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Effects of prosocial portrayals on television on social behavior

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1 Effects of prosocial portrayals on television on social behavior

2 Meta-analysis of studies of prosocial portrayals
Marie-Louise Mares (1996) Sponsored by Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania

3 “It is commonly held that television viewing does more harm than good, especially to young audiences.”

4 “Prosocial” “it is not as easy as it first seems to sort out which behaviors are positive and which are negative. This is more than a hazy relativism. It is naïve to assume that all groups in society place equal value on cooperation (rather than rugged individualism), tolerance of others (rather than willingness to stick up for one’s own group), nonviolent conflict resolution (rather than heroism), or ability to resist temptation (rather than ability to seize the moment). Nonetheless, all these have been used as prosocial outcomes in research.”

5 “Effects are strongest when the behavior that is modeled is salient, clearly portrayed, and can be easily incorporated into a child’s everyday interactions” Kotler, p. 817

6 Altruism Children who were given tokens, then shown portrayals of a model acting generously, (donating prize money to charity) were more likely to donate tokens to charity compared to children who watched a model behave selfishly (cashing in winnings for a big prize) or in a neutral manner

7 Positive interactions
Lynette Friedrich and Aletha Huston-Stein found that children who had viewed Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood exhibited more friendly behavior in the school playground compared to those who viewed neutral content. Studies of Barney and Friends indicate that children learn about cooperation and friendship through viewing the show.

8 Self-control and persistence
Studies of self-control include programs that focus on resistance to temptation, obedience to rules, and persistence at a task. The self-control studies are often set up as lab experiments similar to the studies on altruism. Many studies conducted in the 1970s indicated that children who view models who are able to resist temptation (e.g., resisting playing with a forbidden toy, eating forbidden food) are more likely to demonstrate self-control compared to children who view models who indulge in forbidden activities.

9 In a more recent study, children who viewed 20 episodes of Dragon Tales, a show designed to encourage children to pursue challenges, more frequently chose to pursue challenging tasks, compared to those who were not exposed to the series.

10 Reduction of stereotypes
Early evaluations of Sesame Street found that Caucasian preschoolers had more positive attitudes toward African Americans and Latino Americans after viewing Sesame Street over the course of the 2-year study. A more recent study of the Israeli-Palestinian production of Sesame Street showed that viewing led to an increase in prosocial problem solving and more positive attitudes toward children of the other group.

11 Content characteristics
Portrayals can be transferred to children’s lives Likely to occur in their own lives (including other kids v. comfort for loss) Reality v. fictional story

12 Combining prosocial and violent content may backfire
Linda Silverman found that 3-year olds who saw a Sesame Street segment with conflict followed by resolution were less cooperative Marsha Liss and Lauri Reinhardt found that combinations of prosocial and antisocial acts in the cartoon series Superfriends led to more aggressive behavior than either prosocial or antisocial depictions alone

13 Viewer characteristics
Prosocial depictions have similar effect on Boys and girls Kids of different races or ethnicity May be more effective for kids from middle- or upper-class homes Effect of prosocial content appears to increase between ages of 3 and 7, and then decline

14 Context The effect of prosocial content is enhanced by adult coviewing
Parents in the home Teachers in school Supplementary materials enhance impact

15 Prosocial content Greenberg and colleagues analyzed the favorite programs of a sample of fourth, sixth, and eighth graders. They found that these programs contained an average of 44.2 acts of prosocial behavior in an average hour. The prosocial behavior included displays of altruism and empathy and discussion of feelings. The researchers also found that the violence was just as frequent, however. A recent study conducted by Deborah Weber and Dorothy Singer analyzed the favorite programs and videos viewed by children age 2 and under. They found many occurrences of prosocial behavior, including sharing, helping, and manners. For example, in the video Sesame Street: Learning to Share, there were 45 instances of positive social behaviors.

