No. 6, Spring/Summer 2001
Issue 6 home page
Return to current issue
Archives main page
Peer Reviewed
Paper Competition Winner: Global Fusion 2000

Traditional Family Relationships and Television Viewing in Greece

By Thimios Zaharopoulos, Ph.D.
Department of Mass Media, Washburn University

The purpose of this study is to look at Greek adolescents' television viewing and how it relates to their attitudes toward the family and traditional relationships between parents and adolescent children. The approach used here is the cultivation hypothesis.

The cultivation hypothesis states that the more television people watch, the more likely they are to hold a view of reality that is closer to television's depiction of reality. This is characterized by the work of George Gerbner and his colleagues (Gerbner et al., 1979). Their work starts with the cultural indicators project, which looks at the content of television programming. It then relates it to the perceptions of heavy versus light viewers about a variety of subjects. Cultivation research has showed that amount of viewing is associated with images of violence, sex roles, aging, politics, health, religion, minorities, jobs, the environment and other topics (Morgan and Shanahan, 1997).

Television constitutes a shared cultural environment made up of images and representations with which people grow up (Morgan, Leggett and Shanahan, 1999). Generally, the beliefs of heavy television viewers about the real world are consistent with the repetitive and emphasized images and themes presented on television (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, and Signorielli, 1994). As such, heavy viewing cultivates a television-shaped view of the world (Hawkins, Pingree and Alter, 1987).

Cultivation theory generally assumes that "light viewers tend to be exposed to more varied and diverse information sources, while heavy viewers, by definition, tend to rely more on TV" (Signorielli and Morgan, 1990, p. 17). But in other societies, where there has not been as great a need to attract large audiences as in the United States, television content may not be as homogenized.

In Greece, for example, there is diversity in programming, not only in genres but also in terms of national origin, as viewers have the opportunity to watch Greek, US, British, French and Brazilian programs. Greek television has historically had a good deal of US programs. Up until the late 1980s, when there were only two (public) Greek television channels, they averaged between 38 and 48 percent in imported programming, most of which came from the United States (Zaharopoulos, 1990). The introduction of private television in Greece in 1989 revolutionized the market. Initially, imports from the United States were the main source of programming for the new private stations, sometimes making up over 50 percent of their total programming. Slowly, however, as the major Greek stations increased their local production, the share of foreign programming per major station decreased (Zaharopoulos and Paraschos, 1993).

According to Morgan (1990), cultivation is highly culture specific. "The symbolic environment of any culture reveals social and institutional dynamics, and because it expresses social patterns it also cultivates them" (p. 226). When this approach is used to study US television overseas, cultivation predictions cannot be as certain. For example, in an Australian study of over 1000 students, Pingree and Hawkins (1981) found that watching violent US television programs was more related to conceptions of reality in Australia than the reality of the United States.

One of the topics television portrays is the family and how family members relate to each other. For example, each family member can be a source of comfort, love, support, hostility, and pain for each other.

Skill et al. (1987) looked at US television families and found that over 65% of programs presented families that were rather conventional or traditional. Moore (1992) in a similar, but more encompassing, study found a similar result.

Cantor (1990) found that the families on television are generally presented as loving, supportive, and harmonious, as they rarely experience serious family conflict. Buerkel-Rothfuss, Greenberg, Atkin, and Neuendorf (1982) looked at what children learned by watching these television families. They found that those watching family programs were more likely to believe that real-life families show support and concern.

Signorielli (1991) found that adolescents who watched more television were more likely to want traditional family relationships such as getting married, staying married to the same person, and to have children (p. 145).

On the other hand, Morgan, Leggett, Shanahan (1999) found that heavy viewers tend to be less likely to endorse family values in the areas of illegitimacy and single parenthood (p. 54). However, age was an important intervening variable, as younger people were less traditional in their views. As they explained, this could possibly be "a result of, rather than a contributor to, non-conventional family views" (p. 58). In other words, young people who accepted illegitimacy and single parenthood turned to television more.

Many cultivation studies have shown that heavy viewers tend to hold more conservative values, reflecting the political and cultural mainstream presented on commercial television. Such values include support for traditional and harmonic family relationships (see Gerbner, Gross, Morgan and Signorielli, 1982; Morgan, 1986; Morgan and Shanahan, 1995).

