Understanding Prejudice
Understanding Prejudice
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The Psychology of Prejudice: An Overview

Stereotypes in the Media

One of the main places that children and adults learn stereotypes is the mass media. Content analyses have found that advertisements, television programs, movies, and other media are saturated with racial and gender stereotypes (Entman & Rojecki, 2000; Furnham & Mak, 1999; Plous & Neptune, 1997). Although the cumulative effect of these stereotypes is hard to assess, the sheer volume of advertising suggests that many people are exposed to stereotypes on a daily basis. Advertisements occupy almost 60% of newspaper space, 52% of magazine pages, 18% of radio time, and 17% of television prime time (Collins & Skover, 1993).

Studies indicate that these advertisements profoundly influence how people perceive and relate to one another. For example, one experiment found that, compared with members of a control group, male interviewers who had watched sexist television commercials later judged a female job applicant as less competent, remembered less biographical information about her, and remembered more about her physical appearance (Rudman & Borgida, 1995). Another study found that children who were raised in a community without television had less sex-typed perceptions than did children who were raised in comparable communities with television, and that sex-typed attitudes increased once television was introduced (Kimball, 1986). In still another investigation, women who were exposed to sex-role-reversed advertisements later became more self-confident and independent in their judgments (Jennings, Geis, & Brown, 1980). These studies and many more document the influence of advertisements on social perception and behavior.

Beyond advertising, other media-based stereotypes wield considerable influence. For instance, research has shown that:
  • White television viewers who watch a stereotyped comic portrayal of Black people are later more likely to judge a Black defendant guilty of an assault (Ford, 1997).

  • Males who view movie scenes objectifying women are later more likely to believe that a date rape victim experienced pleasure and "got what she wanted" (Milburn, Mather, & Conrad, 2000).

  • People who watch a music video objectifying women later rate a woman as more sexual and submissive when she returns a man's advances (Hansen & Hansen, 1988).

  • Heterosexual men who look at attractive women in magazine erotica later rate their romantic partners as less attractive (Kenrick, Gutierres, & Goldberg, 1989).
In many cases the immediate effects of stereotype activation fade after a few minutes, but regardless of their duration, each activation reinforces stereotypic thinking in the long run. Additionally, evidence suggests that once a stereotype is activated, it can be reactivated by something as simple as a disagreement with someone in the stereotyped group, and if brought to mind frequently enough, can become chronically accessible (Ford, 1997; Kunda, Davies, Adams, & Spencer, 2002). Thus, even though media-based stereotypes may seem harmless when considered individually, their cumulative effect over time can be substantial.

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