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Contributions of Television Use to Beliefs About Fathers and Gendered Family Roles Among First-Time Expectant Parents

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TV content has been documented to portray a limited range of gender roles, and to frequently depict fathers as incompetent parents. Accordingly, this study explored whether first-time expectant parents' beliefs about gendered family roles and the importance of fathers to child development were related to their TV use. Participants were 201 individuals (122 women, 79 men) from across the United States expecting their first biological child in a cohabiting heterosexual relationship. Participants completed an online survey assessing weekly TV exposure, exposure to TV programs featuring fathers, perceived realism of TV, use of TV to learn about the world, and beliefs about both fathers' importance to child development and family gender roles. Zero-order correlations indicated that increased exposure to TV in general and to programs featuring fathers, perceived realism, and stronger learning motives were each linked to less egalitarian gender role beliefs in both women and men. Among women, heavier exposure to TV in general and to programs featuring fathers, and stronger learning motives were each correlated with weaker beliefs that fathers were important to child development. Multiple regression analyses, however, indicated that attributing more realism to TV content uniquely predicted more traditional gendered family role beliefs and beliefs that fathers are less important to child development across the whole sample. Even among men with low perceived realism, greater exposure to TV fathers was linked with weaker beliefs that fathers were important to child development. First-time expectant fathers may be especially vulnerable to media messages about father roles. (PsycINFO Database Record
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Psychology of Men & Masculinity
Contributions of Television Use to Beliefs About Fathers
and Gendered Family Roles Among First-Time Expectant
Parents
Patty X. Kuo and L. Monique Ward
Online First Publication, January 25, 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/men0000033
CITATION
Kuo, P. X., & Ward, L. M. (2016, January 25). Contributions of Television Use to Beliefs About
Fathers and Gendered Family Roles Among First-Time Expectant Parents . Psychology of Men &
Masculinity. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/men0000033
Contributions of Television Use to Beliefs About Fathers and Gendered
Family Roles Among First-Time Expectant Parents
Patty X. Kuo and L. Monique Ward
University of Michigan
TV content has been documented to portray a limited range of gender roles, and to frequently depict
fathers as incompetent parents. Accordingly, this study explored whether first-time expectant parents’
beliefs about gendered family roles and the importance of fathers to child development were related to
their TV use. Participants were 201 individuals (122 women, 79 men) from across the United States
expecting their first biological child in a cohabiting heterosexual relationship. Participants completed an
online survey assessing weekly TV exposure, exposure to TV programs featuring fathers, perceived
realism of TV, use of TV to learn about the world, and beliefs about both fathers’ importance to child
development and family gender roles. Zero-order correlations indicated that increased exposure to TV in
general and to programs featuring fathers, perceived realism, and stronger learning motives were each
linked to less egalitarian gender role beliefs in both women and men. Among women, heavier exposure
to TV in general and to programs featuring fathers, and stronger learning motives were each correlated
with weaker beliefs that fathers were important to child development. Multiple regression analyses,
however, indicated that attributing more realism to TV content uniquely predicted more traditional
gendered family role beliefs and beliefs that fathers are less important to child development across the
whole sample. Even among men with low perceived realism, greater exposure to TV fathers was linked
with weaker beliefs that fathers were important to child development. First-time expectant fathers may
be especially vulnerable to media messages about father roles.
Keywords: fathers, gender role beliefs, media, perceived realism, transition to parenthood
The transition to parenthood is a period during which individ-
uals consolidate their expectations for impending roles as mothers
and fathers. However, violated expectations with respect to par-
enting roles contribute to a significant portion of role strain and
marital dissatisfaction after childbirth (Goldberg & Perry-Jenkins,
2004; Holmes, Sasaki, & Hazen, 2013). Women and men develop
their expectations of parenthood via multiple sources, such as
through their own family experiences, talking with friends, and via
media (Parke, 2002). Indeed, televised media are a powerful pur-
veyor of cultural messages and may be contributing to our soci-
ety’s beliefs both about gender roles within families and about the
importance of fathers to child development. Some scholars have
argued that narrow media portrayals of fathers as incompetent
caregivers may be perpetuating myths about fathers that impede
father involvement in families (Parke & Brott, 1999). However,
these claims have yet to be empirically tested. The purpose of the
current study was to investigate whether regular exposure to tele-
vised portrayals of fathers is related to first-time expectant parents’
beliefs about fathers in families in the United States.
Socialization of Parenting in the United States
Parenting roles are deeply tied to gender roles in our society,
whereby women, instead of men, are expected to be primary
caregivers. Thus, women are directly socialized into caregiving
roles from early in life. Differential caregiving socialization can be
seen in toy choices for girls (e.g., dolls) compared with boys (e.g.,
trucks) (Idle, Wood, & Desmarais, 1993), and in the chores as-
signed to children such as girls’ babysitting, compared to taking
out the trash for boys (Parke, 2002). When individuals face the
transition to parenthood, the resources and support available are
heavily biased toward mothers compared to fathers (Parke & Brott,
1999), which leads to a greater gap in childcare preparation be-
tween women and men. This socialization over the lifetime leads
to an assumption that women are better suited for rearing infants
compared to men (Schoppe-Sullivan, Brown, Cannon, Mangels-
dorf, & Sokolowski, 2008), and as such, many women assume the
primary caregiver role. However, expectations for fathers’ active
involvement with their children have increased over the past 50
years (Habib, 2012; Lamb, 2000; Pleck & Pleck, 1997). Previ-
ously, men’s general lack of caregiving socialization was unprob-
lematic when men’s roles in families were clearly defined as
family provider and head, not as caregiver (Bernard, 1981; Gene-
soni & Tallandini, 2009; Kelly, 2009). But how do men learn to be
competent, nurturing parents if they have not had the same lifetime
Patty X. Kuo and L. Monique Ward, Department of Psychology, Uni-
versity of Michigan.
The research reported herein was supported by a grant from the Uni-
versity of Michigan Psychology Department to Kuo. We are grateful to the
individuals who participated in the study. We thank Robin Edelstein,
Brenda Volling, and Richard Tolman for their feedback on data collection
strategies. We thank Matthew Stevenson for feedback on the introduction,
Richard Gonzalez for feedback on results, and Lauren Reed for feedback
on the results and discussion.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Patty X.
