American teenagers who spend more time watching romantic dramas like The O.C. or romance-based reality shows like The Bachelor tend to hold more old-fashioned views about the roles men and women should play when dating - a pattern that psychologists at Illinois State University believe should be a cause for concern.
Two hundred and fifteen teenagers with an average age of 15 years reported how much time they spent watching various TV shows and registered their belief in romantic gender roles - for example by saying whether or not they agreed that men should generally be the ones to initiate sexual contact.
Not only was viewing more romance-themed TV shows associated with teenagers having more traditional views of gender roles, but having these views was in turn associated with teenagers have more romantic partners and starting to go on dates from a younger age.
Rocio Rivadeneyra and Melanie Lebo who conducted the research said their findings showed television programmes could be teaching teenagers that dating involves prescribed roles for males and females and that dating should occur early and often: "all potential factors for sexual risk," they warned.
Another result to emerge was a link between watching non-romantic dramas such as Law and Order and teenagers having more egalitarian views of gender dating roles. The researchers said this could be because such programmes often portray women in less traditional roles.
The research was correlational, so as the researchers acknowledged, rather than TV shows affecting teenagers' attitudes, it's perfectly plausible that teenagers with traditional attitudes toward gender roles simply tend to favour watching shows like the O.C.
RIVADENEYRA, R., LEBO, M. (2008). The association between television-viewing behaviors and adolescent dating role attitudes and behaviors. Journal of Adolescence, 31(3), 291-305. DOI: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2007.06.001
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.