16 Commercials Commercials also contain examples of prosocial behavior. In one study, prosocial behavior appeared in 59% of all children’s commercials. Friendly behaviors were the most common forms of prosocial behavior, with 42% of all commercials containing examples of affection between characters. Helping and teaching were common altruistic behaviors, appearing in 21% of all commercials. Mary Strom Larson analyzed 595 commercials in children’s programming and found that commercials depicting only girls showed almost all cooperative interactions (i.e., 85% of the time). Mixed boy and girl commercials primarily portrayed cooperative interactions (51%), compared to boys only commercials, which contained primarily competitiverinteractions.—Jennifer A. Kotler

17 Present characters who exhibit only prosocial behavior.
V. O. Lovelace and A. C. Huston have identified three strategies for modeling prosocial behavior for children through the media. Present characters who exhibit only prosocial behavior. Could be boring Incorporate story lines in which characters resolve conflict by making prosocial choices. Positive consequences are attributed to prosocial behavior and negative consequences to antisocial behavior. Concern over modeling of antisocial behaviors Present both prosocial and antisocial behaviors without presenting a resolution within the program. Rather, the viewer is asked to offer his or her own solution to the presented conflict. considered most effective in classroom or therapeutic settings, where an adult can supervise postviewing discussion or activity.

18 Impact of viewing prosocial behavior
Just as in learning violent behavior, prosocial behavior can be learned by observation Prosocial behavior can be induced by emotional responses to television portrayals Unlike violent portrayals (according to Rushton), there is a social norm to help one another

19 Rushton: “If we asked a stranger in the street for directions, we would expect him or her to provide the information if possible and to apologize if not. If the stranger were instead to turn to us and say ‘Yes I do know where that place is but I can’t be bothered to tell you,’ we would be rather surprised.”

20 Differences among individuals
“Research on prosocial behavior finds that individuals tend to be consistent in the degree to which they display prosocial behavior, but there is some variation between individuals.” Likely that prosocial acts receive spontaneous reward Media effects should be at least as strong for prosocial as for violent portrayals

21 Sample of studies 1966-1995 Studies included if they:
Involved exposure to television content deemed prosocial or positive by the researchers, Measured a relevant behavioral outcome of exposure, and Contained enough statistical information to allow for calculation of effect sizes Different age groups and different genders were treated as separate samples Yield: 39 usable sources; 185 effect sizes

22 Overall effect sizes for prosocial content
d N Prosocial v. Other .28 104 Prosocial v. antisocial .40 59

23 Effect of prosocial content on positive interaction
d N Prosocial v. Other .27 41 Prosocial v. antisocial .30 14

24 Effect of prosocial content on altruism
d N Prosocial v. Other .61 25 Prosocial v. antisocial .56

25 Effect of prosocial content on self-control
d N Prosocial v. Other .23 12 Prosocial v. antisocial .53 14

26 Effect of prosocial content on antistereotyping
d N Prosocial v. Other .29 26 Prosocial v. antisocial --

27 Age differences in the effect of prosocial content
Prosocial v. other Prosocial v. antisocial Age d (N) d (N) 5 and under (40) (15) 6-10 (31) (22) 11+ (33) (15)

28 Susan Hearold “A synthesis of 1043 effects of television on social behavior” 1986 Covers both prosocial and antisocial effects 230 studies 1,043 treatment comparisons

29 Outline of studies in sample
170 published, 60 unpublished 131 lab experiments, 33 field experiments, 66 surveys 9 pre-1950; 10 from ; 36 from ; 175 from

30 Antisocial treatments
Mixture 132 Detective/crime 129 Demonstrated behavior 119 Drama 110 Cartoon 51 News 34 Western 31 Consumerism 26 Cartoons and comedy 10 Mixed movies Sanford & Son/All in the Family 8 Other 19

31 Prosocial treatments Demonstrated behavior 48
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood 42 Drama 31 Public service ads and programs 21 Mixture 13 Lassie 6 Big Blue Marble Comedy 4 Patrik and Putrik Other 14

32 Types of antisocial behavior
Physical aggression 330 Physical and verbal aggression 120 Approval of aggression and indirect aggression 39 Rule breaking 33 Materialism 26 Verbal aggression 23 Unlawful behavior 14 Perception of world as violent 10 Use of drugs 9 Stereotyping 8 Play with aggressive toys Other 57

33 Types of prosocial behavior
Altruism 98 Acceptance of others/antistereotyping 37 Social interaction 23 Engages in activities 21 Safety, health 14 Mixture 13 Buys books 12 Follows norms/conventions 11 Respects the law Cooperation 7 Imaginative/creative play Affiliation 6 Other 46