Kuo, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 530 Church
Street, 1012 East Hall, Ann Arbor, MI 48109. E-mail: pkuo@umich.edu
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Psychology of Men & Masculinity © 2016 American Psychological Association
2016, Vol. 17, No. 1, 000 1524-9220/16/$12.00 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/men0000033
1
training as women and girls? How do women develop expectations
for fathers’ roles within these changing gender role norms?
One probable source of parenting information is portrayals of
parenting in mainstream media, such as TV. Media serve as powerful
sculptors and perpetuators of gendered cultural messages (Barner,
1999; Signorielli, 1989), including messages about parenting prac-
tices (Parke & Brott, 1999). Although little is known about TV’s
influence on fathering in the United States, we can look to a few
studies conducted in other English-speaking countries. A qualita-
tive study of expectant fathers in South Africa indicated that these
men perceived a dearth of information on fatherhood and childcare
skills and suggested that TV would be the best avenue to provide
guidance (Hinckley, Ferreira, & Maree, 2007). If men feel ne-
glected by the traditional support and resources afforded to wom-
en’s transition to parenthood (Parke & Brott, 1999; Wente &
Crockenberg, 1976), and want to learn about fatherhood expecta-
tions from TV (Hinckley et al., 2007), then TV messages about
fatherhood could be critical sites of socialization. Finally, televised
media have even been used as effective broad-scale parenting
intervention programs in Australia (Calam, Sanders, Miller, Sadh-
nani, & Carmont, 2008; Sanders & Turner, 2002). These interven-
tions found that media showing effective parenting skills reduced
dysfunctional parenting. Therefore it is possible that media por-
trayals of dysfunctional or incompetent parenting can negatively
influence real-life parenting.
Portrayals of Men and Fathers on TV
in the United States
Although TV’s representations of men have varied over time,
ranging from the playboys Sam Malone of Cheers or Joey of
Friends to brilliant misanthrope Dr. House and vengeful serial
killer Dexter Morgan from Dexter, these portrayals have been
relatively narrow in their depictions of masculinity (Lotz, 2014).
Analyses indicate that men on TV are frequently portrayed as
sex-obsessed, unfaithful, aggressive, and dominant (Gunter, 1986;
Lotz, 2014; Scharrer, 2001, 2013). Men are also typically por-
trayed in work-related roles, which is in contrast to general depic-
tions of women as wives and mothers (Gunter, 1986; Lauzen,
Dozier, & Horan, 2008).
Findings also indicate that men are represented differently in
male-oriented media than in female-oriented media (Feasey, 2008;
Furnham & Li, 2008; Gentry & Harrison, 2010). For example,
male characters in adventure shows, which are targeted more to
men, are more hostile and violent than men in situation comedies
(Cantor, 1990), which are targeted more toward women. Within
family contexts, women are more commonly represented as par-
ents than are men (Dail & Way, 1985), a pattern that may reinforce
conventional beliefs that women are more suitable parents than
men, even in female-targeted programming. Together, these por-
trayals of men seem to be incompatible with a societal call for
sensitive, involved fatherhood.
How are men portrayed as fathers, more specifically? Content
analyses of family sitcoms (e.g., Everybody Loves Raymond,Still
Standing) indicate that fathers are often portrayed as clueless and
incompetent, but a father character’s fidelity to his family and his
family’s happiness supersede any incompetence (Fogel, 2012).
Although father characters may be ridiculed for being incompe-
tent, they are never forced to change, implying that the love for
their family is enough (Fogel, 2012). Thus, contemporary TV may
be painting a picture of fatherhood in which fathers can be por-
trayed as “good” family men as long as they love their family,
despite their incompetence and misgivings. In a content analysis of
domestic comedies that aired during the 2012–2013 season, father-
centered sitcoms (e.g., Baby Daddy,Raising Hope,Modern Fam-
ily) portrayed ideal fatherhood as encompassing physical care,
emotional support, moral guidance, and advice (Hentrich, 2014).
When fathers failed at care or nurturance, they were frequently
ridiculed, mirroring previous uses of incompetent fathers as a
comedic point in TV. In another content analysis of 12 sitcoms
from the 2000s featuring fathers, most father– child interactions
(56%) were portrayed as being emotionally available (warm, sup-
portive, but also a disciplinarian), whereas remaining interactions
were nearly evenly split between friendly or critical/caustic inter-
changes between fathers and children (Troilo, 2015). Taken to-
gether, portrayals of fathers in sitcoms are fairly ambivalent: ideal
fathers are emotionally available, but fathers also tend to be
incompetent in their parenting duties.
Because men may not watch these family comedy programs and
may not be exposed to these father messages, father images in
other genres that are more male-oriented (e.g., dramas) should be
investigated. For example, the conflicted and homicidal Tony
Soprano of The Sopranos and deeply flawed Walter White of
Breaking Bad are prominent father characters, but no content
analyses have been conducted on these types of father portrayals.
Accommodating research on father portrayals in multiple genres is
especially pertinent now that viewers have many more choices in
a variety of programming (Webster, 2005).
Shaping of Family Beliefs Through TV
TV families may offer implicit lessons about family life that
may affect the way people think about families (Douglas & Olson,
1995; Wilson, 2004). Survey data indicate that both general TV
exposure and viewing of specific genre types (e.g., domestic
comedies) are associated with children’s and adults’ beliefs about
family behavior, such as conflict and support (Alexander, 2009;
Buerkel-Rothfuss, Greenberg, Atkin, & Neuendorf, 1982; Signori-
elli, 1989; Wilson, 2004). In a study of adolescent girls’ and
undergraduate women’s exposure to sitcoms and soap operas,
greater consumption of TV series that depicted traditional mothers
was associated with a more traditional view of motherhood (Ex,
Janssens, & Korzilius, 2002). This study also examined viewing
motivations and found that women and girls who watched TV out
of habit rather than for learning purposes endorsed more traditional
views of motherhood. The authors explained that because habitual
viewing was associated with more hours of viewing, more TV
viewing was ultimately responsible for women’s greater endorse-
ment of traditional motherhood. However, because these partici-
pants were not mothers or expectant mothers, the results may be
conflated by a distancing between the participant and the maternal
role. Young adult women may not try to actively learn about
mother roles because they are distanced from becoming a mother.
