Media Information Australia, 1983, 30, 69 &70.

PERCEIVED DEVIANCE, Personality and Media Exposure in Sydney

John J. Ray

A preliminary Sydney survey of the relationship between the amount of TV viewing, attitudes to 'deviance', and personality suggests a weak tendency for increased TV viewing to be associated with the perception of others as 'deviant'. The results are related to the work of Gerbner.

Gerbner et al [1] have presented extensive arguments and evidence in favour of the view that television emphasizes mainstream culture. It is so 'middle of the road' in its emphasis that it tends to neglect the full diversity of the host society. While this is a commendable state of affairs as far as avoiding allegations of political bias is concerned, it does raise the question of the effect television has on our tolerance of diversity. Does it create an exaggeratedly homogeneous conception of what is 'normal' among its viewers and hence lead to heightened negative attitudes towards those who cannot be so described? Does it lead to a sort of cultural imperialism for whatever is mainstream? Is television a force for intolerance of minorities or a force for tolerance?

To provide some preliminary evidence on this question, a random doorstep cluster sample with 103 respondents was carried out in the Sydney metropolitan area of NSW, Australia. Respondents were given thirteen community sub-groups to rate which were selected to provide as large as possible a range of potential deviance/normality. Each group was rated on a 7-point scale from 'Completely normal' to 'Completely deviant'. To check on possible modulating influences from the personality of the respondents, the short form of the Eysenck [2] 'MPI' (containing scales of extraversion and neuroticism) was also administered -- together with a short form [3] of the Marlowe-Crowne social desirability scale. In the final part of the questionnaire, demographic details were asked and estimates were obtained of how many hours a week the subjects spent reading newspapers, watching TV and listening to the radio. The data were gathered in September 1982.

The 13 'deviance' items were found to form a scale with a reliability (alpha) of .78. The reliability of the other scales was .47 for extraversion, .76 for neuroticism, and .67 for Social Desirability.

The only significant correlations observed with scores on the Deviance scale were .25 with education and -.25 with amount of TV watching. This meant that higher education made one more tolerant of minorities while higher TV exposure made one less tolerant. This would seem to represent some confirmation and extension of the Gerbner et al thesis.

The groups who were seen as most deviant were prisoners, Hare Krishnas and homosexuals. These groups plus strikers and marijuana smokers actually were rated on average as more deviant than the mentally ill. Groups attracting the highest ratings of normality were Catholics, Anglicans, Jews, Aborigines and the unemployed. 'University students' got the top rating as 'normal'.

The individual groups whose ratings correlated with TV exposure were: Hare Krishnas (r = -.25), homosexuals (-.28) and university students (-.30). There were other negative correlations but only these three were significant by themselves at the .05 level. The correlation for university students is surprising in view of their generally being rated highly 'normal' but may reflect the frequent presence of student demonstrators in TV news bulletins. As the interviewers in the survey were students, however, the responses to this group may have been in some ways distorted. The correlation of this rating with social desirability responding was, however, a nonsignificant .049. This source of distortion can therefore be ruled out.

The present results may be compatible with some previous Australian and UK findings that heightened contact with minorities is aversive [4]. Television could be acting as an effective surrogate for actual interpersonal contact.

It is concluded that there is some weak tendency for increased TV viewing to be associated with perception of others as 'deviant'. Whether TV 'causes' such perceptions or whether such perceptions are simply those of people who do not go out much cannot be disentangled at this stage.


1. G Gerbner, L Gross, M Morgan & N Signorielli, 'Charting the Mainstream: Television's Contributions to Political Orientations', Journal of Communication, 1932, 32, 100-126.

2. Eysenck, H J Manual of the Maudsley Personality Inventory, University of London Press, London, 1959.

3. Greenwald, H J & Satow, Y, 'A Short Social Desirability Scale', Psychological Reports 1970, 27, 131-135.

4. Ray, J.J. (1983) Racial attitudes and the contact hypothesis. Journal of Social Psychology 119, 3-10.

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