What’s your televison teaching you?

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March 9th, 2011

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Omaha, NE – Former FCC Commissioner Nicholas Johnson once said, “all television is educational” but then asked the question, “what’s it teaching you?” Researchers at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln may have an answer.

Nebraskans who frequently tune in to reality television programs like “The First 48” are apparently more fearful of becoming crime victims.

Nebraskans who frequently tune in to reality television programs such as Dateline and The First 48 are more fearful of becoming crime victims and less supportive of the criminal justice system. That is one of the conclusions of a recent study conducted by two UNL professors. Kelley Sittner-Hartshorn and Lisa Kort-Butler also found that people who watch weekly fictional crime programs like Law and Order and C.S.I are less fearful of crime and more supportive of the death penalty. Kort-Butler is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at UNL.

“I think this different effect between crime dramas and the non-fiction kinds of crime shows.. it’s intriguing to see how storytelling is done in different ways,” she said, “and how that influences how people think about crime, and how they think about their own level of risk.”

The UNL study shows regular viewers of fictional crime dramas are more supportive of the death penalty, and have limited conversations about the criminal justice system as a whole.


Kort-Butler said this research study, which included nearly 700 people across Nebraska, also supports the premise that viewers of fictional criminal dramas on television have limited conversations about the criminal justice system as a whole. Speaking of her own students, Kort-Butler said they “have a certain image of the justice system that is really akin to what you may see on Law and Order, and is not necessarily reality.”

“So I think a steady diet of these kinds of programs somewhat inhibits us from being able to have a fuller discussion about crime and justice issues.”

Kort-Butler added the study showed that people who watch local and national news believe that criminal behavior is on the increase, whether or not actual statistics prove otherwise. The study has been published in the current edition of Sociological Quarterly.

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