographic factors were consistent with the general student population of this institution. The experimental group contained 49% of the sample (n=69) and the control group 51% (n=71), with no significant imbalance in gender distribution.
Results of the MANOVA analysis found that there was a significant main effect of gender on victim blaming (p= .000, see Figure 1). In addition, there was a significant main effect on video condition and victim blaming (p= .0125, see Figure 2). No interaction effects were found between participant gender and experimental condition. These findings support the hypothesis that depictions of benevolent sexism in media can influence attitudes and perceptions of domestic violence victims.
These results and analysis indicate that individuals exposed to benevolent sexism in media are more likely to blame victims of domestic violence than those who have not viewed such media. Further, these results suggest that males are more likely than females to blame victims of domestic violence, regardless of media exposure. These results support the hypothesis that depictions of benevolent sexism and traditional gender roles have an impact on attitudes towards victims of domestic violence. As such, making changes in media portrayal is vital in order to promote social support and understanding for victims of domestic violence. Traditional gender roles and benevolent sexism in media have been shown to have an effect on perceptions of victims, but no research has been done on the direct effect of this media on victims. As such, we suggest further research examine the potential effect of media in disrupting the healing process of survivors as well as the effect of a victim’s willingness to seek help.
Anderson, C. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2001). Effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, psychological arousal, and prosocial behavior. Psychological Science, 12, 353-359.