Television

If I asked you why you believe the things you do, your first response probably wouldn’t be “because of TV.” But TV is a way we get information about the world, even if we aren’t always aware of it.

I’m not just talking about news shows and documentaries. Everything from soap operas to medical dramas carries both explicit and implicit messages that affect our views and beliefs. If you don’t believe me, check out these 4 ways television has been shown to influence people’s beliefs.

1. Beliefs about the criminal justice system

In Austria, the death penalty has been abolished since 1968. Not everyone who lives there actually knows this, however.

A study published this month showed that people in Austria who watch more TV are more likely to believe capital punishment still exists in the country. The researchers controlled for education and age, suggesting that watching TV itself may affect people’s beliefs about the criminal justice system.

2. Body image

TV often sends certain messages about what the “ideal” body type is, and it turns out we’re pretty receptive to those messages.

Research published in 2013 found that both men and women who watch more TV are more concerned with becoming muscular. Another study found that teens compare their bodies with those of TV characters, especially when those characters are thinner.

3. View of fast food

Watching TV affects teenagers’ beliefs about the health risks of eating fast food. Specifically, teens who watch more TV have more positive beliefs and fewer negative beliefs about fast food.

The researchers controlled for physical activity and number of nearby fast food restaurants, suggesting that TV itself was shaping teens’ beliefs about fast food.

4. Intention to drink

Apparently, teens who watch a lot of TV would like a beer to go with those fries. TV doesn’t just change how adolescents view fast food – it also influences how they see alcohol. Teens who watch more television tend to see alcohol use as having fewer negative consequences and to have greater intentions to drink.

Although a lot of the research looking at how TV shapes people’s beliefs has been done on adolescents, who are especially receptive to implicit messages from media, every indication is that adults are also influenced significantly by what they watch – recall the study about capital punishment in Austria, for example.

None of which is to say there’s something wrong with watching TV. But it’s always good to be aware of where our beliefs are coming from so we can question them and see if we really want to take them as our own.

Image: Flickr/espensorvik