In a recent study, researchers found that long-term exposure to news in which racial representation is unbalanced may affect audience’s racial biases, according to a University of Houston news release.
In an article published in International Journal of Communication, researchers Temple Northup of University of Houston and Florian Arendt of University of Munich in Germany conducted empirical studies of local television news viewers in the U.S. and tabloids readers in Austria. They found that exposure to news coverage could influence audience’s racial biases.
According to Northup, previous studies have shown that crime is overrepresented on local television news in the U.S. and African Americans are overrepresented as criminals. Similarly, studies have shown that foreigners are overrepresented as criminals in tabloid-style daily newspapers in Austria.
Three hundred and sixteen U.S. television news viewers and 489 Austrian tabloid-style daily newspaper readers participated in these studies. To measure the participants’ racial biases, the researchers used the Implicit Association Test (IAT), a tool used in psychology to measure unconscious biases people have but are unwilling or unable to report.
They found that the audience’s racial biases reflected the amount of news coverage they watched or read.
“Viewers who watched more local television news demonstrated more unconscious negative attitudes toward African-Americans,” Northup explained.
In Austria, although exposure to tabloid-style daily newspapers didn’t increase implicit negative attitudes in the readers, Northup attributed this to the fact that unlike television news viewers, readers have more control over what news they read.
A third study confirmed this hypothesis, where the researchers found that the Austrian readers participating in the study who read more crime articles developed increased negative biases towards “foreigners,” according to Northup.
Northup hopes their research will help society better understand the effects of news coverage on the audience’s racial biases, and in turn, discriminatory behaviors.
“Studying this phenomenon and its underlying mechanism is necessary,” he said. “Only then will researchers be able to test different strategies to deal with these negative media effects, thereby enabling society to adequately resist the possible detrimental consequences of news media consumption.”