Previous research showed that married individuals used TV as
models for their own marital behavior (Robinson, Skill, Nuss-
baum, & Moreland, 1985), thus TV portrayals are impactful when
there is role congruence between TV and the viewer.
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2KUO AND WARD
According to the Differential Susceptibility to Media Effects
Model (Valkenburg & Peter, 2013), some individuals are more
susceptible to media effects than others based on dispositional
dimensions (e.g., gender, motivations, beliefs), developmental
stage (e.g., transition to parenthood), and social context (e.g.,
cultural norms, such as the primacy of motherhood). Although it
has not been previously studied, we speculated that portrayals of
TV families could particularly influence individuals transitioning
to parenthood who may be readily looking for models to imitate,
as they begin a new life stage. Because men are less socialized into
parenting roles than women, we contend that men’s beliefs would
be more susceptible to TV use variables than would women’s
beliefs. Men may not only rely on TV images more than women to
form their beliefs about parenting roles, but may also perceive TV
to be more realistic and be more motivated to learn from TV to
form their beliefs about fatherhood and parenting roles.
Furthermore, Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory (Bandura,
2002) proposes that viewers’ scripts, schemas, and normative
beliefs are shaped by their engagement with media content and that
these beliefs and values lead to behaviors. In this way, expectant
parents could learn about family roles through exposure to these
roles on TV. However, exposure, alone, does not guarantee the
imitation of behaviors depicted or adoption of values conveyed.
Instead, the likelihood of these responses also depends on viewers’
cognitions about the content. Here, perceived characteristics of the
actors observed are influential. It is believed that if the model is
perceived as realistic, as similar to the perceiver, or as having
admirable qualities (e.g., physical attractiveness, popularity), there
is a greater likelihood that his or her behavior will be modeled.
Across several studies and across multiple types of belief out-
comes, findings indicate that the more realistic a person perceives
TV content to be, regardless of how much TV he or she watches,
the more likely his or her behaviors and cognitions are to be
shaped by TV portrayals (Perse, 1986; Potter, 1986; Rubin, 1984;
Taylor, 2005; Ward & Carlson, 2013). Thus, fitting assumptions of
Social Cognitive Theory (Bandura, 2002), expectant parents who
report greater levels of exposure to TV fathers, or attribute greater
realism to TV content would each be expected to be more accept-
ing of the dominant content and themes conveyed.
Viewing Motivations
A second dimension on which individual viewers may differ is
in their motives for viewing TV. Uses and gratifications theory
(Rubin, 1984) argues that individuals use media for different
purposes, and that the particular motives viewers bring to the
screen play a critical role in determining how open they may be to
the content or to potential influence. Whereas some viewers use
TV intentionally to learn about the world, others use it for enter-
tainment, for companionship, or not intently at all. In this sense, it
is expected that individuals who try to learn about behavior
through TV may be more likely to engage in the behavior depicted
than might individuals who watch TV for fun. Support for the role
of learning motives on TV effects has been mixed, with some
studies finding significant contributions (Kim & Rubin, 1997; Lee
& Taylor, 2014), and others finding null or conditional results (Ex
et al., 2002; Ward, 2002). It is unknown whether TV portrayals of
fathers influence expectant parents’ beliefs about fathers in real
life, and whether this association extends to learning motives.
Current Study
TV portrayals of fathers are increasing in number and in scope,
and fathers are being represented in both positive and negative
ways. On sitcoms, fathers are often emotionally available, but also
bumbling and incompetent. Little is known about the nature of
father portrayals on other genres such as dramas, nor about the
influence of exposure to these mixed portrayals on viewers’ beliefs
about father roles. Viewers may expect men to be more emotion-
ally involved parents based on these images. On the other hand,
humorous depictions of incompetent fathers may be more memo-
rable, and therefore viewers may rely on these images more when
developing expectations about fathers’ roles. In this sense, the
portrayal of fathers on TV may help shape beliefs about fathers’
roles within families and the importance of fathers to child devel-
opment. These beliefs may guide individuals’ own expectations,
behaviors, and interactions within family relationships. We do not
claim that family role beliefs are solely guided by media, as there
may also be sociostructural determinants of family beliefs, such as
income, education level, religiosity, or age.
To explore whether TV use is associated with expectant parents’
beliefs about fathers in families, we used a correlational approach
to assess whether regular viewing patterns (frequency, motivation,
and perceived realism of televised content) were associated with
beliefs about fathers’ roles. Given that TV typically portrays men’s
roles to be incompatible with sensitive and competent fatherhood,
we hypothesized that heavier viewing, attributing more realism to
the content, and viewing with a stronger learning motive would
each be associated with a weaker belief that fathers are important
to child development and with less egalitarian family gender role
beliefs in zero-order correlations. Via multiple regressions with
moderation analyses, we also explored the unique contributions to
family role beliefs of each media variable, and tested whether these
contributions would differ based on gender. Finally, because the
contribution of exposure to TV fathers on family role beliefs may
be moderated by perceived realism, as well, we tested two-way
interactions between exposure and perceived realism and three-
way interactions between exposure, perceived realism, and gender.
Method
Participants and Procedure
Participants were 201 individuals (122 women, 79 men) expect-
ing their first biological child in a cohabiting heterosexual rela-
tionship with the other expectant parent. All participants were
living in the United States. Only one member of the couple was
eligible to participate in the study to maintain independence of
data. Participants were recruited from online advertisements
posted on Craigslist’s volunteers section, e-mails sent to family
research list-servs, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, flyers in local
doctor’s offices in Southeast Michigan, and word of mouth.
Interested participants were directed to an online survey where
they were shown a consent form. After consenting, participants
completed a prescreening questionnaire to determine eligibility.
Individuals who were not eligible were redirected to the end of the
survey. Participants were told in the consent form that they may
withdraw from the study at any time by closing out of their
browser window. Therefore, data from individuals who did not
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3
TELEVISION AND BELIEFS ABOUT FATHERS’ ROLES
complete the survey were deleted from the dataset (N27 of 228
eligible). Participants who completed the survey were then redi-
rected to an online form that was not connected to their survey
responses. Participants were then given the opportunity to enter
their e-mail address into a drawing of 10 $100 gift cards. Amazon
Mechanical Turk participants were compensated $.01 for comple-
tion of the survey and eligible to enter into the drawing, as well.
