Can television characters transmit racial attitudes without even saying anything?
Characters on television shows can transmit subtle cues that perpetuate racial stereotypes among viewers, new research suggests.
To explore the presence of nonverbal racial bias on television, the Tufts University study showed edited clips from 11 popular shows to participants who were unfamiliar with these programs. The television shows used in the study included House, Bones, Reno 911!, CSI, CSI: Miami and Heroes.
The clips were edited to remove both African-American and Caucasian major characters, showing only the other characters in a given scene.
The researchers chose characters of similar status within each show to remove from the scenes. The sound was also taken out of the clips.
In the first part of the study, led by psychologist Max Weisbuch, participants were shown the edited clips and asked to rate how the unseen characters were treated in each scene.
Weisbuch says that presenting such a sequence is a standard method of investigating nonverbal behavior. Furthermore, while a photo of a person smiling at another person indicates a favorable response, that reaction alone doesn't tell the whole story.