When Americans rely primarily on television shows, movies and the news media for information about Muslims, their attitude toward Muslims may be negatively influenced, a new University of Michigan study finds.
But relying on direct contact with Muslims for information produces the opposite effect.
“These findings reflect the importance of media and direct contact in influencing attitudes towards marginalized groups,” said Muniba Saleem, U-M assistant professor of communication studies and the study’s lead author. “If people have direct contact with Muslims in their daily lives they are much less likely in the long-term to display anti-Muslim hostility and support policies harming Muslims.”
The U-M research is one of the few studies to longitudinally examine the simultaneous effects of reliance of direct and media-based sources for information on support for public policies targeting an “outgroup”—individuals outside of one’s core segment. In this study, Muslims were examined.
“Overall, this research highlights the difficulty in improving attitudes and public policies…involving marginalized groups,” Saleem said.
The findings involved two studies, including a longitudinal study with more than 200 undergraduate students who answered the same questions three times across the semester. Participants were asked about the extent to which they rely on media (television, newspapers, movies, internet) and direct contact (friendships with Muslims) for information about Muslims.
Next, they answered questions about their perceptions of and emotions toward Muslims and support for policies restricting the civil liberties of Muslim Americans and military action in Muslim countries.
A second study used a different sample: An equal number for party identification (Republicans or Democrats) with about 350 adult participants.
Saleem collaborated on the study with Grace Yang, a researcher in the U-M Department of Psychology in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, and Srividya Ramasubramanian, a researcher at Texas A&M University.
The findings appear in the Journal of Communication.