Viewing Positive, Uplifting Media Linked to Altruistic Behavior

After viewing meaningful entertainment — shows that provide the viewer with a warm, uplifting feeling — people appear more likely to lend a hand to those they consider different, according to a new study at Pennsylvania State.

These positive and meaningful shows evoke “elevated” feelings in the viewer which in turn lead to these altruistic actions, say the researchers, who report their findings in the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media.

“Elevation is characterized as a moral emotion. Scholars have defined it as a warm, uplifting emotion that people experience when they see acts of human kindness or compassion, for example,” said researcher Erica Bailey, a doctoral student in mass communication at Pennsylvania State.

The findings suggest that media — which is often studied for its role in negative events, such as violence and prejudice — can have a positive influence on people’s lives as well.

“As a media researcher, this study was a little refreshing,” said Bailey. “Media does get a bad rap, and often rightfully so, but this seems to show that media isn’t all bad.”

The findings show that, after watching a meaningful clip from a television show, participants were more likely to help someone from a different age and race than they were people in their own age and racial groups.

“Previous research has shown that people tend to be more altruistic after they watch a movie or television program that they consider more meaningful, but this study suggests that not only are they more altruistic, but they are more willing to offer help to people from different groups outside of their own,” said Bailey.

The researchers recruited 106 college-age participants for the study. The students were divided into two groups and asked to watch a video clip from the television show “Rescue Me” and fill out subsequent questionnaires. One group watched a more emotional, more meaningful clip, while the other group saw a light-hearted, less meaningful clip.

The more meaningful clip showed the main characte, a firefighter, reflecting on his divorce and the loss of his cousin during the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. The light-hearted clip showed the main character and other firefighters playing practical jokes on each other.

After watching the clip, the participants were randomly assigned the option to help either a younger white researcher from the university where the study was conducted, or an older black researcher from a rival university. About 77 percent of the participants were white, 10 percent were Asian, five percent were Hispanic and five percent registered as other.

People who watched the more meaningful clip were more likely to help the different researcher than they were to assist the similar researcher, according to Bailey, who worked with Bartosz W. Wojdynski, Ph.D., assistant professor of journalism and mass communication and director of the Digital Media Attention and Cognition Lab, University of Georgia.

Bailey said the next step for the research would be to better understand how the meaningful clips prompt this behavior and to determine which differences prompt the biggest response.

Source: Pennsylvania State

Helping people photo by shutterstock.