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In Event: Traditional and New Media in the Etiology and Prevention of Interpersonal Violence During Adolescence
Background. Although media offer abundant examples of modern courtship, relying on media models may be problematic because the content often follows a rigid, gender-typed script known as the Heterosexual Script. Girls are encouraged to set sexual limits, use their looks to attract men, prioritize emotional connections, and act sexually passive; boys are encouraged to actively pursue sexual relationships, sexually objectify women, and avoid emotional commitment. Elements of this script are common in mainstream media, appearing 15.5 times per hour in primetime programming (Kim et al., 2007), and in 11.5% of the interactions on teen-oriented programming (Kirsch & Murnen, 2014). Strict adherence to these scripts has been linked with diminished mental health and sexual agency, and greater sexual risk taking.
Might embracing divisive and often adversarial beliefs about male-female relations create an environment in which aggression against a dating partner becomes more acceptable? We investigated that question here, testing contributions both of diverse media and of adolescents’ gender beliefs to their attitudes and behaviors supporting interpersonal violence (IPV). We anticipated that media use would not be a strong and direct contributor to IPV, but would contribute more indirectly through the validation of traditional gender beliefs. Because these scripts are likely acquired early, we focused on youth without any dating experience, and also tested their perpetration of relational aggression as an indicator of current aggressive tendencies.
Method. Participants were 230 adolescents aged 13-18 (M=15.5; 60% female; 60% White) without dating experience. Participants completed surveys assessing their viewing of 20 reality programs and 13 TV dramas, and their weekly consumption of music videos, television, and video games. Support of gendered sexual scripts (GSS) was assessed via four scales: the Adolescent Masculinity Ideology in Relationships Scale, the Adversarial Sexual Beliefs Scale, the Heterosexual Script Scale, and the Attitudes towards Women Scale for Adolescents. Participants also reported on their Acceptance of Male Dating Violence and their perpetration of 22 acts of relational aggression (e.g., spreading rumors).
Results. We first tested whether media use contributes directly to IPV. As indicated in Table 1, all media variables correlated with higher perpetration of relational aggression; greater exposure to reality programs, music videos, and video games also correlated with higher acceptance of dating violence. We next tested whether media use contributes to gendered sexual scripts (Table 1). Each media variable correlated with at least one of the four GSS measures; reality TV viewing was the most consistent media correlate. Finally, we tested whether the GSS variables correlate with IPV (Table 2). As expected, stronger support of each of the gendered sexual scripts predicted greater acceptance of dating violence and greater perpetration of relational aggression. SEM models testing the full set of associations are underway.
Conclusion. Even before youth begin to date, they are receiving media messages about appropriate courtship behavior. Our findings indicate that heavier media exposure is associated with stronger acceptance of rigid gender and sexual scripts, which, in turn, are linked to greater support of dating violence and perpetration of relational aggression.