Ten participants were randomly selected to receive one of 10 $100
gift cards. It took approximately 20 to 30 min to complete the
survey.
A majority of participants were White/European American
(70.6%), with 29.4% spanning other racial and ethnic groups:
1.5% identified as American Indian/Alaska Native, 14.9% as
Asian/Asian American, 8% as Black/African American, and 10%
as Hispanic/Latino. Eleven participants indicated more than one
race/ethnicity. Most participants were married (73.1%). The ma-
jority of participants were employed full-time (79.1%), as were
their partners (84.1%), and did not plan on changing their or their
partner’s employment status once the baby was born (54.2%).
Household income ranged from less than $20,000 to more than
$100,001; 48.2% of participants earned at least $80,001. A major-
ity of participants reported living in an urban area (53.2%), but
participants resided across the United States. The majority of
participants had earned at least a bachelor’s degree (71.9%). Par-
ticipants’ ages ranged from 18 46 years (M27.93, SD 4.36).
Participants also reported on their religiosity, which was measured
using three items (M2.98, SD 1.32, Range 1–5, ␣⫽.92,
e.g., “How religious are you?”). For a full description of the
demographics in the sample, see Table 1.
Measures
See Table 2 for means and standard deviations of all main study
variables.
Amount of TV use. Participants were asked about their gen-
eral consumption of TV programming by indicating the number of
hours they watch TV on a typical weekday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Response options ranged from 0 to more than 10 hours. A weekly
sum of TV hours was computed by multiplying the reported
weekday usage by five and then adding the Saturday and Sunday
hours (Ward, 2002). Although participants watched a substantial
amount of TV per week, more than 30 hours on average, there was
considerable variability across participants M30.81, SD
19.32. Twenty-five percent of the sample reported watching TV 14
hours or less per week, and 25% reported watching 49 hours or
more per week.
Father programming selection & exposure to selected
programs. Programs were initially selected from TV Guide’s
list of programs (N243) airing with new episodes in 2013
through 2014. Independent ratings were then gathered to identify
which TV programs featured fathers as a main character. Raters
only rated programs that they were familiar with; if they were not
familiar with a program, they skipped that program. Raters were
50 individuals consisting of a multiethnic sample of 39 women and
11 men aged 20 48 (M27.58, SD 5.06) solicited from
Facebook and laboratory colleagues. All ratings were conducted
anonymously on Qualtrics. Frequencies of whether or not there
was a main character as a father in a program (yes/no) were
calculated for programs that were rated by at least 4 individuals
(N157). Programs that were at least 50% yes were included in
the pool of father programming (N76). One month after the
ratings were obtained, one program began airing that prominently
featured fathers (Surviving Jack), and we included this program in
the list of selected father programming (N77).
Selected father programming (N77) was then rated by a
multiethnic sample of 58 independent raters (40 women, 18 men;
aged 21– 66 years old; M29.13, SD 9.80) who were solicited
from Facebook and laboratory colleagues. Raters rated programs
for the prominence of the father role on each program. Each
program and each attribute was rated on a 7-point Likert scale.
Specifically, raters were asked if the fathers portrayed on the
program are 1 not at all prominent to7extremely prominent.
Independent raters were given a “not familiar” option if they have
not seen the program. Of the initial 77 programs, 30 were rated
above 5.5 in the father character’s prominence, and these 30 were
designated as “father prominent” programs.
Participants were given the list of 30 programs that prominently
portrayed fathers as a recurring character drawn from new pro-
gramming that aired during the 2013 through 2014 TV season. Ten
Table 1
Participant Characteristics
Characteristic Mean SD
Age (in years) 27.93 4.36
Years in current relationship 5.66 4.05
Months pregnant 5.40 2.16
N%
Highest level of education
Some college/Associate’s degree or less 55 27.6%
Bachelor’s degree 90 44.8%
Master’s degree or higher 54 27.1%
Race/ethnicity
American Indian/Alaska Native 3 1.5%
Asian/Asian-American 30 14.9%
Black/African-American 16 8.0%
Hispanic/Latino 20 10.0%
White/European-American 142 70.6%
Other 1 .5%
Region of United States
Northeast 22 10.9%
Midwest 48 23.9%
South 44 21.9%
West 86 42.8%
Living area
Rural 21 10.4%
Suburban 73 36.3%
Urban 107 53.2%
Employment status
Full-time 159 79.1%
Part-time 27 13.4%
Unemployed 15 7.5%
Partner’s employment status
Full-time 169 84.1%
Part-time 22 10.9%
Unemployed 10 5.0%
Household income
$20,000 20 10.0%
$20,001 to $40,000 27 13.4%
$40,001 to $60,000 26 12.9%
$60,001 to $80,000 31 15.4%
$80,001 to $100,000 26 12.9%
100,001 71 35.3%
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4KUO AND WARD
programs were dramas (e.g., The Walking Dead, Parenthood), 13
programs were sitcoms (e.g., Modern Family, Raising Hope), two
programs were comedy-dramas (i.e., Louie, Shameless), four were
animated (e.g., Family Guy, The Simpsons), and one was reality
(Teen Mom). Participants were asked how frequently they viewed
each program on a 0 –3 scale, with 0 never,1sometimes
(1–10 episodes), 2 often (10 –20 episodes), and 3 all the time
(most or all episodes). To determine the total amount of father
exposure, participants’ responses to frequency of viewing each
program was summed across the prominent father programs (Au-
brey, 2006). Participants did not have a lot of exposure to pro-
grams prominently featuring fathers, whose mean fell at 23.5 of a
possible 90 (M23.25, SD 22.15).
Perceived realism. Beliefs about the level of realism of TV
portrayals were assessed by a 6-item, modified version of the
Perceived Realism scale (Rubin, 1981). Each item was rated on a
7-point Likert scale from 1strongly disagree to 7strongly
agree. Example statements included “People on TV handle their
problems just like real people do” and “TV lets me really see how
other people live.” A mean across items was used as a composite
(␣⫽.75). Perceived realism was present to a moderate degree,
M3.59, SD 1.14.
