Exploring effects of early-life exposure to frightening media content and of long-term television use on enjoyment, avoidance, and mean world perception in adults aged 65 and over
This study used Cultivation Theory (Gerbner, 1969) and Social Cognitive Theory (Bandura, 1986) to examine if a relationship existed between viewing a single frightening media program as a child, teen, or young adult, lifetime television use, and viewing habits later in life. A convenience sample of adults aged 65 and over was recruited to participate in an online survey. The respondents were predominantly white, well-educated, middle- to upper-income women, and were 72 years old on average. It was hypothesized that a Vivid Triggering Event Memory (VTEM) of seeing frightening or disturbing content as a child would be related to avoidance of or enjoyment of similar content at their current age. Contrary to the hypothesis, results showed that the presence of a VTEM had no relationship to either avoidance or enjoyment of watching scary movies. It was also found that a VTEM was not related to general Lifetime Television Exposure (LTE), meaning a memory of a frightening event as a child didn't lead people to avoid television long term. LTE, however, was significantly related to avoidance and enjoyment of frightening content at their current age. Those who reported watching more television in general throughout three stages of their life (youth, middle age, current age) reported less avoidance of frightening content and more enjoyment of the genre at their current age. They also reported watching more frightening content throughout their lifetime. This study also explored VTEM and LTE in relation to Mean World view. Neither VTEM nor LTE independently was found to be significantly related to Mean World perception in older adults in the study. However, the two constructs produced an interaction that mirrors the mainstreaming effect found in previous Cultivation studies. Respondents who did not watch a lot of television over their lifetime but who had a high VTEM generally had as high a Mean World score as respondents who watched a lot of television. In other words, the only group with a significantly lower perception of the World as a frightening place was those who watched less television and had low VTEM scores.