More than a Media Moment: The Influence of Televised Storylines on Viewers’ Attitudes toward Transgender People and Policies

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Last Updated: 06-Apr-2018 15:07

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Numerous studies have demonstrated the power
of entertainment narratives to influence attitudes and behaviors;
fewer have examined the effects of TV portrayals
on attitudes toward marginalized groups. The present
study is among the first to explore how entertainment
narratives depicting transgender individuals influence
viewers’ attitudes toward transgender people and related
policies. The study examines the impact of exposure to a
TV storyline on Royal Pains (USA Network) and cumulative
effects of viewing other TV series featuring transgender
individuals. An online survey of 488 U.S. viewers
of Royal Pains was conducted (391 had seen the relevant
episode). ANCOVAs revealed exposure to both the Royal
Pains’ storyline and other storylines portraying transgender
individuals were associated with more supportive attitudes
toward transgender people and policies. Mediation
models revealed that for viewers of the Royal Pains’
storyline, the relationships between political ideology
and attitudes toward transgender people and policies were
mediated by identification with the main characters and
the emotion of hope. Disgust mediated viewers’ attitudes
toward transgender people, but not policies. Post hoc
analyses revealed that exposure to transgender narratives
reduced the influence of viewers’ political ideology on
their attitudes. The attitudes of more conservative viewers
became increasingly positive as they saw more media
portrayals of transgender individuals. These findings
highlight the potential for entertainment narratives to influence
attitudes toward marginalized groups, and they
demonstrate the importance of emotion in the context of
divisive topics. Social, political, and public health implications
are discussed.

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