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Parasocial Contact Hypothesis (PCH)

Finally, one of the more recent theories central to this study is the PCH (Schiappa et al., 2005). This sub-theory specifically examines the role of media in the process of changing of human attitudes and beliefs in relation to reducing prejudice towards minority groups. It stems from the Contact Hypothesis also known as the Intergroup Contact Theory, credited to Allport (1954) (Dovidio, Gaertner, & Kawakami, 2003), which states that, under appropriate conditions, interpersonal contact is one of the most effective ways to reduce prejudice between majority and minority group members as it allows reconceptualization of minority group categories (Schiappa et al. 2005). PCH suggests that viewers’ beliefs and attitudes about certain social groups are shaped through mediated contact equivalent to interpersonal contact. As such, media provides the opportunity for interaction, which is not always possible in everyday life (Schiappa, 2005). Therefore, parasocial contact may be more effective in prejudice reduction as media can provide a wider array of portrayals countering stereotypes (Farnall et al., 1999), especially in contemporary Western society. One of the assumptions of PCH suggests that parasocial contact will be directly associated with greater acceptance most prominently in people who have no or very limited contact with homosexuals, since for people with many preexisting interpersonal relations with homosexuals, as Schiappa et al. (2005) suggested, “contact has done its job already, so to speak’’ (p. 98).

Schiappa et al. (2006) were the first to find supporting evidence for PCH, examining the influence of viewing Will and Grace, a TV show with prominent homosexual characters, on attitudes towards gay men. They found that increased viewing frequency and increased parasocial interaction were associated with lowered sexual prejudice. This association was most pronounced in those who had the least amount of real-life contact with homosexuals. This finding was further supported by both Joyce and Hardwood (2014), and Bond and Compton (2015), Sink and Mastro (2017) and Mclaughlin et al. (2017). Moreover, Bond and Compton (2015) also found a positive relationship between exposure to TV shows featuring homosexuals and acceptance of homosexuality even when controlling for interpersonal gay relationships and motivation to seek out TV shows which contain homosexuality, based on their individually varying beliefs, attitudes or values, thus at least partly accounting for the possibility that individual differences beyond the basic demographics(sex, age, race/ethnicity, religiosity etc.) can affect the association.

Stereotyping of Male Homosexuals

Although not completely denying the possible positive effect of media on the decrease of homonegativity, the opposing scholars suggest the effects of this media shift to greater diversity and thus greater acceptance are only marginal at best. Some studies found that even currently prominent TV shows, such as Modern Family (Levitan & Lloyd 2009a), still produce stereotypical depictions of gay men as a joke (Burgess 2011), using comedic satire and exaggerated stereotyping to reinforce traditional heterosexual norms (Avila-Saavedra, 2009; Holz Ivory et al., 2009; Cartei & Reby, 2012; Rothmann, 2013). In line with framing and cultivation theory, research (Fouts & Inch, 2005) suggests that frequent television viewers reported having more stereotypical views of gay men than infrequent television viewers, ultimately making homosexuality as something not normal and natural (Hart, 2003). These characters are largely presented as a monolithic social group (Bonds-Raacke et al., 2007; Rothmann, 2013), despite substantial diversity within the LGBT.

The problem with the claims existing studies make about stereotypes lies in their limited empirical evidence of stereotyping effects on people’s attitudes/perception of homosexuality. Most of the literature on homosexual stereotypes has focused on content analyses of television portrayals and does not test their effects on viewers (e.g. Rothmann, 2013). McLaughlin and Rodriguez (2017) are one of the only studies to directly measure stereotyping of homosexual males, finding somewhat marginal support for the effect of gay media exposure on increased stereotyping. As such, what has been expressed by Sink and Mastro (2017) may be true; even though homosexual portrayals are criticized as stereotypical (Appleton, 2015; Evans, 2007; Raley & Lucas, 2006) there is very little evidence to support those claims about stereotyping consequences on people’s attitudes. In fact, such portrayals seem to have more positive effects on the audience, leading to decreased homonegativity (Fisher, Hill, Grube, & Gruber, 2007; Sink, Mastro, & Dragojevic, 2017; Sink & Mastro, 2017). This disagreement highlights the need for a more comprehensive examination of the relationship between stereotyping, homosexual acceptance and exposure to gay media.

