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The Role of Stereotype Content in Facilitating Positive Mediated Intergroup Contact: An Examination of Perceptions of Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Television Characters


Can improving attitudes toward members of stigmatized groups be as simple as turning on the television? This dissertation project explores how principles of the stereotype content model (SCM; Fiske et al., 2002) can refine and ideally strengthen the study of mediated intergroup contact (Park, 2012) through a focus on character attributes and media content features. Specifically, a series of 3 studies examined how warmth and competence evaluations of television characters influence the optimal conditions and affective mediators of positive intergroup contact, as described in intergroup contact theory. This research is novel in its use of SCM as a framework to evaluate intergroup contact conditions, mediators, and outcomes. Thus, these findings advance both the SCM and intergroup contact literatures in several important ways.

This project continues a program of research that has applied principles of the stereotype content model to the study of media stereotypes with a focus on mitigating negative emotional and behavioral outcomes of media exposure (Sink & Mastro, 2016; Sink & Mastro, 2017; Sink, Mastro, & Dragojevic, 2017). The findings from these new studies have considerable theoretical and practical implications. Specifically, these studies will (a) expand knowledge concerning the effects of exposure to media that features sexual minorities, (b) redirect attention toward the universal dimensions underlying stereotypes rather than the narrow, group-specific characterizations that are typically examined, and (c) potentially explain why mediated contact is effective in reducing prejudice for some groups and not others.

To situate this work, intergroup contact theory and the stereotype content model will be outlined to provide the theoretical foundation for these studies. Next, a comprehensive overview of the current state of social scientific research concerning sexual minorities on television will be provided. Finally, the methods and results of 3 studies will be provided before discussing the broader implications of these findings for society and the entertainment industry. Study 1 explored how warmth and competence evaluations of television characters are related to several optimal conditions of mediated intergroup contact (i.e., perceived typicality, ingroup similarity). Study 2 examined the extent to which warmth and competence character evaluations are predictive of the affective mediators of intergroup contact (i.e., intergroup anxiety, empathy, and trust). Study 3 documented the extent to which warmth and competence evaluations of a single character generalized to an outgroup as a whole, as well as the potential for characters of varying stereotype content to either improve or exacerbate pre-existing prejudice.

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