Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Media Representations of Race, Prototypicality, and Policy Reasoning: An Application of Self-Categorization Theory

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Media Representations of Race, Prototypicality, and Policy Reasoning: An Application of Self-Categorization Theory

Article excerpt

Race-related political issues and public policy themes continue to be among the most debated topics in contemporary United States society (Sears, Van Laar, Carrillo, & Kosterman, 1997). Among the myriad factors known to inform public opinion on policy decisions, mass media has been documented as a significant influence (Bennett, 2001; Gilliam, 1999; Jamieson, 1992). Researchers additionally suggest that White Americans glean a bulk of information about other racial and ethnic groups from the media (Bodenhausen, Schwarz, Bless, & Wanke, 1995). Consequently, the nature of media representations of race assumes increasing importance as these depictions affect political decision making in general and racial policy positions in particular (Domke, 2001; Valentino, 1999). In an attempt to further the understanding of the mechanisms underlying the influence of media messages on race-based policy reasoning, the present study builds on the framework proposed by Tan, Fujioka, and Tan (2000). Their model posits that the valence of portrayals of racial and ethnic minorities on television (i.e., positive or negative) predicts stereotypic responses associated with these groups. In turn, these responses inform voters' positions on affirmative action policies. Alternatively, based on the assumptions of self-categorization theory, it is proposed that it is the extent to which representations of racial and ethnic minorities accommodate viewers' in-group norms, rather than the valence of the stereotypical depiction, that influences real-world stereotyping and ultimately policy positions.

Support for a Media-Based Model of Policy Reasoning

In an attempt to provide a comprehensive, media-inclusive model of racial policy reasoning, Tan et al. (2000) incorporate insights from research on media priming, heuristic models of decision making, and models of media use in the specification of their affective model of policy reasoning. Indeed, each path in their reasoning chain finds substantiation in empirical research.

Support for media use as an exogenous variable in the policy model can be anchored in the research on media priming. Examinations of the priming effects of the media link exposure to positive race-based exemplars with more favorable evaluations of racial and ethnic minorities (Bodenhausen et al., 1995), whereas consumption of negative stereotypes results in disadvantageous racial judgments (Johnson, Adams, Hall, & Ashburn, 1997; Peffley, Shields, & Williams, 1996; Power, Murphy, & Coover, 1996). From this perspective, stereotypes are understood in their capacity to serve as heuristics or structures for the organization of knowledge. Conceptually then, stereotypes do not necessarily carry negative implications.

To illustrate, Bodenhausen et al. (1995) experimentally examined the influence of exposure to varying levels of liked or successful, African American media models on White's racial attitudes. In their three-study design, participants in the experimental conditions were primed with either well-liked or successful African American exemplars (Michael Jordan or Oprah Winfrey) or neutrally evaluated and successful exemplars (Jesse Jackson or Spike Lee). Those in the control condition were exposed to a parallel White exemplar (Julia Roberts). Their findings indicated that the activation of liked, favorable media exemplars was positively associated with more sympathetic responses towards discrimination as a social problem and more favorable attitudes about African Americans. In a similar effort, Power et al. (1996) examined the effects of negative stereotypic and positive counterstereotypic news stories about African Americans on Whites' perceptions of African Americans. In their study, participants read a print news story featuring a stereotypical African American depiction, a counterstereotypical African American depiction, or a neutral text with no racial association serving as a control. …

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