CAN ATELEVISION SERIES CHANGE ATTITUDES - Death Studies 28...

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???????????????????????????????????????????????????? CAN ATELEVISION SERIES CHANGE ATTITUDES ABOUT DEATH? A STUDY OF COLLEGE STUDENTS AND SIX FEET UNDER ???????????????????????????????????????????????????? EDWARD SCHIAPPA, PETER B. GREGG, AND DEAN E. HEWES University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA This study examined the effects of viewing 10 episodes of the television series Six Feet Under to assess whether such programming could influence college students’attitudes about deathand dying. Students wereadministeredthe DeathAttitude ProfileɆRevised, the Multidimensional Fear of Death Scale, and the short version of theThreat Index, priortoandafterviewing.Significantchangeswerefoundona numberofmeasures.These results are similar to the effects ofdidactic death education courses. Attitudes constitute our evaluations of people, objects, events, and ideas. Our attitudes about death and dying are influenced by experiences we may have, such asthe death of apetor an acquaintance, aswellasby mes- sages we receive through interpersonal communication from those around us Ɇ most notably our friends and families. Communica- tion research has demonstrated that our attitudes also can be influenced through exposure to mass mediated messages, particularly via television. Perhaps the best-known research approaches that link television watching with attitudes are cultivation analysis and social learning theory. Both theories assume that a good deal of what humans know about the world is the result of mediated, rather than direct, experience. Since the inception of cultivation analysis by George Gerbner (1969, 1970), researchers have documentedthe relationshipbetweentelevisionviewing Received16 April 2003; accepted10 November 2003. Address correspondence to Edward Schiappa, Communication Studies, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455. E-mail: [email protected] 459 Death Studies , 28: 459 7 474, 2004 Copyright # Taylor & Francis Inc. ISSN: 0748-1187 print / 1091-7683 online DOI: 10.1080/07481180490437581
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and specific attitudes.The Cultural Indicators Project samples the content of televisionprograms andcomparesthatcontent withthe realworld. Cul- tivation research documents that ‘‘heavy’’ viewing cultivates attitudes that are more consistent withwhat is shown ontelevisionthan reality. Probably the best known area of cultivation research documents that heavyviewing rates are associated with an overestimation of violentcrime rates and risks, but many other beliefs and attitudes also have been studied over the past 30 þ years from a cultivation perspective (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, Signorielli, & Shanahan, 2002; Shanahan & Morgan,1999). Mass communication research also has investigated the influence of specific televised genres, shows, and situations. Social learning theory posits that television viewers are socialized, in part, through observational learning. Bandura (2002) contended that ‘‘virtually all behavioral, cogni- tive, and affective learning from direct experience can be achieved vicar- iously by observing people’s actions and the consequences for them’’ (p. 126). Bandura’s best known work concerns the effects of televised vio-
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