To reiterate, Shrum et al.’s (this volume) research clearly demonstrates that exposing television viewers to fictional events can influence their perceptions that similar events actually occur in the real world. To this extent, it can influence their beliefs and attitudes about the persons and objects to which the events are relevant. This influence could occur for two reasons. First, people might come to regard situations that occur frequently on television as normative. This could have both desirable and undesirable consequences.
On one hand, exposure to women and African Americans as heads of state, lawyers, or scientists could increase people’s perceptions that their occupancy of these roles is commonplace and, therefore, could also increase their acceptance of individuals holding these positions in the real world. On the other hand, individuals might use the situations and events that occur frequently on television as standards of comparison in evaluating their own life circumstances and may be motivated to engage in behavior that attains these standards.
Thus, if heavy television viewers overestimate the proportion of people with possessions that exemplify an affluent lifestyle (O’Guinn & Shrum, 1997), they may be more inclined than other individuals to evaluate their own life circumstances unfavorably in relation to this implicit standard of affluence and may try to acquire these possessions or engage in other activities that require them to live beyond their means. These influences of television could underlie the acquisition of materialistic values at a very early age.
Other considerations arise when the situations that occur on television are undesirable. For example, exposure to violence and aggression on television could increase people’s perceptions that this behavior is common and, perhaps, inevitable. If this is so, it could decrease their concern about the violence they encounter in the real world.