SHAFAQNA – People whose only knowledge of Muslims comes from the media are very likely to have negative emotions and stereotypical beliefs about them, new research shows.
In the Journal of Communication, Srividya Ramasubramanian, associate dean of liberal arts and professor of communication at Texas A&M University, used multiple studies, surveying non-Muslims on how much they relied on direct contact with Muslims versus media-based contact.
“We observed that almost on a daily basis, media depictions of Muslims are extremely negative.”
Then they measured participants’ negative emotions toward Muslims, perceptions of Muslims as aggressive, support for civil restrictions against Muslims, and support for military action against Muslim countries.
“We observed that almost on a daily basis, media depictions of Muslims are extremely negative,” Ramasubramanian says. “Almost without exception, they are portrayed in stereotypical ways as violent, criminal, and extreme. Islamophobia is on the rise and even some American political leaders have expressed hateful sentiments towards Muslims.”
The researchers found a correlation between people who rely on media depictions of Muslims and having negative attitudes, versus those with direct interactions who were less likely to view Muslims negatively.
“Our findings show that individuals who rely on the media for information on Muslims have greater negative emotions toward Muslims and increased perceptions of Muslims as aggressive, which in turn leads to support for civil restrictions against Muslims and military actions against Muslim countries,” says Ramasubramanian.
“Direct contact with Muslims had an opposite effect,” she continues. “In other words, reliance on media portrayals of Muslims as compared to direct contact through friends and acquaintances leads to several negative outcomes.”
Some participants with negative attitudes toward Muslims expressed what Ramasubramanian describes as domestic and foreign policies harmful to Muslims.
“Domestic policies included statements such as support for secretly monitoring Muslims without their consent or awareness, or restricting the ability of Muslim-Americans to vote. Foreign policy included several statements such as support for the use of military action and drones against Muslim countries.”
The friend effect
How can so many non-Muslims have so little interaction with Muslims?
Ramasubramanian says social interactions often revolve around religious, racial, and gender identities in our societies. “There is often a lack of motivation to step outside one’s comfort zone to learn about other subcultures,” she notes. “Even when there is exposure through direct contact, such interactions are often brief, rather than long-term, meaningful friendships.”
She says she hopes the research findings suggest the importance of more direct contact between Muslims and non-Muslims in communities. “Building friendships in this manner may buffer the negative effects of media portrayals of Muslims,” she notes, adding she also hopes the media work to improve the portrayals of Muslims by having more positive depictions.