Learning motivation. The 11-item learning motivation scale
(Ward & Rivadeneyra, 1999) measured the extent to which indi-
viduals watch TV to learn about the world (e.g., “I like to watch
TV because it helps me learn about myself and others”). Each item
was rated on a 6-point Likert scale from 1 strongly disagree to
6strongly agree. A composite was created using the sum across
items based on previous uses of the scale (␣⫽.94). Learning
motives were present to a moderate degree, M41.76, SD
11.85.
Family gender role beliefs. Beliefs concerning the roles of
women and men with regard to family, work, and children were
measured by the 20-item Gender Role Attitudes scale (Bird, Bird,
& Scruggs, 1984). Higher scores on the questionnaire indicated
more egalitarian gender beliefs, whereas lower scores indicated
more traditional gender beliefs. Higher scores reflected beliefs that
husbands and wives should have equal decision making power and
shared responsibility within the family and home. Lower scores
reflected traditional beliefs that fathers should be breadwinners
and mothers should be caregivers. Each item was rated on a
7-point Likert scale from 1 strongly disagree to7strongly
agree. Example items included “A married man’s chief responsi-
bility should be his job” (reverse coded) and “A husband should be
just as willing as a wife to stay home from work and care for a sick
child.” A composite was created using the mean of all items (␣⫽
.91). The mean scores reflecting beliefs about egalitarian family
roles were moderate, indicating that there was a spectrum of
gender-traditional to gender-egalitarian beliefs within the sample,
M4.89, SD .90.
Role of fathers. Beliefs about the importance of the fathers’
role to child development were measured using the 15-item Role
of the Father Questionnaire (Palkovitz, 1984). Each item was rated
on a 5-point Likert scale, from 1 disagree strongly to5agree
strongly. Higher scores indicated that fathers are capable of and
should be involved and sensitive with their infants. Example items
included “Fathers play a central role in the child’s personality
development” and “Mothers are naturally more sensitive caregiv-
ers than fathers are (reverse coded).” A composite was created
using the sum of all items (␣⫽.79). The mean scores reflecting
beliefs about fathers’ importance to child development were mod-
erate, indicating that there was a spectrum of father-unimportant to
father-important and gender-traditional beliefs within the sample,
M57.69, SD 7.04.
Results
Preliminary Analyses
To test potential differences in study variables between women
and men, we conducted a series of ttests; results are listed in the
final column of Table 2. Overall, men engaged with TV more than
women, and women held more egalitarian gender and father-
positive beliefs than men. Men watched more weekly hours of TV
and more TV programs that prominently featured fathers than did
women. Men perceived TV to be more realistic and reported
stronger learning motives than did women. Women believed fa-
thers were more important to child development and endorsed
stronger egalitarian gender beliefs than did men. These results
indicated that, as suspected, gender could be a potential moderator
of TV use variables on beliefs about family roles.
The second set of preliminary analyses tested whether each of
the following demographic factors was significantly related to the
gender and father role beliefs: age, educational attainment, income,
race, religiosity, relationship length, pregnancy length, and plans
to change employment after the birth. Correlations were conducted
between the continuous demographic variables (age, religiosity,
relationship length, pregnancy length) with belief variables. Sig-
nificant differences in categorical demographic variables (race,
educational attainment, income, plans to change employment)
Table 2
Descriptive Statistics and Gender Differences Among Study Variables
Variable Sample range Overall M(SD) Men M(SD) Women M(SD)df t
Exposure to TV father programming .00–79.00 23.25 (22.15) 30.69 (24.21) 18.53 (19.42) 126 3.57
ⴱⴱ
Weekly TV exposure 4.00–70.00 30.81 (19.32) 34.39 (20.96) 28.51 (17.91) 140 2.01
Perceived realism 1.00–6.17 3.59 (1.14) 3.88 (1.07) 3.39 (1.15) 199 2.99
ⴱⴱ
Learning motive 11.00–66.00 41.78 (11.85) 44.96 (11.20) 39.71 (11.84) 199 3.14
ⴱⴱ
Beliefs in role of father in child development 37.00–73.00 57.69 (7.04) 55.76 (6.25) 58.94 (7.27) 199 3.20
ⴱⴱ
Egalitarian gender role beliefs 3.60–6.90 4.89 (.90) 4.61 (.77) 5.06 (.94) 188 3.73
ⴱⴱⴱ
Note. TV father programming based on of shows with 5.5 or higher rating in father prominence (N30).
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.01.
ⴱⴱⴱ
p.001.
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5
TELEVISION AND BELIEFS ABOUT FATHERS’ ROLES
were tested using one-way ANOVAs. A median split was con-
ducted on income (less than $80,000, more than $80,001), and
education was recoded to three levels (some college or less,
bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or higher) before analysis.
Race, relationship length, and plans to change employment after
birth did not emerge as significant covariates.
Participants who endorsed stronger egalitarian gender beliefs
were less religious, r(201) ⫽⫺.42, p.001, and older, r(187)
.14, p.05. Participants who earned a Master’s Degree or higher
endorsed stronger gender egalitarianism, F(2, 196) 28.12, p
.001, and stronger endorsement of fathers’ importance to child
development, F(2, 196) 10.33, p.001. Participants who
endorsed weaker gender egalitarianism earned a household income
of more than $80,001, compared with those who earned less than
$80,000, F(1, 199) 4.13, p.05. All significant covariates
(religiosity, age, education, income) were entered into each regres-
sion analysis.
Correlational Analyses
To test whether expectant parents’ TV use correlated with their
gendered family beliefs, we conducted zero-order correlations
between the four media variables (exposure to fathers on TV,
weekly TV exposure, perceived realism of TV, and learning mo-
tives) and the two family belief variables. Results are provided in
Tables 3 and 4. Analyses were conducted for the full sample, and
then separately for men and women.
Among all participants, TV use variables were linked with less
egalitarian gender beliefs and weaker endorsement that fathers
were important to child development, providing support for our
hypothesis that heavier viewing, stronger perceived realism, and
stronger learning motives would each be associated with weaker
beliefs that fathers are important to child development and less
egalitarian gender role beliefs.