34 Effect sizes for antisocial behavior
Effect Size (ES) Antisocial v. other 528 .30 Antisocial v. prosocial 40 .65 Prosocial v. other 48 -.20

35 Effect sizes for prosocial behavior
N ES Antisocial v. other 152 -.01 Antisocial v. prosocial 33 -.38 Prosocial v. other 108 .63

36 Prosocial effect size by treatment
Prosocial treatment Avg. effect size Demonstrated behavior 1.02 Simulate programs (usually drama) .79 Public service ads TV Programs overall .59 Lassie 1.16 Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood .68 Sesame Street/Electric Company .58 Big Blue Marble .57 Comedy .54 Mixed Programs .18 Patrik and Putrik -.73

37 Effect sizes for assorted prosocial behaviors
Self-control .98 Altruism .83 Buy books .81 Mixture of socially desirable behaviors .78 Safety, health, conservation activism .69 Positive attitude toward work .57 Antistereotyping; acceptance of others Respect for the law .23 Play without aggression .21 Socially active/communicative .17 Creative, imaginative play .02 Cooperation .00

38 What do we mean by “prosocial”
Not as easy to define as one might think Which is more important, the intent or the effect? “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” “Enlightened self-interest” Without intent, any good outcome suddenly becomes evidence of moral behavior When one group benefits and another is disadvantaged, is the act “prosocial”? Can one benefit from “pro-social” behavior? Can one’s family?

39 “Prosocial” working definition
For our use, a person will engage in prosocial behavior when she intentionally commits any act which will be likely to improve her own condition or the condition of someone else One can (and as we see later, hopefully does) feel good about the act If one is compelled to act in a certain way then she is not acting prosocially, though the person requiring the act may be Contributions to Red Cross taken out of your check while the boss looks on

40 What kinds of prosocial acts have been proposed?
Altruism Control of aggressive impulses Delay of gratification/task persistence Explaining feelings of self or others Reparation for bad behavior Resistance to temptation Sympathy Liebert & Sprafkin

41 Prosocial effects Minor part of effects study
Most study in late 70s and early 80s Findings reviewed in a number of meta-analyses Rushton Hearold Paik Mares

42 Most common concern is the learning of prosocial behavior by children (socialization)
Part of the 1960s-1970s concern over the development of television as an educational medium Educational content Prosocial content Often the two are combined (Sesame Street)

43 Prosocial effects Conclusions
Prosocial content can lead to positive behavioral outcomes Effects of prosocial comparable in strength to antisocial Scholars disagree on which is stronger Altruism most effective prosocial portrayal

44 Prosocial effects Effect of prosocial content on boys not significantly different from the effect on girls Paik, 1995 Greater effect for family sitcoms than for educational programming Effects positive for all ages Higher effect for donation than for prosocial play or cooperation Effect of stereotyping greater than effect of anti-stereotyping content

45 Hearold, 1986 Synthesis of 1043studies of effects of television on social behavior “Effect sizes for prosocial treatments and behavior, of course, were consistently greater than for antisocial treatments on behavior.” “The implication is that if subjects watched the antisocial treatments, usually violent programs or episodes, they would be elevated from the 50th to the 62nd percentile in antisocial behavior, typically physical aggression, and if they watched the prosocial treatment, they would be elevated from the 50th to the 74th percentile in prosocial behavior, typically altruism.”

46 Critique of studies Stimulus materials usually either:
depictions of prosocial behavior developed specifically to elicit the behavior, or Either Mister Rogers Neighborhood or Sesame Street Normal tv fare sends mixed messages prosocial violence characters exhibiting good and bad behaviors

47 Prosocial content research
Liebert, Sprafkin, Rubinstein and others mid 70s Greenberg et al. late 70s Baxter & Kaplan early 80s Lee Potter & Ware late 80s

48 Behaviors chosen Positive interaction Altruism
Friendly/nonagressive interactions Expressions of affection Peaceable conflict resolution Altruism Sharing Donating Offering help Comforting

49 Behaviors chosen (cont’d)
Self-control Resistance to temptation Obedience to rules Ability to work independently Persistence at a task Anti-stereotyping Attitudes Beliefs

