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Updated 9:30 AM April 9, 2007




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Scenes of Israeli-Palestinian violence foster stereotypes for teens

American high school students of Arab or Jewish descent tend to develop negative attitudes and stereotypes about each other when they are exposed to television reports of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to a new U-M study.

Multiple factors predict teens' negative stereotypes of other groups, including the amount of time they spend with friends who have those beliefs, says co-principal investigator Eric Dubow, an adjunct research scientist at the Institute for Social Research and a professor at Bowling Green State University. But media exposure to news about the Middle East conflict appears to be one important element.

The study's principal investigator L. Rowell Huesmann, the Amos N. Tversky Collegiate Professor of Communication Studies and Psychology at U-M, presented the findings April 1 at the Society for Research in Child Development conference in Boston. He directs the ISR Research Center for Group Dynamics, which conducted the study.

"Our findings show that American high school students interpret the televised scenes of violence from the Middle East quite differently, depending on their own ethnic background and identification," Huesmann says. "For example, each ethnic group thinks that most of the violence they see on TV is perpetrated by the other ethnic group."

Researchers gathered responses from 229 Arab-American and Jewish-American ninth and 12th grade high school students, who were asked about their exposure to news reports on the Middle East conflict, and their attitudes and beliefs about the other ethnic group, as well as their own ethnic identity. Although students indicated they often were exposed to media coverage of the conflict, about half of both groups said they received their news once a week or less from television, newspapers, radio and the Internet.

Two reaction time tasks assessed unconscious prejudice on the part of the respondents. In the Implicit Association Test, students pressed a computer key as rapidly as they could when a Jewish name or pleasant word appeared on the monitor and another key if an Arab name or unpleasant word appeared. The pairings then were reversed. In the Weapons Identification Task, students tried to identify a picture presented on a computer screen for only 50 milliseconds as a gun or a tool. Arab or Jewish names appeared on the monitor just before the picture.

On the first test, Arab-American high school students took longer to react when Jewish names were paired with good words than when they were paired with bad words. This difference was bigger when the Arab-American had watched more news about the violence in the Middle East. The same was true for Jewish-American high school students when they reacted to pairings of Arab names with good or bad words. These results showed that unconscious prejudice was greater within each group for those who watched more news about the violence in the Middle East.

On the Weapons Identification Task, both groups made more errors of falsely identifying a picture as a gun when the image was preceded by a typical name from the other ethnic group. This result indicates that each ethnic group has an unconscious stereotype that the other group is violent, study leaders say. Furthermore, the results show that this stereotype was strongest for Arab-American youth who watched more scenes of violence from the Middle East.

These results were consistent with the answers the teens gave to questions that explicitly asked how they felt about the other group, Dubow says. Both groups reported more positive views about their own group compared to the other. Additionally, the relation between exposure to media depictions of violence perpetrated by Arabs and self-reported negative stereotypes about Arab-American teens was significant for Jewish-American youth. For Arab-American youth, negative stereotypes against Jewish-American teens were greater when their friends held negative stereotypes toward the other ethnic group.

Additional research is needed to identify the influences of other sources of exposure, such as discussions with parents, teachers and peers, the researchers say.

Other study authors are Jeremy Ginges, New School of Social Research, Paul Boxer, Rutgers University and Violet Souweidane, Dearborn Schools and U-M.

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