Later studies of cultivation have gone beyond simply examining overall viewing, and have also looked at specific television genres (See Potter, 1993; Potter, 1994). Another important issue in this type of research is the perceived realism of television programs (Potter, 1986). For example, those who perceive television as more realistic are more likely to be influenced by its content. Again, one would expect that foreign viewers of US programs would differ with American viewers on this matter, because foreign viewers do not have a US experience with which to compare the realism of US television content. Elliott and Slater (1980), in a US study, for example, found that frequent viewers of certain programs tend to see them as more realistic, while those with direct positive experience (in this case with the police) perceived the programs as less realistic.

Another further refinement of traditional cultivation research is the consideration of the respondents' motivation to watch. For example, Stilling (1994) found that motivation and exposure to certain genres was a better predictor of television's acculturation effect than simply amount of viewing.

Generally, however, Gerbner et al. (1979) believe that "heavy television viewers perceive social reality differently from light TV viewers even when other factors are held constant" (p. 193), and this social reality is influenced by the amount of television viewing.

Given the overall findings that television, at least in the United States, tends to portray the family in more harmonious relationships, this study aims to test the following hypotheses:

1. Adolescent heavy television viewers will tend to favor more communication with their parents about love relationships and other problems.
2. Heavy television viewers of US television will tend to favor more communication with their parents about love relationships and other problems.
3. Heavy viewers of television will perceive the role of grandparents as more important in the family, than light viewers.
4. Given that US television does not often portray extended families involving grandparents, heavy viewers of US television will perceive grandparents as less important in the family than light viewers.
5. Heavy viewers of television will tend to believe that families are generally happy.
6. Heavy viewers of television, as compared to light viewers, will tend to believe that children should obey their parents.
7. Heavy viewers of television, compared to light viewers, will tend to adhere to more traditional views of Greek values, as expressed in their perception of "philotimo," and their church attendance.
8. Heavy viewers of US television, compared to light viewers, will tend to hold less traditional views of Greek values, as expressed in their perception of "philotimo," and their church attendance.
9. Heavy viewers of US television will hold more positive views about divorce.

Furthermore, in order to examine other television related variables, this study poses the following research question: What demographic, media consumption patterns, and other socioeconomic variables play a role in how viewers see traditional family relationships? Of particular interest are, such variables as, motivation to watch television, perception of realism of television programs, and specific types of media consumption.

Two Greek senior high schools, or lycea, were chosen for this research. One in a middle class section of Athens, and another in the agricultural town of Amaliada, which has a population of about 17,000 in southwestern Greece. These schools were chosen because they represent the urban/rural dichotomy of Greece, because they represent Greek society without extreme socioeconomic characteristics, and because access to these schools was easier, in terms of cooperating teachers and principals.

A survey questionnaire was designed first in English, using questions such as ones used in similar studies around the world, such as Kang and Morgan (1988). The instrument included Likert-type questions, as well as some open ended ones. This questionnaire was initially translated in the United States, and was later proofread and polished by professional proofreaders in Greece, and back-translated. Following approval of the proposed research by the Greek Ministry of Education and its Pedagogical Institute, which examined the questionnaire, the instrument was administered at the two schools. One teacher at each school was trained to instruct the other teachers on how to administer the questionnaire in their classes during the same day.

In order to test the hypotheses participants were split into two groups: heavy and light television viewers. Those watching television up to 150 minutes per day were classified as light viewers, while those watching more than 199 minutes were classified as heavy viewers. The average student watched 184 minutes per day, but the median was 174 minutes.

To answer the research question, a stepwise regression analysis was used to find predictor variables for each relationship. The following independent variables were used: Overall TV viewing; frequency of US program viewing; proportion of viewing devoted US and Greek programs; demographic and other socioeconomic characteristics of student and parents; amount of radio listening; frequency of newspaper reading; types of television viewing; specific program viewing; perceived realism of television programs; and motivation for viewing. continued

Next page: Findings


Copyright 2001 Transnational Broadcasting Studies
TBS is published by the Adham Center for Television Journalism, the American University in Cairo