More than a Media Moment: The Influence of Televised Storylines on Viewers’ Attitudes toward Transgender People and Policies

Abstract

Numerous studies have demonstrated the power of entertainment narratives to influence attitudes and behaviors; fewer have examined the effects of TV portrayals on attitudes toward marginalized groups. The present study is among the first to explore how entertainment narratives depicting transgender individuals influence viewers’ attitudes toward transgender people and related policies. The study examines the impact of exposure to a TV storyline on Royal Pains (USA Network) and cumulative effects of viewing other TV series featuring transgender individuals. An online survey of 488 U.S. viewers of Royal Pains was conducted (391 had seen the relevant episode). ANCOVAs revealed exposure to both the Royal Pains’ storyline and other storylines portraying transgender individuals were associated with more supportive attitudes toward transgender people and policies. Mediation models revealed that for viewers of the Royal Pains’ storyline, the relationships between political ideology and attitudes toward transgender people and policies were mediated by identification with the main characters and the emotion of hope. Disgust mediated viewers’ attitudes toward transgender people, but not policies. Post hoc analyses revealed that exposure to transgender narratives reduced the influence of viewers’ political ideology on their attitudes. The attitudes of more conservative viewers became increasingly positive as they saw more media portrayals of transgender individuals. These findings highlight the potential for entertainment narratives to influence attitudes toward marginalized groups, and they demonstrate the importance of emotion in the context of divisive topics. Social, political, and public health implications are discussed.

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Correspondence to Traci K. Gillig.

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Gillig, T.K., Rosenthal, E.L., Murphy, S.T. et al. More than a Media Moment: The Influence of Televised Storylines on Viewers’ Attitudes toward Transgender People and Policies. Sex Roles 78, 515–527 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-017-0816-1

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Keywords

  • Transgender
  • Entertainment
  • Attitudes
  • Media representations
  • TV
  • Narrative persuasion
  • Hope
  • Disgust