Among men, more frequent exposure to programs featuring
fathers, greater weekly TV exposure, higher perceived realism, and
a stronger learning motive each correlated with expressing less
egalitarian beliefs about family gender roles. Men who perceived
TV to be less realistic also endorsed stronger beliefs that fathers
were important to child development. Among women, more fre-
quent exposure to programs featuring fathers, greater weekly TV
exposure, higher perceived realism, and a stronger learning motive
each correlated with expressing less egalitarian family role beliefs
and weaker beliefs that fathers were important to child develop-
ment.
Fewer TV use variables were significantly correlated with
men’s beliefs about the role of fathers than women’s. The differ-
ences in correlation results between women and men further indi-
cated that gender was potentially a moderator of TV variables on
family beliefs.
Multiple Regression Analyses
To further test the hypotheses that TV use variables contribute
differently to expectant parents’ beliefs about gender and father
roles for women and men, we conducted multiple regressions. The
dependent variables were gender role beliefs and belief of fathers’
importance to child development. All significant covariates (reli-
giosity, age, income, education) were entered into each equation.
To test for gender differences, gender was entered as a standalone
predictor, and interaction terms between gender and TV variables
were entered as separate predictors. All continuous variables were
centered prior to creating interaction terms and were entered as
centered predictors into the regression analyses. See Table 5 for
regression coefficients.
Beliefs about the importance of fathers to child development
were tested first. This model accounted for a sizable 37.6% (Adj.
R
2
.32) of the variance in expectant parents’ beliefs about the
importance of fathers to child development, F(15, 153) 6.15,
p.001. Participants who earned a Master’s Degree or higher
endorsed stronger beliefs that fathers were important to child
development, as did women. Expectant parents who perceived TV
to be more realistic endorsed weaker beliefs that fathers were
important. A significant two-way interaction emerged between
gender and exposure to TV featuring fathers. A significant three-
way interaction emerged between gender, exposure to TV featur-
ing fathers, and perceived realism. Significant interactions were
probed in post hoc simple slopes analyses (Preacher, Curran, &
Bauer, 2006).
Simple slopes analyses for the two-way interaction between
gender and exposure to TV featuring fathers revealed that neither
slope was significantly different from zero, meaning that within
gender, high or low exposure did not predict beliefs about fathers.
But the patterns of exposure to fathers on TV on beliefs about
fathers were moderated by gender (see Figure 1). Put another way,
high exposure to TV fathers reflected more negative beliefs about
fathers in men, but not women.
See Figure 2 for graphical presentation for the three-way inter-
action between gender, exposure to TV featuring fathers, and
perceived realism. Simple slopes analyses revealed that when men
Table 3
Zero-Order Correlations Between Media Use and Family Role Variables in All Participants
(N 174 –201)
Variable 1 2 3 4 5 6
1. Beliefs in role of father in child development
2. Egalitarian gender role beliefs .58
ⴱⴱⴱ
3. Exposure to TV father programming .28
ⴱⴱⴱ
.47
ⴱⴱⴱ
4. Weekly TV exposure .29
ⴱⴱⴱ
.47
ⴱⴱⴱ
.69
ⴱⴱⴱ
5. Perceived realism .44
ⴱⴱⴱ
.62
ⴱⴱⴱ
.61
ⴱⴱⴱ
.62
ⴱⴱⴱ
6. Learning motive .27
ⴱⴱⴱ
.48
ⴱⴱⴱ
.59
ⴱⴱⴱ
.56
ⴱⴱⴱ
.73
ⴱⴱⴱ
ⴱⴱⴱ
p.001.
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6KUO AND WARD
have low perceived realism, they endorse more negative beliefs
about fathers only when they also have high exposure to TV
fathers, b.37, t⫽⫺2.99, p.01. No other slopes were
significantly different from zero, meaning that level of exposure to
TV fathers did not matter within women with high or low per-
ceived realism and men with high perceived realism.
The second model predicted egalitarian gender beliefs. This
model accounted for a substantial 55% (Adj R
2
.51) of the
variance in expectant parents’ egalitarian gender role beliefs, F(15,
153) 12.68, p.001. Participants who earned a master’s degree
or higher endorsed stronger egalitarian beliefs, as did less religious
participants, and women. Expectant parents who perceived TV to
be more realistic endorsed less egalitarian beliefs. There were no
significant interactions.
Discussion
In the current study we explored whether media use and expo-
sure to TV programs featuring fathers were related to expectant
parents’ beliefs about fathers and beliefs about roles within fam-
ilies. Although we found bivariate associations between partici-
pants’ exposure to TV fathers and beliefs about fathers, our re-
gression analyses indicated that perceived realism of TV was a
stronger predictor of expectant parents’ beliefs when controlling
for weekly TV exposure, learning motives, and demographic co-
variates. The pattern of results differed between regressions pre-
dicting beliefs about egalitarian gender roles and about the impor-
tance of fathers. Whereas the only TV variable to uniquely predict
egalitarian gender role beliefs was perceived realism, results for
beliefs about fathers were more nuanced. Gender and perceived
realism moderated associations between exposure to TV fathers
and beliefs about fathers’ importance to child development. High
exposure to TV fathers reflected weaker beliefs that fathers were
important in men, but not women. Further, men endorsed weaker
beliefs that fathers were important when they had greater exposure
to TV fathers and perceived TV to be less realistic. The remainder
of the discussion will contextualize and evaluate our findings.
Previous research found that young women’s heavy exposure to
programs featuring traditional mothers was linked with more gen-
der traditional beliefs about motherhood (Ex et al., 2002). Simi-
larly, we found that more exposure to programs featuring fathers
Table 4
Zero-Order Correlations Between Media Use and Family Role Variables for Men and Women
Variable 1 2 3456
1. Beliefs in role of father in child development .59
ⴱⴱⴱ
.40
ⴱⴱⴱ
.48
ⴱⴱⴱ
.49
ⴱⴱⴱ
.35
ⴱⴱⴱ
2. Egalitarian gender role beliefs .48
ⴱⴱⴱ
.45
ⴱⴱⴱ
.47
ⴱⴱⴱ
.57
ⴱⴱⴱ
.48
ⴱⴱⴱ
3. Exposure to TV father programming .01 .42
ⴱⴱⴱ
— .62
ⴱⴱⴱ
.61
ⴱⴱⴱ
.52
ⴱⴱⴱ
4. Weekly TV exposure .05 .45
ⴱⴱⴱ
.75
ⴱⴱⴱ
— .67
ⴱⴱⴱ
.56
ⴱⴱⴱ
5. Perceived realism .24
.67
ⴱⴱⴱ
.56
ⴱⴱⴱ
.54
ⴱⴱⴱ
— .73
ⴱⴱⴱ
6. Learning motive .03 .41
ⴱⴱⴱ
.63
ⴱⴱⴱ
.55
ⴱⴱⴱ
.70
ⴱⴱⴱ
Note. Correlations for men are presented below the diagonal (N71–79); correlations for women are
presented above the diagonal (N107–122).
p.05.
