Research Spotlight

Scharrer, E., & Blackburn, G. (2017). Is TV a Bad Girls Club? Television use, docusoap viewing, and the cultivation of approval of aggression. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly. doi: 10.1177/1077699017706482

Cultivation theory suggests that heavy viewing of television results in a slow transformation of individuals’ views of reality that skew toward the emphases apparent in television content. Heavy TV viewers, for instance, are likely to be exposed to a great deal of violence and aggression, and the theory suggests that they will come to see the real world differently as a result. In our study, we posed the question of whether television might cultivate views of whether and for whom aggression is seen as acceptable. We explored two additional complexities: Does watching higher amounts of “docusoaps”—reality programs that feature adults in family-, romance-, and friendship-oriented relationships—help shape views of whether and for whom aggression is acceptable? And might TV send a different message about aggression for men and for women?

Using survey data from 248 adults from across the U.S., we found that viewing docusoaps (think Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Jersey Shore, and the various Housewives) did predict individuals’ views of the acceptability of aggression, but it did so differently for the men and the women in the sample.  Women who both watched more docusoaps and thought of those programs as fairly realistic were more likely to approve of female-perpetrated verbal aggression. Among men in the sample, more viewing of docusoaps together with thinking of them as fairly realistic worked together to help explain lower acceptance of physical aggression for both male and female perpetrators. Overall amount of television viewing did not seem to make a difference in these views, so we can tentatively conclude that audiences are getting more cues about gender and approval of aggression from certain types of programs rather than from overall amount of time spent with the medium. And it appears that the gender of the viewer matters quite a bit in the messages audiences are receiving from the screen.