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Can a Television Series Change Attitudes about Death?: College Students and Six Feet Under
Unformatted Document Text:  Six Feet Under 19 Because students voluntarily enrolled in the course, they are not a random sample and cannot be assumed to be representative. This process effectively mirrors the practical reality of television behavior, since virtually all television viewing is a matter of self-selection. Nonetheless, for those choosing to view Six Feet Under, the congruence between the program content and measured attitude changes strongly suggest the attitude changes measured in this study were prompted by the viewing of Six Feet Under. The results of this study are noteworthy in three respects. First, mass media content can be useful in death education courses to raise awareness and fuel class discussion. We would recommend, in particular, the first two episodes of the first season of Six Feet Under in light of the range of death and grief issues the episodes engaged. Second, this study should be of interest to thanatologists because, added to the previous literature exploring death attitudes and mass media, there is reason to believe that mass communication is a potentially important socializing agent with respect to death attitudes. The fact that the cumulative influence of a television series can differentially alter attitudes about death is, we believe, an important finding. Third, the design of the project serves as a useful model to bridge the gap between two somewhat disparate research traditions of media influence. Contrived laboratory experiments, typically with stimuli of relatively short duration, are useful for exploring the underlying cognitive processes of attitude formation and change, but are open to criticisms concerned with external validity. Cultivation research in media effects often involves correlational research that paints a larger picture of media effects,

Authors: Schiappa, Edward., Gregg, Peter. and Hewes, Dean.
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Six Feet Under
19
Because students voluntarily enrolled in the course, they are not a random
sample and cannot be assumed to be representative. This process effectively mirrors
the practical reality of television behavior, since virtually all television viewing is a
matter of self-selection. Nonetheless, for those choosing to view Six Feet Under, the
congruence between the program content and measured attitude changes strongly
suggest the attitude changes measured in this study were prompted by the viewing of
Six Feet Under.
The results of this study are noteworthy in three respects. First, mass media
content can be useful in death education courses to raise awareness and fuel class
discussion. We would recommend, in particular, the first two episodes of the first
season of Six Feet Under in light of the range of death and grief issues the episodes
engaged. Second, this study should be of interest to thanatologists because, added to
the previous literature exploring death attitudes and mass media, there is reason to
believe that mass communication is a potentially important socializing agent with
respect to death attitudes. The fact that the cumulative influence of a television series
can differentially alter attitudes about death is, we believe, an important finding.
Third, the design of the project serves as a useful model to bridge the gap
between two somewhat disparate research traditions of media influence. Contrived
laboratory experiments, typically with stimuli of relatively short duration, are useful for
exploring the underlying cognitive processes of attitude formation and change, but are
open to criticisms concerned with external validity. Cultivation research in media
effects often involves correlational research that paints a larger picture of media effects,


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