ⴱⴱⴱ
p.001.
Table 5
Multiple Regressions Predicting Beliefs About Fathers’ Importance to Child Development and
Family Gender Role Beliefs
Importance of dads to child
development Egalitarian gender beliefs
Variable BSEBSE
Education
a
3.78
ⴱⴱ
1.15 .24 .68
ⴱⴱⴱ
.13 .34
Religiosity .55 .41 .10 .12
ⴱⴱ
.04 .18
Income
b
.32 .29 .08 .04 .03 .08
Age .12 .11 .07 .00 .01 .02
Gender
c
5.92
ⴱⴱⴱ
1.41 .41 .37
.15 .20
Exposure to dad TV .05 .06 .16 .01 .01 .18
Weekly TV exposure .09 .05 .24 .01 .01 .12
Perceived realism 3.59
ⴱⴱ
1.02 .58 .31
ⴱⴱ
.11 .39
Learning motive .04 .07 .07 .01 .01 .06
Gender Exposure to dad TV .22
.10 .46 .00 .01 .00
Gender Weekly TV .15 .08 .27 .01 .01 .10
Gender Perceived realism 2.33 1.50 .23 .06 .16 .05
Gender Learning motive .17 .13 .17 .02 .01 .17
Dad TV Realism .08 .04 .23 .00 .01 .09
Gender Dad TV realism .26
ⴱⴱ
.07 .55 .01 .01 .19
a
1Masters’ degree or higher, 0 Bachelor’s or lower.
b
1$80,001 per year or more, 0 less than
$80,000.
c
1Men, 0 Women.
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.01.
ⴱⴱⴱ
p.001.
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7
TELEVISION AND BELIEFS ABOUT FATHERS’ ROLES
was linked with less egalitarian family gender role beliefs in both
women and men. However, when we examined all media use
constructs together (exposure, perceived realism, and learning
motives), only perceived realism of TV content was uniquely
predictive of beliefs about gendered roles within families. Specif-
ically, individuals who perceived TV to be more realistic also
endorsed more traditional gender beliefs and believed that fathers
were less important to child development. Family gender role
beliefs tend to become more traditional during the transition to
parenthood (Katz-Wise, Priess, & Hyde, 2010), and these findings
represent a first insight into how media may be shaping beliefs
about family roles in women and men as they transition to parent-
hood.
We explored whether contributions of TV exposure and per-
ceived realism to family beliefs would differ by gender. Although
patterns concerning egalitarian gender beliefs did not differ be-
tween women and men, we did find that gender qualified associ-
ations between exposure to TV fathers and expectant parents’
beliefs about fathers’ importance. Whereas men who had high
exposure to TV fathers offered less endorsement that fathers were
important to child development, there were no effects of exposure
on beliefs about fathers in women. It is possible that unattractive
(bumbling or unfaithful) portrayals of fathers are counter to ex-
pectant mothers’ desires for an involved and equal partner, and
therefore women may not rely as much on these images for forming
their beliefs about fathers’ roles in families.
First time expectant fathers held a particularly negative view of
fathers’ importance to child development when they had high
exposure to TV fathers, despite perceiving TV to be less realistic.
These results provide some support for our hypothesis that first
time expectant men’s beliefs about family roles and fathers would
be more strongly influenced by media use than women’s, given
Figure 1. Gender moderates the association between exposure to television fathers and beliefs about fathers’
importance to child development. Low values plotted at 1SD, high values at 1SD. Neither slope was
significantly different from zero.
Figure 2. Gender, exposure to television fathers, and perceived realism interact to predict beliefs about fathers’
importance to child development. Low values plotted at 1SD, high values at 1SD. n.s. nonsignificant.
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8KUO AND WARD
that women’s roles as mothers are more clearly prescribed in
American society than are men’s roles as fathers. Previous quali-
tative research in South Africa found that fathers wanted to learn
about fathers’ roles through TV (Hinckley et al., 2007), and we
found that the more exposure men have to fathers on TV, the less
importance they place on fathers’ roles.
Our findings seem counter to existing media influence theories
that posit that values conveyed on TV need to have a positive or
attractive outcome to be adopted as one’s own beliefs (Bandura,
2002). Why would expectant fathers be affected by images of
bumbling, disinterested, or insensitive fathers if it is a negative
portrayal of their group? We offer a few explanations. First, there
may be elements of men’s portrayals as fathers that are attractive.
For example, Walter White of Breaking Bad and Tony Soprano
may not be sensitive fathers, but they are formidable and powerful
men. Phil Dunphy and Jay Pritchett from Modern Family may not
be the most competent fathers, but they are married to beautiful
wives and are adored by their families. Although the portrayals of
these men as fathers are negative, the overall portrayals of these
fathers as men are attractive because they portray these men as
powerful, dominant, or sexually virile. Yet these attractive por-
trayals of men are still incompatible with beliefs about men as
important in children’s lives. Thus, expectant fathers may be
encoding messages about masculinity that are discordant with
sensitive, involved fatherhood.
A second explanation is that messages may still be encoded even if
they are negative. According to stereotype threat theories and re-
search, negative stereotypes that are widely circulated through culture
can impact groups that are at risk for being negatively stereotyped
(Steele, 1997). Thus, negative portrayals of fathers may be influential
on expectant fathers as a result of stereotype threat processes. Because
men are already less socialized into parenting roles than women, even
negative media portrayals may be especially influential on men’s
beliefs about fatherhood.
