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Environmental Concern, Patterns of Television Viewing, and Pro-Environmental Behaviors
Unformatted Document Text:  TV-Environment 6 Nature Documentaries Content-based summaries of nature television shows sponsored by the Audubon Society and other environmental organizations describe programs that emphasize “the positive impact people can have on their natural resources” (Wallace, 1987, p. viii). These types of shows often present natural habitats relatively undisturbed by humans and stress the importance of trying to maintain these environments over the long term. Nature is often revealed for her own beauty in these programs and narrators provide detailed information about how these landscapes evolved over time (see Brown & Pettifer, 1985). Many of these programs also stress the importance of environmental stewardship by current generations. These programs exemplify the “think globally, act locally” philosophy: by promoting awareness about environmental issues that are worldwide in scope, they convey how local actions can affect distant habitats. The introduction of cable television has brought a rise in the number of outlets showing nature documentaries, and with this increase has also come larger audiences (McElvogue, 1997; Robinchaux, 1995). Recent documentary series like The Blue Planet: Seas of Life presents images of areas of the world relatively untouched by Man (Henderson & Lomasney, 2002; Stratchan, 2002). Overall, the thematic and largely factual messages found in most nature documentaries contrast sharply with the environmental content typically found in news, with its over-dramatization of episodic environmental events. Prime-Time Entertainment Television McComas, Shanahan, and Butler (2001) provide a detailed analysis of the presentation of environmental issues on prime-time entertainment television. These researchers collected prime-time entertainment television content on the major networks for the years 1991 through 1997, and analyzed this content for the presence of environment-related episodes (see Shanahan & McComas, 1997, p. 151 for definition of an environmental episode). They find environmental issues are presented “relatively infrequent” in prime-time entertainment programs, with 46% of these episodes “neutral” and another 13% “unconcerned” about the environmental issues being raised in the programs. Only 40% of the environmental episodes were defined as expressing some sort of “concern” for the environment. Once again, this stands in stark contrast to the stories about the environment being told via public affairs television or nature documentaries. The differences in intensity and valence in the environmental messages being sent by factual versus fictional television programs may provide some insight for why studies relying on cultivation theory and measures

Authors: Holbert, R. Lance., Kwak, Nojin. and Shah, Dhavan.
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TV-Environment 6
Nature Documentaries
Content-based summaries of nature television shows sponsored by the Audubon Society and other
environmental organizations describe programs that emphasize “the positive impact people can have on their natural
resources” (Wallace, 1987, p. viii). These types of shows often present natural habitats relatively undisturbed by
humans and stress the importance of trying to maintain these environments over the long term. Nature is often
revealed for her own beauty in these programs and narrators provide detailed information about how these
landscapes evolved over time (see Brown & Pettifer, 1985). Many of these programs also stress the importance of
environmental stewardship by current generations. These programs exemplify the “think globally, act locally”
philosophy: by promoting awareness about environmental issues that are worldwide in scope, they convey how local
actions can affect distant habitats.
The introduction of cable television has brought a rise in the number of outlets showing nature
documentaries, and with this increase has also come larger audiences (McElvogue, 1997; Robinchaux, 1995).
Recent documentary series like The Blue Planet: Seas of Life presents images of areas of the world relatively
untouched by Man (Henderson & Lomasney, 2002; Stratchan, 2002). Overall, the thematic and largely factual
messages found in most nature documentaries contrast sharply with the environmental content typically found in
news, with its over-dramatization of episodic environmental events.
Prime-Time Entertainment Television
McComas, Shanahan, and Butler (2001) provide a detailed analysis of the presentation of environmental
issues on prime-time entertainment television. These researchers collected prime-time entertainment television
content on the major networks for the years 1991 through 1997, and analyzed this content for the presence of
environment-related episodes (see Shanahan & McComas, 1997, p. 151 for definition of an environmental episode).
They find environmental issues are presented “relatively infrequent” in prime-time entertainment programs, with
46% of these episodes “neutral” and another 13% “unconcerned” about the environmental issues being raised in the
programs. Only 40% of the environmental episodes were defined as expressing some sort of “concern” for the
environment. Once again, this stands in stark contrast to the stories about the environment being told via public
affairs television or nature documentaries.
The differences in intensity and valence in the environmental messages being sent by factual versus
fictional television programs may provide some insight for why studies relying on cultivation theory and measures


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