Traditional Family Relationships
and Television Viewing in Greece
By Thimios Zaharopoulos,
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
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).
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
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,
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
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
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