Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Environmental Concern, Patterns of Television Viewing, and Pro-Environmental Behaviors: Integrating Models of Media Consumption and Effects

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Environmental Concern, Patterns of Television Viewing, and Pro-Environmental Behaviors: Integrating Models of Media Consumption and Effects

Article excerpt

The study of media and the environment is long standing within the field of mass communication, with researchers examining media treatment of the environment from a wide range of epistemological and theoretical perspectives. Empirical studies typically focus on the influence of public affairs content on individual-level environmental knowledge, attitudes, or behaviors (Atwater, Salwen, & Anderson, 1985; Brother, Fortner, & Mayer, 1991; McLeod, Glynn, & Griffin, 1987). Other scholars focus on media and the environment from a cultural perspective, considering a broad range of communication content and consequences (e.g., Daley & O'Neill, 1991; Farrell & Goodnight, 1981; Meister, 2001).

To date, the most exhaustive empirical work completed on the relationship between television use and environmental orientations comes from Shanahan, McComas, and colleagues (e.g., McComas, Shanahan, & Butler, 2001; McComas & Shanahan, 1999; Shanahan, 1993; Shanahan & McComas, 1997, 1999; Shanahan, Morgan, & Stenbjerre, 1997). Their studies examine television's portrayal of the environment and the effects of these portrayals on individuals' environmental beliefs and feelings. Their effects studies are typical of cultivation research (e.g., Signorielli & Morgan, 1990), focusing on total television use and its relationship to environmental beliefs. Although Shanahan et al. (1997) provide a convincing argument for the utility of a cultivation approach for studying the effects of television use on environmental knowledge and attitudes, empirical support for this perspective in this context is generally mixed. Indeed, Shanahan and Morgan (1999) detail the assumptions about television made by cultivation theory and state that any insights provided by this line of research are in part a function of those assumptions. In short, cultivation is but one approach to the study of television influence.

In response, the present study merges insights from existing cultivation research with media uses and gratifications to examine the dispositional and motivational underpinnings of particular patterns of television viewing and the consequences of viewing certain kinds of television content for engaging in pro-environmental behaviors. We contend that research should consider a host of variables, including environmental attitudes, that are exogenous to behavioral variables such as television viewing and social actions. Thus, the perspective advanced by this research considers both the direct effects of various forms of television viewing and their potential mediating roles in the relationship between environmental attitudes and behaviors.

Thus, we expand on research by Shanahan and McComas in four ways. First, we focus on the criterion variable of pro-environmental behaviors. Although the study of media's influence on environmental knowledge and attitudes are important lines of research, most psychological models assert that these variables precede behaviors (McGuire, 1989). Second, we foreground the inherent limitations associated with a focus on total television use (e.g., Hawkins & Pingree, 1981; Potter & Chang, 1990), leading us to attend to individuals' consumption of five different types of television programming (public affairs, nature documentaries, situation comedies, progressive dramas, and traditional dramas). (1) Third, we argue that environmental attitudes and other characteristics can influence patterns of television use. Specifically, we contend that different types of television use support basic psychological dispositions and basic motivations (e.g., Blumler, 1979). We postulate that environmental attitudes, which are central to many individuals' sense of self (Backes, 1995), act as one of many internal motives that determine which types of television programming individuals consume, and treat environmental concern as antecedent to television use. Finally, we argue that certain forms of television use act as important mediators in the relationship between environmental attitudes and behaviors. …

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