Associations Between Media Exposure and Attitudes About Sexual Interactions and Assault

Past research has documented the effects of sexual media content on viewers’ attitudes and beliefs (see Wright et al., 2012). It has been shown that media perpetuates myths about sexual violence victimization and perpetration (Zatkin et al., 2021). While popular television shows have been evaluated for rape myths (Kahlor & Morrison, 2007), it is unclear how perpetration myths are present or absent in popular television shows. Popular media content also contains frequent depictions of what has been termed the “heterosexual script “(Kim et al., 2007). The heterosexual script includes attitudes, feelings, and behaviors in sexual relationships that support power inequities between men and women. Research has identified “perceived realism” as a moderator of the effects of media content on viewer attitudes and beliefs. Perceived realism is the degree to which individuals believe television and movie content reflect real life and depict people and events in plausible ways (Ward & Cox, 2021). The current study sought to replicate prior research by examining the associations between television exposure, including programs that contain sexual assault, and endorsement of rape myths, perpetrator myths, and the heterosexual script among a sample of undergraduates. Perceived reality of television was examined as a moderator of these associations.