Study finds TV is reinforcing stereotypes

February 26, 1992|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

In case you haven't noticed -- distracted by "A Current Affair" or whatever -- TV can be bad for you.

At least, that's the word from the American Psychological Association, which released a study yesterday saying TV perpetuates racial stereotypes and can make intensive viewers fat, among other ills.

The group couldn't give television a grade higher than "C" because members were distressed about how women, blacks and Hispanics are negatively treated -- or simply ignored -- by television.

John Murray, a professor at Kansas State University who worked on the study, said the stereotypes are harmful because it can be the only interaction viewers have with minorities. "You have to be very worried about those dominant images," he said.

Women, elderly individuals and foreigners are disproportionately cast as victims of television violence, he said.

An "elderly Jamaican female" character would, based on those averages, have a short screen appearance, Mr. Murray contends. "She'd be gone by the commercial break." he said.

The psychologists urged government support for non-commercial programming. "So long as the primary goal of programming is to lure audiences to advertisements, the needs of many demographic and ethnic minorities will not be met," the study said.

The Federal Communications Commission, it added, should return to the underlying principle of the 1934 Communications Act that broadcasters must serve the public interest, convenience and necessity to retain their licenses. The FCC abandoned that principle during the push for deregulation under the Reagan and Bush administrations, the study said.

The group also cited studies linking poor eating behaviors with high viewing habits. And the study noted that TV causes a more complacent attitude toward smoking.

Mr. Murray said more research was needed to gauge how viewers respond to increased television options, which now include hundreds of cable channels and videocassette capabilities. "Now is the time to take television seriously," he said.

The study concluded that boys watch more television than girls, blacks view more programs than whites and elderly viewers tune in more often than any other age group.

Among other findings:

* Adolescents' sex-stereotyped attitudes increase after viewing programs that cast women in subservient roles.

* Women are cast in roles that place more value on their appearance than their competence and capability.

* The average child sees at least 8,000 television murders by the seventh grade, and more than 100,000 other violent acts.

* Men are portrayed on television more often than women.

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