The insidious sitcom: features of tween TV that increase tolerance of verbal insults
Russo, Colleen Elizabeth
Most bullying incidents occur within group settings, yet peers intervene in only a fraction of cases— even though support often stops bullying. Efforts to identify factors that increase the tolerance of meanness and decrease the likelihood of intervening may help in the development of effective interventions. The current research investigates features of tween television that impact female “tween-agers” (10-14 years) and young adults’ perceptions of verbal insults and their subsequent tolerance of verbal aggression. Verbal insults were presented in three conditions: TV clips with the built in laugh track, the same TV clips with the laugh track removed, and a “real life” version of the clips between teenagers on a mock YouTube channel. For both age groups, insults were perceived as equally mean in all three conditions, yet in comparison to the “real life” version, the unaltered TV clips (with the laugh track) were rated as funnier and more acceptable, and resulted in significantly increased tolerance of subsequent verbal aggression. Differences across age groups emerged when the laugh track was removed: undergraduates perceived the TV clips with and without the laugh track as equally funny, whereas children perceived the clips as significantly funnier when the laugh track was present. Both age groups rated the unaltered TV clips as more acceptable than the TV clips without the laugh track, and watching the TV clips with the built in laugh track also led to the greatest tolerance of subsequent verbal aggression. Results are discussed in various theoretical frameworks.