Study finds TV can decrease self-esteem in children, except white boys

May 30, 2012

If you are a white girl, a black girl or a black boy, exposure to today's electronic media in the long run tends to make you feel worse about yourself. If you're a white boy, you'll feel better, according to a new study led by an Indiana University professor.

Nicole Martins, an assistant professor of telecommunications in the IU College of Arts and Sciences, and Kristen Harrison, professor of at the University of Michigan, also found that black children in their study spent, on average, an extra 10 hours a week watching television.

"We can't deny the fact that media has an influence when they're spending most of their time -- when they're not in school -- with the television," Martins said.

Harrison added, "Children who are not doing other things besides cannot help but compare themselves to what they see on the screen."

Their paper has been published in . Martins and Harrison surveyed a group of about 400 black and white preadolescent students in communities in the Midwest over a yearlong period. Rather than look at the impact of particular shows or genres, they focused on the between the time in front of the TV and the impact on their self-esteem.

"Regardless of what show you're watching, if you're a white male, things in life are pretty good for you," Martins said of characters on TV. "You tend to be in positions of power, you have prestigious , high education, glamorous houses, a beautiful wife, with very little portrayals of how hard you worked to get there.

"If you are a girl or a woman, what you see is that women on television are not given a variety of roles," she added. "The roles that they see are pretty simplistic; they're almost always one-dimensional and focused on the success they have because of how they look, not what they do or what they think or how they got there.

"This sexualization of women presumably leads to this on girls."

With regard to black boys, they are often criminalized in many programs, shown as hoodlums and buffoons, and without much variety in the kinds of roles they occupy.

"Young black boys are getting the opposite message: that there is not lots of good things that you can aspire to," Martins said. "If we think about those kinds of messages, that's what's responsible for the impact.

"If we think just about the sheer amount of time they're spending, and not the messages, these kids are spending so much time with the media that they're not given a chance to explore other things they're good at, that could boost their ."

Martins said their study counters claims by producers that programs have been progressive in their depictions of under-represented populations. An earlier study co-authored by her and Harrison suggests that video games "are the worst offenders when it comes to representation of ethnicity and gender."

Other research is starting to show the impacts of other kinds of entertainment sources, such as video games and hand-held devices. It indicates that young people are becoming creative at "media multitasking."

"Even though these new technologies are becoming more available, kids still spend more time with TV than anything else," Martins said.

Interestingly, the young people were asked about their consumption of print media, but the results were not statistically significant.

Martins conducted the research while she was completing her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, as part of a larger longitudinal study done with her co-author, Harrison. They sought out certain school districts in Illinois because of their diversity, but African-Americans were the predominant minority group.

Explore further: Pre-schoolers eat more sweets when watching TV with limited supervision

Related Stories

Pre-schoolers eat more sweets when watching TV with limited supervision

December 7, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- It's no surprise that TV viewing has an effect on our eating habits, but a new study shows that even pre-schoolers planted in front of the set are more prone to eating sweets and salty foods instead of ...

The Medical Minute: How to counter media messages on sex

July 26, 2011
On television, in music videos, on the Internet and in movies, explicit sexual content is everywhere -- and children are often prime targets.

Recommended for you

Injuries from window blinds send two children to the emergency department every day

December 11, 2017
Most homes have them. They help keep our rooms warm or cold and even add a pop of color to tie the décor together. But window blinds can cause serious injuries or even death to young children. A new study from the Center ...

Blood flow altered in brains of preterm newborns vs. full-term infants

December 4, 2017
Cerebral blood flow (CBF) of key regions of newborns' brains is altered in very premature infants and may provide an early warning sign of disturbed brain maturation well before such injury is visible on conventional imaging, ...

HPV vaccine is effective, safe 10 years after it's given

November 29, 2017
A decade of data on hundreds of boys and girls who received the HPV vaccine indicates the vaccine is safe and effective long term in protecting against the most virulent strains of the virus, researchers report.

Antibiotics administered during labor delay healthy gut bacteria in babies

November 28, 2017
Antibiotics administered during labour for Group B Streptococcus (GBS) affect the development of gut bacteria in babies, according to a study from McMaster University.

Stress in pregnancy linked to changes in infant's nervous system, less smiling, less resilience

November 23, 2017
Maternal stress during the second trimester of pregnancy may influence the nervous system of the developing child, both before and after birth, and may have subtle effects on temperament, resulting in less smiling and engagement, ...

Molecules in spit may be able to diagnose and predict length of concussions

November 20, 2017
Diagnosing a concussion can sometimes be a guessing game, but clues taken from small molecules in saliva may be able to help diagnose and predict the duration of concussions in children, according to Penn State College of ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet May 30, 2012
This sexualization of women presumably leads to this negative impact on girls."

Presumably there is no evidence for this claim. Presumably.
1 / 5 (2) May 31, 2012
This is odd....I gave up TV a longtime ago. Not only is it a nearly criminal waste of time, but as a white male, I found it racist and very negative towards my "group". I became convinced that TV main objective was to promote violence against my group...a suspicion I think confirmed over the years.
I note this "study" was done by 2 women from far leftist doubt interpreting data to fit an agenda.
The "social sciences" have been a wasteland of leftist extremist propaganda and hate for...well ever since there has been such a field.
Ooo O
1 / 5 (2) Jun 01, 2012
This is not science. Not by a long shot.

Also Tewk you are nuts. TV generally is not racist at all. To anyone. It general depicts who we wish to emulate. For example, that means it is not the TV that would sexualize us. We sexualize the TV.

So how exactly did you confirm your theory?

Also saying TV is a 'near criminal waste of time' is near criminally ignorant. For example - you can learn more about bio diversity, biology and evolution in a few hours of watching 'Blue Planet' than if you read a whole text book.

I personally like trying to break down the criminal mind on the channel Investigation Discovery. Its also interesting to note the general lack of thoroughness and (lack of)bi-partisan nature of law enforcement. Most of the people in the hundreds upon hundreds of studies were considered guilty before ANY reasonable evidence surfaced. Weather they were guilty or not rarely does anyone get a fair trial for serious crime in this country.
1 / 5 (2) Jun 01, 2012
Ooo O, I really don't know where to begin. Your are an individual with whom I've little to connect with. Oh there are plenty of people that think like you do, but you might as well be from an alien planet.
I've been sensitize to "racism"...not by choice but through the force of society which is difficult to ignore.
I tell you I see anti-white racism in nearly EVERYTHING I viewed when I watched TV. In fact American culture is so poisoned by race politics....our society is incapable of producing television without racism involved...most notably when black and white characters are involved. If don't see it....what can I do ?
Also, are you sure watching some episodes of "Blue Planet" is more informative than reading whole textbooks ? Have you read whole textbooks ?
And I'm no fan of America's prison system and courts.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.