The Importance of Measuring both Prejudices towards Homosexuals and Stereotyping

While stereotyping is often seen as the precursor to prejudice (e.g. Cox, Abramson, Devine & Hollon, 2012), social and psychological research distinguishes between the two terms. Prejudice can be defined as unfavorable emotional reactions or evaluations of social groups, while stereotypes are generalized beliefs about groups and their members, which may not be necessarily negative (Fiske, 1998; Armstrong & Nelson, 2005; Mio, Barker-Hackett, & Tumambing, 2006). One of the main differences between stereotyping and prejudice is the level of their cognitive automaticity. Stereotypes are often unconsciously developed, while prejudice is comprised of conscious personal beliefs. Hence, in theory, activating cognitive processes that are under conscious control may restrict the automatic negative responses to stereotyped groups (Armour, 1995). Thus, through careful attention and conscious effort, a non-prejudiced person may be able to suppress and overpower stereotypes, realizing their overgeneralized nature (e.g. Armour, 1995).

Thus, the previous research (e.g. Bond & Compton, 2015; Sink & Mastro, 2017) that makes statements about the lack of evidence that stereotyping is associated with gay-related media exposure based on measures of homosexual prejudice is somewhat overgeneralized. This once again calls for further examination of the two phenomena simultaneously in one study.

Limitations of the Current Theoretical Framework in this field

PCH theory and its empirical research are probably most considerate of the limited effects of media on people’s overall attitudes, as it recognizes the resilience of people in relation to the effects of media exposure due to their individual differences outside of the media-related world. It suggests that people with real-life interpersonal contact with a member of a minority group are less likely to be affected by negative media depictions (Schiappa et al., 2006). However, this theory, as well as the cultivation and framing theories, still considers media viewers as a monolithic group in terms of the way participants decode/receive gay-related media. They therefore offer an inadequate and reductionist explanation for the factors contributing to the explanation of stereotyping and prejudice. This is because they only broadly explain whether and/or how our cognitive processes are affected by media exposure without considering how the already established framework of people’s cognitions, varying among individuals, affects the way the that the effects of media exposure are incorporated into a holistic framework. Nonetheless, when considered with other theoretical frameworks that might explain how individual factors possibly moderate effects of media consumption, these sibling theories may be more useful (Bissell & Parrott, 2013).

Values as individual differences

Personal values are direct antecedents of attitudes and one’s subsequent behavior (Fischer & Smith, 2004; Verplanken & Holland, 2002). This suggests they may be one of the precursors to why there are divergent attitudes to the acceptance of homosexuality after being exposed to gay-related media. Values provide guidance across a variety of situations because they are abstract principles thought to develop quite early in life and remain relatively stable throughout one’s life (Allport, 1961, Rokeach, 1973; Meglino & Ravlin, 1998; Bardi & Goodwin, 2011; Bardi, et al., 2014; Cieciuch, Davidov, & Algesheimer, 2016). Thus, the study of basic human values held by individuals can provide insights into their moderation of the exposure to media and homosexual attitudes correlation (Donaldson, Handren, & Lac, 2017).

Basic Human Values System

One of the most prominent values theories is known as the Basic Value System, developed by Schwartz (1992). It emphasizes the need to investigate multiple values simultaneously as psychologists assert that attitudes and behavior are derived from a set of values. Investigating a single value in isolation, as done by Xie et al. (2015), can be detrimental to a study because the focus on the relationships between attitudes and a single value can lead to an incomplete understanding of values, leading to the imprecise construction of what are meant to be coherent theories (Schwartz, 2013). Thus, if a study does not present a comprehensive set of values to legitimize selection of the target values, the non-selected values may be equally correlated to the issue. A clear understanding of human values can be gained only by investigating a variety of theoretically related values within the value system, as done by Schwartz (Pakizeh, 2005).

