In chapter 3, results were presented concerning children's abilities to comprehend and remember the narrative story content of dramatic television programs from the police genre. Children's opinions about different aspects of these programs were also examined. In this chapter we turn our attention to the impact that police drama episodes might have on children's perceptions of the police and the work that they do. Such potential effects of television police drama episodes are explored in the context of previous empirical work in this field.
An influential theory proposed in the mid- 1970s by Gerbner and his colleagues at the Annenberg School of Communications, University of Pennsylvania, offered an alternative perspective to popular cause-effect models of television's impact on its audience. The new model argued that television's influence could not be understood by any research perspective that failed to give adequate representation to the complexity of the world of television drama with its integrated system of characters, events, actions, and relationships ( Gerbner & Gross, 1976; Gerbner et al., 1977, 1978).
According to Gerbner, viewers learn information from dramatic television material that is then incorporated into their conceptions of social reality. Through analysis of relationships between individuals' reported television viewing habits, particularly the amount of time they spend watching, and their perceptions of their social and cultural environment, it was felt possible to reveal television's contribution to the attitudes, beliefs, and values people hold with respect to the world in which they live.