Diana C. Mutz, Ph.D., the Samuel A. Stouffer Professor of Communication and Political Science, has published the article “Not Necessarily the News: Does Fictional Television Influence Real-World Policy Preferences?” in Mass Communication and Society (April 2010) along with Lilach Nir (Ph.D. '04), now faculty at the Hebrew Univresity.
Political leaders and general publics express concerns about the influence of fictional programming on public attitudes, while news researchers assume fiction has limited political consequences. We re-examine these assumptions using an experimental design in which non-college respondents were assigned to watch episodes of popular crime drama Law & Order, each with contrary implications about the fallibility of the criminal justice system. Fictional portrayals of the system affected perceptions of its fairness and opinions on crime-relevant policies. Effects occurred among those who experienced empathy for fictional characters, suggesting that emotional involvement in fiction is key to understanding its political effects.