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From love at first sight to soul mate: Romantic ideals in popular films and their association with young people’s beliefs about relationships

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Title: From love at first sight to soul mate: Romantic ideals in popular films and their association with young people’s beliefs about relationships
Author(s): Hefner, Veronica
Director of Research: Wilson, Barbara J.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Wilson, Barbara J.
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Caughlin, John P.; Harrison, Kristen; Dixon, Travis L.
Department / Program: Communication
Discipline: Speech Communication
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): Media Film Social Cognitive Cultivation Ideals Romance Uses and Gratification
Abstract: Romantic comedy films have been popular since motion pictures first entered the media world. Scholars have speculated why these movies remain appealing to viewers and have argued for several reasons. These movies might foster hope about real-life romance (Galician, 2004), or demonstrate that that there are no limits to how love may manifest itself (Harvey, 1998). Despite this speculation, few studies have systematically investigated the content of these movies or the effects they may have on viewers. The purpose of this dissertation was to investigate that potential. In particular, I conducted two studies that explored the nature of romantic ideals in romantic comedy films and their influence on viewer endorsement of romantic beliefs. The first study was a content analysis of the themes or romantic ideals embedded in romantic comedies. The second study was a survey designed to explore whether exposure to such films encourages the learning of romantic ideals among young people. The theories of uses and gratifications, social cognitive, and cultivation served to inform this project. I first analyzed the content of over 50 top-grossing films from the romantic comedy genre. This process involved identifying the type, nature, and context of romantic ideal expressions that characters in these films make (i.e., idealization of other, soul mate/one & only, love at first sight, love conquers all), as well as the statements that contradict or challenge these ideal themes. In particular, I identified the nature of the source, the type of expression, the nature of the target, and how the expression was reinforced (e.g., rewarded, punished). In addition, the content analysis documented the overarching themes of the movies. The results showed that romantic ideals and challenges are prevalent in romantic comedy films, both as overarching themes and as relational expressions. Whereas ideals are overwhelmingly more common as the takeaway message, challenges were featured twice as often as ideals were at the expression level. The characters who expressed these ideals and challenges were predominantly White, adult, and heterosexual, and differed only by sex. In particular, male characters most often expressed ideals, whereas female characters most often expressed challenges. As for the context in which these ideals and challenges were expressed, ideals received mostly rewards in the plotline whereas challenges were most often punished. To investigate the impact of this content, I conducted a survey in which I asked 335 undergraduate students to report on their romantic comedy movie viewing and their beliefs about love and romance. In particular, I asked them the degree to which they endorsed beliefs about romance (i.e., idealization of other, soul mate/one & only, love at first sight, love conquers all). I also asked them how often they watched romantic comedies by giving them a list of 20 films (a subsample from the larger list used in Study 1). For the exposure variable, I weighted the films by the number of ideal expressions found in each film, as documented by Study 1. I then controlled for overall movie viewing and demographic variables, before calculating the predictive power of romantic comedy viewing on endorsement of beliefs. Results demonstrated that romantic comedy exposure significantly predicted endorsement of one of the four ideals—idealization of other. After testing for main effects, I also assessed the potential influence of a series of moderating variables: relational experience, perceived reality, watching in order to learn, perceived similarity, and sex of participant. The results of the analyses involving moderators revealed one significant association. In particular, individuals who watched these films in order to learn reported stronger endorsement of romantic ideal beliefs than did those who watched for other reasons. The implications of these results are discussed.
Issue Date: 2011-05-25
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/24232
Rights Information: Copyright 2011 Veronica Hefner
Date Available in IDEALS: 2011-05-25
Date Deposited: 2011-05
 

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