Our three-way interaction findings provide some support for the
stereotype threat perspective. Men appear to be more susceptible to
media messages about fathers, regardless of their perceived real-
ism. Even men who perceived TV to be less realistic expressed
weaker beliefs that fathers were important for children when men
who had more exposure to fathers on TV. Given that men have not
been as socialized into father roles as women into mother roles,
men’s beliefs about fathers may be more easily shaped by TV
portrayals. A third explanation for our interaction findings may
also be partly a function of the types of programs women and men
watch on a regular basis. Women tend to watch more soap operas,
drama, and romance, whereas men tend to watch more horror and
action-adventure programs (Valkenburg, Peter, & Walther, 2015).
Our measure of exposure to TV fathers had a broad range of
portrayals across genre types. Whereas the fathers in the female-
oriented drama Parenthood tend to be loving and competent, the
father in the more male-oriented Two and a Half Men tends to be
bumbling and incompetent. Other male-oriented programs (Sons of
Anarchy,Breaking Bad) tend to portray fathers as men who
inevitably hurt their family through their criminal activity. Al-
though content analyses have only focused on how fathers are
portrayed in sitcoms (Pehlke, Hennon, Radina, & Kuvalanka,
2009; Scharrer, 2001; Troilo, 2015), an analysis of father roles in
more male-oriented programs is sorely warranted because men’s
beliefs may be affected by these negative portrayals.
Whereas our multiple regressions predicting beliefs about fa-
thers’ importance suggested that the contribution of exposure to
TV fathers was moderated by both gender and perceived realism,
our results for gender role beliefs suggested a potentially mediat-
ing role of perceived realism on TV viewing. Given that the
zero-order correlations suggested that there were individual con-
tributions of TV exposure on family gender role beliefs but once
entered into the multiple regression with perceived realism, TV
exposure was no longer significant, it could be possible that
perceived realism actually mediates the relationship between TV
exposure and gender role beliefs. Previous work has found per-
ceived realism to be a moderator or mediator of TV exposure on
beliefs and attitudes (Peter & Valkenburg, 2010; Ward & Carlson,
2013). Because our data are cross-sectional and correlational, we
cannot adequately test a mediation hypothesis. Future research
could employ an experimental or longitudinal design to test the
mediating role of perceived realism between TV exposure and
gender role beliefs.
Similar to previous literature reporting null results concerning
learning motives and beliefs about parenting (Ex et al., 2002), we
did not find that learning motives were uniquely predictive of
gender and family role beliefs. Learning motives may vary by
genre or by program, which may explain our results. Viewers may
have different levels of learning motives with certain programs
compared to others. For example, viewers may watch the heartfelt
drama Parenthood with more intentions of learning about parent-
ing roles than the dysfunctional reality program Teen Mom or
animated sitcom Family Guy. Our measure of learning motives did
not capture this sensitivity across programs. Similarly, our mea-
sure of perceived realism did not assess realism per program.
Future research could ask participants learning motives or per-
ceived realism specific to certain programs, but this would require
constraints on the number of programs assessed. Given the im-
mense variety of programming available across platforms, only
using a limited number of programs to assess learning motives or
perceived realism could pose challenges for reflecting actual TV
use.
Our study had several strengths. We were able to obtain a fairly
diverse sample from across the United States using our data
collection and recruitment strategies, which increases the general-
izability of our results to other first-time expectant parents. It
should be noted, however, that we used a convenience sample, and
not a nationally representative one. Additional strengths of our
study included a systematic identification of TV programs featur-
ing fathers across genres and networks. Previous studies on father
portrayals on TV have only examined domestic comedies. We
were able to create a measure that reflected the broad variety of
programming available that was not constrained by the segmenta-
tion of televised media.
Despite the significant findings reported here, we acknowledge
limitations in our approach that future studies will want to address.
First, we acknowledge that media habits and gender beliefs are not
likely to be fully independent within couples. Between-couple
variation may be greater than the variation between men and
women, but we cannot test this notion using our data. Future
replications can include examinations of family beliefs and TV
viewing habits within and across couples. Because we designed the
study to maintain independence of data by collecting responses
from only one member of the couple, we can be confident that our
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9
TELEVISION AND BELIEFS ABOUT FATHERS’ ROLES
results are attributable to gender differences between women and
men and not differences between couples. Second, our data are
cross-sectional and correlational, so we cannot determine whether
expectant parents seek out programming consistent with their
beliefs about parenting or whether their beliefs are being shaped by
how realistic they perceive TV. Nevertheless, our findings repre-
sented an initial insight into what facet of media consumption
might be most important for the development of family role-
related beliefs. Because TV exposure was correlated but not
uniquely predictive of family role beliefs, future research can
explore perceived realism as the potential mechanism by which
TV use is related to family role beliefs in either a longitudinal or
experimental design. Third, we may have excluded programs
featuring fathers that expectant parents in our sample watched.
Future research could ask participants to fill in their most recently
watched programs to obtain an individualized measure of TV
exposure.
In conclusion, this study represented a first attempt to use a
quantitative approach to test a long-held hypothesis that negative
portrayals of fathers on TV are influencing beliefs about fathers
within families. We explored whether exposure to fathers on TV
was relevant for first-time expectant parents’ beliefs about fathers
and gendered family roles because family role beliefs during the
transition to parenthood contribute to well-being after the birth of
a child. From our results, perceived realism of TV was consistently
predictive of beliefs about family and father roles, rather than
exposure to TV featuring fathers. Therefore, expectant parents
who believe TV to be more realistic may be actively applying the
gendered messages of TV to their own expectations of parenthood
and family roles. Finally, expectant fathers’ beliefs about the
importance of fathers to child development appeared to be espe-
cially vulnerable to TV portrayals of fathers.
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Received April 23, 2015
Revision received December 9, 2015
Accepted December 15, 2015
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
11
TELEVISION AND BELIEFS ABOUT FATHERS’ ROLES
... Both cultivation theory and social-cognitive theory have been used to explain TV's role in shaping understandings of and conformity with gender roles and norms (Dill & Thill, 2007;Sink & Mastro, 2017). In fact, Kuo and Ward (2016) found that exposure to televised portrayals of incompetent fathers was correlated with holding less egalitarian beliefs about gender roles within a sample of heterosexual couples expecting their first child; depictions of fathers may have important real-world effects. ...
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