Research in Media Effects (Revised October 2009) Mass Media Research: An Introduction, 9 th Edition

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Cultivating the Paranormal

Many television programs focus on the paranormal—The X-Files, Unsolved Mysteries, Sightings, and more. Could heavy viewing of these programs have a cultivation effect? This general question was examined by Sparks, Nelson, and Campbell (1997) in a survey of 120 residents of a Midwestern city. Respondents were asked to estimate the total amount of time they spent watching TV and how often they had seen specific programs that featured paranormal content. The researchers next developed a 20-item scale to assess respondents’ belief in paranormal activities, including UFOs, ESP, ghosts, palm reading, telekinesis, and astrology.

This scale was factor analyzed to yield two distinct elements: belief in supernatural beings and belief in psychic energy. The researchers also asked respondents to report whether they had had any paranormal experiences. TV viewing was then correlated with the measures of belief in the paranormal.

The total number of hours of TV viewing was not related to either of the paranormal belief factors. Exposure to paranormal TV shows showed no correlation with belief in psychic energy. There was a significant relationship, however, between paranormal TV show viewing and belief in supernatural beings among those who had some prior experience with paranormal events. This relationship persisted even after controlling for several demographic variables. The authors suggest that this finding should have implications for journalists and program producers of content related to paranormal themes.

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