Researchers rest their case: TV consumption predicts opinions about criminal justice system

Oct 28, 2009

People who watch forensic and crime dramas on TV are more likely than non-viewers to have a distorted perception of America's criminal justice system, according to new research from Purdue University.

"These kinds of shows, such as 'CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,' 'Law & Order,' 'Cold Case' and 'The Closer,' are some of the most popular programs on television today, so it's important that we understand how they might influence people," says Glenn Sparks, a professor of communication who studies mass media effects. "We know they have inspired people to pursue careers in forensic science and law enforcement, but what are some of their other effects? We found that people who watch these shows regularly are more likely to overestimate the frequency of serious crimes, misperceive important facts about crime and misjudge the number of workers in the judicial system."

Sparks and Susan Huelsing Sarapin, a doctoral student in communication, conducted 103 surveys with jury-eligible adults about their crime-television show viewing and their perceptions of crime and the judicial system. Their research was presented earlier this month at the International Crime, Media, and Popular Culture Studies Conference: A Cross Disciplinary Exploration at Indiana State University.

"Many people die as a result of being murdered in these types of shows, and we found the heavy TV-crime viewers estimated two and a half times more real-world deaths due to murder than non-viewers," Sarapin says. "People's perceptions also were distorted in regards to a number of other serious crimes. Heavy TV-crime viewers consistently overestimated the frequency of crime in the real world."

Viewers of crime shows also misjudged the number of law enforcement officers and attorneys in the total work force. Lawyers and police officers each make up less than 1 percent of the work force, but those surveyed estimated it at more than 16 percent and 18 percent, respectively, Sarapin says.

The viewing of crime drama also can shape opinions about the world in general, Sparks says.

"This kind of television viewing can lead to 'mean world syndrome,' where people start to think about the world as a scary place," Sparks says. "Some people develop a fear of victimization, and this belief can affect their feelings of comfort and security."

The researchers plan to focus on how attitudes and beliefs formed by watching crime shows translate to actual proceedings in the courtroom.

"Conventional wisdom in law enforcement suggests that people tend to be acquitted by juries when there is not much physical evidence and are convicted more in trials that have such evidence," Sarapin says. "The reality is that few crimes have hard, scientific evidence such as ballistics, gunshot residue or DNA evidence. And some states even allow the juror screening process to include questions about their television viewing. There are more questions for us to ask regarding what kind of an effect this has on people, especially jurors."

Source: Purdue University (news : web)

Explore further: Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Popular television shows inaccurately portray violent crime

May 19, 2009

Researchers at Mayo Clinic compared two popular television shows, CSI and CSI: Miami, to actual U.S. homicide data, and discovered clear differences between media portrayals of violent deaths versus actual murders. This study ...

Recommended for you

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Apr 17, 2014

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

Apr 17, 2014

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Mauricio
not rated yet Oct 28, 2009
This is hilarious, it can't be that funny!!! OMG!!!! :

"This kind of television viewing can lead to 'mean world syndrome,' where people start to think about the world as a scary place," Sparks says. "Some people develop a fear of victimization, and this belief can affect their feelings of comfort and security."

People need to start thinking about the world as a scary place! or what, do you guys live in Disney?

Keep your kids away from facts, very healthy, very smart indeed. It is the equivalent of burying your head underground to avoid the car that is coming at you... just keep them watching the Disney channel, hahaha

More news stories

Clippers and coiners in 16th-century England

In 2017 a new £1 coin will appear in our pockets with a design extremely difficult to forge. In the mid-16th century, Elizabeth I's government came up with a series of measures to deter "divers evil persons" ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.