News presented by the media may influence racial bias

Posted on June 9, 2015

According to Northup, this research is particularly unique because it examines the effects of news coverage in two cultural contexts - in the United States and in Austria.
Three empirical studies were tested in the U.S. and Austria. Florian Arendt at the University of Munich in Germany and co-author of the study conducted the research in Austria, while Northup focused on subjects in the U.S. A total of 316 individuals participated in the first study in the U.S. Participants completed the Implicit Association Test (IAT), a tool used in psychology to measure hidden bias people may have but are unwilling or unable to report. After completing the IAT, participants answered a question about their explicit (conscious) attitudes towards African-Americans, as well as how many hours of local television news they watch per day.

"Based on the findings from the study in the U.S., long-term exposure to local television news, wherein African-Americans are depicted frequently and stereotypically as criminals, predicted increased negative implicit attitudes toward African-Americans," said Northup. "Viewers who watched more local television news demonstrated more unconscious negative attitudes toward African-Americans."

The study conducted in Austria was intended to be a replication of the U.S. study. A total of 489 individuals participated in the study. The same data procedure was used in the Austrian study as was used in the U.S. study. Participants reported how many days per week they read the specific newspaper under investigation. The study found that exposure to the tabloid-style daily newspaper did not increase the negativity of implicit attitudes. "Unlike with television news, though, people have much more control over a printed newspaper because they are able to selectively expose themselves only to stories of interest," Northup said. "In other words, when watching television news, one has little control over what stories are viewed."

A third study also was conducted in Austria as a post hoc explanation of the second study's findings that were inconsistent with the U.S. research. The third study investigated how much newspaper content participants are exposed to and the kinds of articles (i.e. crime articles) they read. A total of 470 individuals participated in this study. In addition to completing the IAT, participants reported how many days a week they read the specific newspaper under investigation and how often they read crime articles. The findings from the third study found reading content specifically about crime had a significant effect on implicit attitudes toward foreigners when individuals indicated that they often read crime articles.

"The results of the studies suggest that in both these countries, regular exposure to stereotypical news coverage creates negative implicit attitudes," said Northup.

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