Media representations of social groups provide important information about a group’s status in American culture, which can subsequently affect viewer identity. Symbolic annihilation, or the exclusion of a viewer’s social group (e.g., race, gender) from media, is hypothesized to reduce self-esteem and feelings of belonging. Using independently produced videos that manipulate racial and gender composition, the current research reveals that the effects of symbolic annihilation are moderated by personal identity and self-categorization with the onscreen group. For participants who self-categorized with the onscreen group, exclusion hurts identity if the targeted group (i.e., race or gender) is personally important, but enhances identity among viewers for whom their race or gender is NOT personally important. This research tackles the complicated question of media effects among an increasingly diverse American audience, and provides insight into the experience of other underrepresented groups, including those based on age, sexuality, or even body size.
Accepted at ICA 2013. See you in London!