KU News Service

Study explores whether media usage can predict beliefs on racial, gender equality

Wed, 09/03/2014

LAWRENCE — Egalitarianism, the philosophy that all people should be treated equally both socially and politically, has existed much longer than most media formats, but two University of Kansas professors have authored research examining whether individuals’ media usage can predict their support for the egalitarian value of racial equality.

Tien-Tsung Lee, associate professor of journalism, and Yvonnes Chen, assistant professor of journalism, analyzed survey data of thousands of Americans finding that support for racial equality is part of three egalitarian dimensions: racial attitudes, gender roles and attitudes toward sexual minorities. The researchers compared respondents’ types of media usages to answers they gave to questions asking about issues ranging from religious and political beliefs to openness to other cultures and roles of men and women.

“I thought, ‘Maybe people who support racial equality would support equality for others as well,’ but wanted to learn more,” Lee said. “We found most media don’t have any association with this support. Only four or five had an effect, which didn’t surprise us.”

Lee’s previous research has shown that media do not tend to influence people’s political or other beliefs; rather, individuals hold beliefs and choose to consume media that reflect and enforce them. This study, however, found that people who support equality tend to consume blogs, online videos and radio while tending not to use online professional networks as often as those who do not.

Lee and Chen presented the research at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications conference in Montreal in August.

Lee and Chen analyzed data from a global marketing agency, which since 1975 has gathered a wide range of survey data on American adult consumers. The 2008 survey, the most recent available, had information from more than 7,000 respondents.

The findings showed that people who support racial equality also largely supported gender equality. Conversely, racism, sexism and homophobia were tightly connected as well, with individuals who did not support equality among the races also answering that they did not support equality for women or sexual minorities as well. The survey gathered such data by asking about racism (if people would vote for an African-American if their political party were to nominate one and their opinion on inter-racial marriage), sexism (whether they believe mothers should be in the workforce and if men make better leaders) and homophobia (if they support equal rights for same-sex couples).

One valuable aspect of the study is the finding that people who support the egalitarian values of racial, gender and sexual equality tend to use certain types of media, which can provide insight for groups trying to reach those audiences. In a wide-open media landscape, it can be difficult to reach target demographics, but blogs, online videos and radio were common among those supporting equality.

Lee cautioned against drawing or attempting to confirm stereotypes based on the findings. For example, many of the people who reported being religious also indicated support for all three measures of equality, including for samesex couples. And others who claimed to be politically liberal did not automatically support such equality. However, the data does suggest that organizations that work to support equality for certain groups can effectively work together with organizations aimed at others, as the audiences often overlap.

The researchers hope to expand on the research by looking more closely at the types of media people consume and their beliefs on equality. The survey data did not differentiate which types of blogs people read or whether they listened to conservative talk radio over other types, for example. The study was among the first to compare egalitarianism and media habits, and the authors hope to build on that.

“One interpretation is that there are just so many media channels out there that you can’t make assumptions,” Lee said. “You can read blogs that are conservative or liberal or watch videos from any number of perspectives. If you really want to study media effects, you have to specify.”

Happy Kansas Day, Kansans! We caught sunflowers standing tall at the Grinter Family Farms just outside Lawrence last fall. You may wonder how the sunflower came to be the State flower in 1903 and we found an excerpt from Kansas legislation: Whereas, Kansas has a native wild flower common throughout her borders, hardy and conspicuous, of definite, unvarying and striking shape, easily sketched, moulded, and carved, having armorial capacities, ideally adapted for artistic reproduction, with its strong, distinct disk and its golden circle of clear glowing rays -- a flower that a child can draw on a slate, a woman can work in silk, or a man can carve on stone or fashion in clay; and Whereas, This flower has to all Kansans a historic symbolism which speaks of frontier days, winding trails, pathless prairies, and is full of the life and glory of the past, the pride of the present, and richly emblematic of the majesty of a golden future, and is a flower which has given Kansas the world-wide name, "the sunflower state"... Be it enacted ... that the helianthus or wild native sunflower is ... designated ... the state flower and floral emblem of the state of Kansas.

Have family visiting Lawrence? #exploreKU and take them to the @KUnhm like @ChrisCanDesign did.
Explore KU: The Bells of Mount Oread KU’s Campanile, a 120-foot-tall timepiece that tolls automatically on the hour and quarter-hour, not only sounded in the 2015 New Year at midnight with 12 mighty gongs, but also regularly rings up memories for many Jayhawks – the 277 faculty and students who gave their lives during World War II, the graduates who walk through its doors at commencement, and aspiring students who have strolled through the Lawrence campus. (See For nearly 60 years, KU’s 53-bell carillon has been tolling the sounds of peace and serenity across Mount Oread since it was installed in June 1955 inside the landmark World War II Memorial Campanile, which was dedicated in 1951. (See The carillon is also a four-octave musical instrument, which is played with a giant keyboard and foot pedals. University Carillonneur Elizabeth Egber-Berghout (, associate professor of carillon and organ, climbs 77 steps up a spiral staircase in the bell tower to perform recitals several times a month.

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26 prestigious Rhodes Scholars — more than all other Kansas colleges combined
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46 nationally ranked graduate programs.
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23rd nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets," Military Times