Schwartz’s (1992) research derived 10 basic values that are recognized cross-culturally and understood in similar ways. They include Universalism, Benevolence, Tradition, Conformity, Security, Power, Achievement, Hedonism, Stimulation, and Self-Direction. These values are thought of as a circular continuum showing the (in)compatibility of values and motivational goals (see appendix 2 for the visualization of the continuum). Values adjacent to each other on the continuum have compatible goals (e.g., achievement and power); values with opposing goals are located on the extreme ends of the circular continuum (e.g., security and stimulation) (Kuntz, Davidov, Schwartz, Schmidt, 2015). The continuum can be divided into two dimensions, each with two opposing higher order values. In the first dimension, higher-order self-transcendence values (universalism and benevolence) are opposing self-enhancement values (achievement and power). In the second dimension, higher-order conservation values (security, tradition, and conformity) oppose openness to change values (self-direction, stimulation, and usually hedonism- see Bilsky, Janik, & Schwartz, 2011) (Kuntz et al., 2015).

Values and Homosexuality acceptance

While some studies have incorporated values as covariate predictor measures (e.g. Xie et al., 2017) of homosexuality acceptance in relation to media exposure, they have never examined values as a set, thus their findings suffer from the issues identified above. Moreover, to the best of this researcher’s knowledge, none of the studies examined the moderating role of values in relationship to either exposure to gay media and homonegativity (i.e. prejudice) or exposure to gay media and stereotyping. This gap in the research calls for further exploration.

Given the absence of such research, the current study set of values which will be measured are derived from research examining values solely as predictors of attitudes towards homosexuals. One of the most central studies to this research was carried out by Kuntz et al. (2015), later supported by Donaldson et al., (2017), suggesting conservation, openness to change, universalism, and power values predict attitudes about homosexuality, with universalism and openness to change positively associated with homosexual acceptance, while power and conservation negatively.

In theory, conservation values (conformity, security, tradition) are central to attitudes about homosexuality, as an endorsement of homosexuality means abandoning transforming traditional views of what is sexually moral and evolutionary “natural” (Haddock, Zanna, & Esses, 1993; Haddock & Zanna, 1998). Thus, accepting homosexuality threatens social norms, traditional customs and existing norms (e.g., van den Akker et al., 2013; Altemeyer, 2002; Feather & McKee, 2012). Research has also suggested conservative traditional values are good predictors of the presence of stereotypes of minorities (Feldman, 1989; Hurwitz & Peffley, 1992).

Highly valuing openness to change (self-direction, stimulation, hedonism) is likely to help in the acceptance of varying ways of life, such as homosexuality, especially when it is challenging the dominant status quo (Schwartz et al., 1992, 2013). While Universalism is only part of the self-transcendence values, it is theoretically thought to be the only part of Self-Transcendence values which is related to homosexuality acceptance (Schwartz, 1992, 2006), since benevolence values emphasize caring for the welfare of others, but only in relation those with whom one is close. Universalism values stress equal opportunities for everyone. Therefore, valuing universalism should be relevant to the acceptance of homosexuals. In relation to stereotyping, research suggests social intolerance— logically opposing to universalistic tolerant values—is a strong predictor of the stereotyping of minorities (Hurwitz & Peffley, 1992).

In contrast, a person highly valuing power should try to be superior, neglecting any form of sympathy for those who are dominated by him/her (Kuntz et al., 2015). Prejudice towards minorities, such as homosexual men, is a way to assert one’s own superiority (e.g. Cohrs et al., 2005; Feather & McKee, 2012). Achievement values, on the other hand, are less likely to relate to negative attitudes towards homosexuals because although they are concerned with acquiring social approval to be successful, this is not contingent on dominating others (Schwartz, 1992). Hence, valuing power is only relevant to the approval of homosexuality, not Achievement.

