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Nightly News Negatively Impacts Racial Bias

A new study has found that long-term exposure to news influences racial bias.

The study, published in the International Journal of Communication, examined the effect of news coverage in the U.S. and Austria.

Three empirical studies were tested in the U.S. and Austria. Florian Arendt at the University of Munich in Germany conducted the research in Austria, while Temple Northup, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Houston, focused on subjects in the U.S.

“The two countries were selected due to access of available data for a comparable news stereotype that exists in both countries,” said Northup.

“In the U.S., a large body of research indicates crime is overrepresented on local television news relative to the actual amount of crime that actually occurs in a community.

“Previous content analyses conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of California, Santa Barbara, have shown that African-Americans are overrepresented as criminals on local television news when compared to their actual crime rates.

“In Austria, research has suggested foreigners are overrepresented as criminals in tabloid-style daily newspapers.”

For the first study in the U.S., 316 people completed the Implicit Association Test (IAT), a tool used in psychology to measure hidden bias people may have, but are unwilling or unable to report. Participants then answered a question about their explicit  or conscious attitudes towards African-Americans, as well as how many hours of local television news they watch each day.

“Based on the findings from the study in the U.S., long-term exposure to local television news, wherein African-Americans are depicted frequently and stereotypically as criminals, predicted increased negative implicit attitudes toward African-Americans,” said Northup.

“Viewers who watched more local television news demonstrated more unconscious negative attitudes toward African-Americans.”

The study conducted in Austria was intended to be a replication of the U.S. study. The same data procedure was used in the Austrian study as the U.S. study.

The 489 participants reported how many days each week they read the specific newspaper under investigation. The study found that exposure to the tabloid-style daily newspaper did not increase the negativity of implicit attitudes.

“Unlike with television news, though, people have much more control over a printed newspaper because they are able to selectively expose themselves only to stories of interest,” Northup said. “In other words, when watching television news, one has little control over what stories are viewed.”

A third study also was conducted in Austria as a post hoc explanation of the second study’s findings that were inconsistent with the U.S. research, Northrup noted.

The third study investigated how much newspaper content the 470 participants are exposed to and the kinds of articles they read. In addition to completing the IAT, the participants reported how many days a week they read the specific newspaper under investigation and how often they read crime articles.

The findings from the third study found reading specifically about crime had a significant effect on implicit attitudes toward foreigners, according to the researchers.

“The results of the studies suggest that in both these countries, regular exposure to stereotypical news coverage creates negative implicit attitudes,” said Northup.

“The findings from the study in the U.S. suggest individuals who consumed more local television news than others in the study may have increased negative racial bias towards African-Americans.

“In Austria, individuals who read more crime-related articles in a tabloid-style weekly newspaper tended to have an increased negative racial bias toward ‘foreigners.'”

Northup hopes the results of this study will contribute to a better understanding and awareness of how watching television news may lead to a negative racial bias which, in turn, can lead to other negative outcomes, such as discriminatory behaviors.

“Given that long-term exposure to media stereotypes seems to influence evaluations of African-Americans and foreigners, more research investigating this implicit effect is needed,” said Northup.

“Studying this phenomenon and its underlying mechanism is necessary. Only then will researchers be able to test different strategies to deal with these negative media effects, thereby enabling society to adequately resist the possible detrimental consequences of news media consumption.”

Source: The University of Houston

Photo Credit: University of Houston

Nightly News Negatively Impacts Racial Bias

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Nightly News Negatively Impacts Racial Bias. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 31 May 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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