50 Distribution of prosocial acts on Saturday morning TV, 1970s

51 Primetime prosocial behavior
Lee, 1988

52 Comparison of pro- and antisocial behavior primetime (Kaplan & Baxter, 1982)
Note: 12 hours, 17 programs

53 Prosocial content Relative incidence of prosocial and antisocial acts varies widely among studies Greenberg et al., about 42 pro and 40 anti acts per hour Kaplan & Baxter, 46 pro and 17 anti per hour Altruism Greenberg et al, 14 acts/hour, most common pro-social act Potter & Ware, 2 acts/hr, 5th most common

54 Prosocial and antisocial acts per hour of primetime programming

55 Prosocial content Males engage in most prosocial acts
Potter & Ware 67% of pro, 80% of anti Baxter & Kaplan, 69% of pro, 78% of anti However, more male characters Great majority of both violent and prosocial acts are seen as justified Outcome of prosocial acts not reviewed

56 Proportion of prosocial and antisocial acts committed by gender (Greenberg et al. primetime study)

57 Prosocial content Most analyses exclude violent content from prosocial analyses Some evidence of a significant amount of prosocial violence Heroes commit a significant amount of violence Saturday morning tv

58 Liss and Reinhardt Regular and prosocial Saturday morning cartoons
Antagonists commit more violent acts than protagonists No significant difference in amount of violence on regular and prosocial cartoons

59 Prosocial content Relationships among actors
Involvement of third parties Rewards for altruism Social support

60 The method: finding and measuring altruism
Primetime programs recorded for one week on ABC, NBC and Fox networks 26.5 hours of programming included in the study Only regularly scheduled series included (no movies, game shows, sports, news) Unit of analysis: the altruistic act

61 Defining altruism “social behavior carried out to achieve positive outcomes for another rather than for the self” (Rushton, 1980) must include some nontrivial self-sacrifice leaves open the possibility of antisocial altruism

62 Acts of altruism Risking life, health or safety
Risking career or future Sacrificing money Sacrificing or giving up time Sacrificing something of personal value, a dream or satisfaction Not included: common courtesy or minimal sacrifice

63 Measuring altruistic acts on TV
Relationship of benefactor and beneficiary Friends, neighbors or coworkers Mere acquaintances Strangers Superior and subordinate Subordinate and superior Family Lovers or romantically involved

64 Measuring altruistic acts on TV
Gender of beneficiary and benefactor Relationship to violence Involvement of a third party Outcome of the act for any third party Immediate response to the act by the benefactor and the beneficiary Long-term outcome of the act for the benefactor and the beneficiary

65 Measuring altruistic acts on TV
Coding the justification of the acts Was it part of the benefactor’s job? Was it expected under the circumstances? Was this above and beyond what would be expected?

66 Measuring altruistic acts on TV
Coding instrument was pretested Both authors viewed two hour long programs (Neither program included in results) Programs were recorded on videotape and later coded Second author coded all programs No “sweeps month” programs included

67 Research questions 1: What is the rate for altruistic behavior in primetime programming? 2: Is there a relationship between the gender of the benefactor and the gender of the beneficiary of the altruistic acts? 3. What is relationship between the benefactor and the beneficiary? 4: What is the nature of the altruistic act?

68 Research questions 5: What are the consequences of the altruistic act for the benefactor and the beneficiary? Outcome Response

69 Results 27 acts of altruism identified in 26.5 hours of primetime programming Just over one act per hour (1.1 acts/hour) Fewer than in previous research


71 Relationships portrayed

72 Nature of the altruistic act

73 Outcome for the actors Percent of acts (n=27)

74 Response to the altruism

75 Results Altruistic acts rarely tied to violence
Most acts (63%) exceeded expectations of occupation or social norms Outcome for third parties was negative more than half the time

76 Conclusions Results of altruism are as likely to be negative as to be positive Gender is less related to TV altruistic acts than in the past Altruistic violence is uncommon

77 More conclusions Definition of altruism is critical to outcome of the analysis Larger sample is needed Multiple coders More extensive analyses are needed Monitoring much like violence studies Dramatic function of violence and prosocial acts

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