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US, Austria study finds news media may influence racial bias

Posted by Elena del Valle on June 4, 2015

Temple Northup, University of Houston

Temple Northup, Ph.D., assistant professor, University of Houston

Photo: University of Houston

Two academics who studied the effects of media in the United States and Austria believe longterm exposure to news may influence racial bias. The results of their three studies were recently  published in a 20-page article titled Effects of Long-Term Exposure to News Stereotypes on Implicit and Explicit Attitudes in the International Journal of Communication.

Temple Northup, assistant professor at the University of Houston’s Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, conducted the United States portion of the study while Florian Arendt at the University of Munich in Germany conducted the research in Austria. The study in the United States focused on possible bias toward African-Americans while the two studies in Austria addressed possible bias against foreigners. The researchers believe the influence of television news was likely greater than print news among study participants.

“The two countries were selected due to access of available data for a comparable news stereotype that exists in both countries,” said Northup in a press release. “In the U.S., a large body of research indicates crime is overrepresented on local television news relative to the actual amount of crime that actually occurs in a community. Previous content analyses conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of California, Santa Barbara have shown that that African-Americans are overrepresented as criminals on local television news when compared to their actual crime rates. In Austria, research has suggested foreigners are overrepresented as criminals in tabloid-style daily newspapers.”

In the first study in the United States 316 participants completed the Implicit Association Test (IAT), a controversial 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.

“The two countries were selected due to access of available data for a comparable news stereotype that exists in both countries,” said Northup. “In the U.S., a large body of research indicates crime is overrepresented on local television news relative to the actual amount of crime that actually occurs in a community. Previous content analyses conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of California, Santa Barbara have shown that that African-Americans are overrepresented as criminals on local television news when compared to their actual crime rates. In Austria, research has suggested foreigners are overrepresented as criminals in tabloid-style daily newspapers.”

There were 489 participants in the first Austria study for which researchers used the same data procedure. Respondents reported how many days per week they read the specific newspaper under investigation. The researchers concluded that exposure to the tabloid-style daily newspaper did not increase the negativity of implicit attitudes. There were 470 participants in the second Austria study. The academics concluded that reading content specifically about crime had a significant effect on implicit attitudes toward foreigners among respondents who said they often read crime articles.

While stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination are found across the world the impact of media on consumers remains to be clearly defined. The researchers concluded more studies are necessary to better understand the issues “before an earnest attempt to reduce these negative outcomes can be undertaken.”