from Social Issues
In "Will & Grace and the Parasocial Contact Hypothesis," the authors theorized that continual exposure to gay characters on television programs can help reduce prejudice against sexual minority groups. The authors observe that the "content hypothesis" holds that intergroup contact can help reduce prejudice on a one-to-one basis. The same theory can be applied to characters on TV shows. The emotional contacts made by the viewer with characters is considered parasocial contact and can have the same effect on reducing prejudice as one-on-one contact.
The authors surveyed the attitudes of 245 undergraduate students. Ninety-eight percent of these students were heterosexual in orientation. They were given a 74-item survey on Will & Grace and their attitudes toward the characters on the show.
Of the 245 participants, 69% indicated they watched the program "every once in a while." Seventy-three percent of the non-viewers of the show indicated they chose not to watch it or would not watch it if they had television access. Nineteen percent said they watch no TV at all. Eight percent indicated they had no TV access but would watch the program if they could.
The researchers found that the greater the frequency of viewing the show, the lower the levels of sexual "prejudice toward gay men."
The researchers note: "In short, for those viewers with the fewest direct gay contacts, exposure to Will & Grace appears to have the strongest potential influence on reducing sexual prejudice, while for those with many gay friends, there is no significant relationship between levels of prejudice and their exposure to the show."
The authors, however, also say: "Given our reliance of correlation data and a nonrandom sample, the results of this study cannot prove the causal claim that 'watching Will & Grace encourages more tolerant attitudes toward gay men."
In a separate study, "The Parasocial Contact Hypothesis," the researchers surveyed viewer attitudes about gays and transvestites who watched Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Six Feet Under, and Dress to Kill, a one-man comedy special by transvestite Eddie Izzard. Transvestism was viewed as a "stigmatized minority group" by the authors.
"The three hypotheses tested in this study were generally supported," said the authors. "Parasocial contact with Eddie Izzard led to a decrease in reported prejudice, and that decrease was associated with specific belief changes."