Atheists in the Media: How Public Figures and Fictional Characters Affect Public Perceptions of Atheists
Date of Award
Master of Arts - Mass Communication
This study investigated how media depictions of atheists might influence perceptions of them based on media theories of cultivation and priming. Severe distrust and dislike of atheists found in the literature indicated a need for the study. The measurement instrument used in the study asked a sample of 195 respondents to report their media consumption habits, including news sources, television shows, and movies, as well as identify real atheists in the public eye. Respondents were then asked to rate positive and negative statements about both atheists and religious people on a Likert scale and provide basic demographic information about themselves. Ultimately, the study found that religious-oriented movies increased positive ratings of religious people and viewing movies sympathetic to atheists increased positivity towards atheists, while consumption of conservative news media increased negativity towards atheists. Other measures, including consumption of television shows with atheist main characters and recognition of real atheists in the public eye revealed no significant links between media habits and attitudes towards religious people or atheists. The study indicates that atheists and religious people may both seek out media consistent with their viewpoints and that conservative news media may be more influential in priming negative towards atheists than other forms of media. More research was called for to examine the media used in the study more in-depth. Implications of the study included a trend toward unlikeable practitioners of organized religion in the media portrayed opposite moderate atheists, especially on television.
Stepniewski, Joseph Michael, "Atheists in the Media: How Public Figures and Fictional Characters Affect Public Perceptions of Atheists" (2015). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 465.
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