Personal Values and Confirmation Bias

While these studies do not take gay media exposure into the equation, the concept of cognitive confirmation bias may be able to link these phenomena together. Confirmation bias refers to the tendency to decode information selectively, confirming what one already thinks. As such, people pay more attention to information that is consistent with their own beliefs or values (Kunda, 1990). The intriguing nature of the online world inherently affords individuals the opportunity to attend to information they want while neglecting the rest (Bimber & Davis, 2003). This is also known as the idea of “New Era of Minimal Effects” (Bennett & Iyengar, 2008). The high quantity of easily accessible media can thus potentially magnify the confirmation-bias exposure patterns (Knobloch-Westerwick & Kleinman, 2012). As such, more accepting values towards minorities and alternative lifestyles may moderate the relationship between exposure to gay media and prejudice/stereotyping by strengthening the relationship and vice versa, with more conservative and less accepting values (Pakizeh, 2005).

However, Bond and Compton (2015), found that the motivation (the consequence of one’s values) to seek out media that includes homosexuals (because one is already supportive of homosexuals) does not significantly moderate exposure to gay media and homosexual attitudes. Based on this, it is hypothesized that:

A negative relationship will exist between exposure to gay-related media homonegativity even when controlling for the four values, all other demographic variables, and exposure to overall media.

Even though there is not enough data to construct a direct hypothesis for the relationship between stereotyping and exposure to gay-related media, the same analysis will be done for stereotyping and for homonegativity, as hypothesized above. This will further explore the relative similarities/differences between homonegativity and stereotyping, and their relationship to one’s exposure to gay-related media.

Nevertheless, it can be argued that motivation measure does not really capture the specific and varying antecedents of motivation: personal values. The exploration of the moderating role of the four values can further assist the exploration of how closely related homosexual stereotyping and homosexual prejudice are, and whether they can be moderated by similar values, if at all or, if not, which values could possibly explain why there is such a divergence in the existing research in this area.

Aim of study and research questions

The present study will be partly replicating Bond and Compton (2015), which examined motivation as a predictor and moderator of the acceptance of homosexuals. However, this study will extend this concept, as motivation is a relatively broad theory and calls for more in-depth exploration of the varying antecedents of motivation and attitudes, the basic personal values derived from Schwartz’s (1992). Moreover, this study will measure both homosexual stereotyping and prejudice separately and examine the relationship, advancing on the current research that often uses the terms interchangeably, which may be one of the causes of the conflict between the two divergent branches in this field.

Additionally, this study will solely focus on attitudes towards male homosexuals, similarly to Sink and Mastro (2017) or McLaughlin and Rodriguez (2017). This is because inclusion of both male and females may veil important differences in the attitudes heterosexuals have towards male and female homosexuals (homosexual males are usually more discriminated against by heterosexuals) (Breen & Karpinski, 2013), and thus their potentially differing associations between exposure to media and values.

Finally, while expanding on research that has mostly focused on TV shows exposure (Bond, 2014), the influence of other media, such as news, films and blogs/vlogs is crucial to explore, as most youth—the target of this study—engage with diverse media outlets (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010). As such, research should consider more overall exposure to gay-related media. This is why this study has developed an aggregate scale measuring exposure to gay-related films, TV shows, music, news/magazine articles (Calzo &Ward, 2009) as well as more modern forms of media such as YouTube, blogs, and vlogs (Pullen & Cooper, 2010; Fred, 2015).

Via these extensions, through an empirical research, this dissertation attempts to extend the research on mediated intergroup contact literature and homosexual acceptance by trying to explore these research questions:

RQ1: What are the relationships between the stereotyping of homosexuals and prejudice and exposure to media? Are they mutually inclusive in their association to gay media exposure, or do they co-exist in contradictory associations, i.e. can we be both accepting of homosexuals while still stereotyping them?

RQ2: Do basic human values moderate the relationships between gay-related media exposure and homosexuality acceptance, and between gay-related media exposure and stereotyping? If yes, which ones are most associated with which relationship?

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