Can TV shows promote acceptance of sexual and ethnic minorities? A literature review of television effects on diversity attitudes

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Until recently, western TV programming rarely featured sexual or ethnic minority members; if present, their representation was mostly negative. Increasingly, though, diverse characters start to play likeable protagonists as well. Thus, television can promote negative diversity attitudes and, at other times, positive ones. The present article reviews and connects theories and research from sociology, psychology, and media and communication studies to clarify the role of television in diversity attitudes formation and to identify directions for future research. Specifically, two research questions are addressed. First, through which processes does television influence diversity attitudes? Second, what features of TV shows contribute to positive diversity attitudes formation among viewers, according to different theories of television effects? Findings indicate that television can entrench existing negative diversity attitudes through the echo chamber phenomenon. However, TV content featuring numerous, likeable, attractive, and typical minority characters that have friendly interactions with the rest of society can promote positive diversity attitudes. Future research should study openness to view content with minority characters, examine the effects of the complete video media diets, check media effects in non-western countries, explore media effects in longitudinal studies and investigate what constitutes attractive, likeable, and typical representation of ethnic and sexual minorities.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12906
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalSociology Compass
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and publication of this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Sociology Compass published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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