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Black and white, male and female: Racial and Gender Differences in Adolescents' TV Diets
Unformatted Document Text:  Black and White 5 Studies have shown that even young children prefer characters who are similar to themselves in gender, age, or race, and “wishful identification” with characters the viewer would like to resemble increases with age (Comstock & Scharrer, 2001; von Feilitzen & Linne, 1975). Recent work suggests that it may be useful to think of these kinds of identifications as part of the development of “social” identities. As first defined by Tajfel (1978), “social identities” derive from the individual’s knowledge of membership in a social group or groups. In one of the first studies to apply Social Identity Theory to media use, Harwood (1999) found that college students who had strong identification with being young were more likely to say they watched television because they enjoyed “watching young people like me” and were more likely to choose shows that featured young characters. The study also found some evidence of reciprocal causation – that as shows were chosen because they featured young people, the viewer’s identification with the age group increased. Thus, Harwood (1999) concluded, “the mere act of making a viewing choice may enhance one’s sense of belonging in a group and be important to overall self-concept” (p. 129). Interestingly, Social Identity Theory also predicts that prejudice toward outgroups is a function of identification with ingroups because part of the process of developing a social identity involves comparison with the other group. A young Black male, for example, in the process of distinguishing himself as a Black man may compare what it is to be Black and male with what the culture says it is to be a White male and/ or female and may in the process accept negative stereotypes that make Whites and females less attractive. Thus, it may be that as young people identify more strongly as “Black” or “White,” “Male” or “Female,” and are reinforced in these group identifications by what they see on television, prejudices toward the other gender or race may be developing, and the idea of a “common culture” may break down as differences rather than similarities become more salient.

Authors: Brown, Jane. and Pardun, Carol J.
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background image
Black and White
5
Studies have shown that even young children prefer characters who are similar to
themselves in gender, age, or race, and “wishful identification” with characters the viewer would
like to resemble increases with age (Comstock & Scharrer, 2001; von Feilitzen & Linne, 1975).
Recent work suggests that it may be useful to think of these kinds of identifications as part of the
development of “social” identities. As first defined by Tajfel (1978), “social identities” derive from
the individual’s knowledge of membership in a social group or groups. In one of the first studies to
apply Social Identity Theory to media use, Harwood (1999) found that college students who had
strong identification with being young were more likely to say they watched television because they
enjoyed “watching young people like me” and were more likely to choose shows that featured
young characters. The study also found some evidence of reciprocal causation – that as shows
were chosen because they featured young people, the viewer’s identification with the age group
increased. Thus, Harwood (1999) concluded, “the mere act of making a viewing choice may
enhance one’s sense of belonging in a group and be important to overall self-concept” (p. 129).
Interestingly, Social Identity Theory also predicts that prejudice toward outgroups is a
function of identification with ingroups because part of the process of developing a social identity
involves comparison with the other group. A young Black male, for example, in the process of
distinguishing himself as a Black man may compare what it is to be Black and male with what the
culture says it is to be a White male and/ or female and may in the process accept negative
stereotypes that make Whites and females less attractive. Thus, it may be that as young people
identify more strongly as “Black” or “White,” “Male” or “Female,” and are reinforced in these group
identifications by what they see on television, prejudices toward the other gender or race may be
developing, and the idea of a “common culture” may break down as differences rather than
similarities become more salient.


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