How Does Media Influence Social Norms? A Field Experiment on the Role of Common Knowledge.
A radio program in Mexico decreased personal and perceived social acceptance of violence against women.
Media has the power to influence individual beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. Thus, social norms that influence and encourage gender violence have been targeted by policy interventions using mass media communication. Prior research suggests that media influences through two effects: the individual or direct effect (private) or the social or indirect effect (public). In the individual effect, media information about new norms may persuade individuals to accept them. In the social effect, the information creates common knowledge of a norm and enhances social coordination as individuals more readily accept the information if they believe others have also accepted it. This study examined whether media’s social mechanism has a stronger impact than its individual mechanism on changing violent attitudes against women.
This study conducted a natural and randomized experiment in the rural indigenous community of San Bartolome Quialana in Oaxaca, Mexico using a multi-part soap opera radio program telling a story of a relationship that slowly becomes violent. The soap opera was broadcast via a community loudspeaker and only reached a portion of the community due to topographical conditions (creating the natural experiment component). Households within the loudspeaker’s reach were either randomly invited to listen to the soap opera at a community meeting or were able to hear the public broadcast in their own homes. This design tested whether public transmission of the soap opera alone was sufficient to influence norms, and whether creating certainty about common knowledge from face-to-face interactions with community members enhanced the social effects. Individuals outside the loudspeaker’s reach were randomly and privately invited to listen to the soap opera using an audio CD to test the individual mechanism. A post-intervention survey measured norms, attitudes, and behavior regarding violence against women.
The social broadcast groups, both the village loudspeaker and community meeting broadcasts, were more likely to reject violence against women and more likely to support gender equality than the individual broadcast group. Surprisingly, the social broadcast groups were also less likely to think domestic violence will decline in the future.
- When asked about personal beliefs on domestic violence, individual broadcast group participants were less likely than those in the social broadcast groups to acknowledge that violence against women is a recurring problem in the community.
- When asked about perceived social rejection of domestic violence in the community, individual broadcast group participants were less likely than those in the social broadcast groups to think that others in the community reject domestic violence.
- When asked about their expectations for the future decline of domestic violence, participants in the social broadcast groups were less likely than those in the individual broadcast group to think that domestic violence will decline.
- When asked about transmitting values of gender equality to the next generation, individual broadcast group participants were less likely than participants in the social broadcast groups to say they would educate their children on gender equality.
- When asked about potential reactions to domestic violence, individual broadcast group participants were less likely than participants in the social broadcast groups to say they would intervene if they heard or witnessed domestic violence.
- When asked whether they would sign a petition to support the creation of a violence against women support group, individual broadcast group participants were less likely than participants in the social broadcast groups to sign the petition.
The findings indicate that information delivered socially, either publicly or through face-to-face interactions, is more influential than information delivered individually or privately. Furthermore, although some evidence suggested that the face-to-face interactions of community meetings can enhance social effects, delivering information publicly through the village loudspeaker broadcast was sufficient to influence attitudes and norms. Lastly, the treatment effects on pessimistic expectations about the future emphasize the importance of implementing interventions with clear institutional mechanisms through which individuals can act upon their updated beliefs.
The author partnered with the UNESCO Office in Mexico to conduct a natural experiment and a randomized field experiment. The audio soap-opera intervention was developed with a regional NGO to challenge gender norms and discourage violence against women. The soap opera, which included 4 episodes of 15 minutes each, contained regional dialect and locations to help participants better relate to the story. The study design included four conditions: individual broadcast, community meeting broadcast, village loudspeaker broadcast, and baseline group. The individual broadcast group comprised of randomly selected individuals living outside the village loudspeaker’s reach who were given a CD-rom. The community meeting broadcast group comprised of randomly selected individuals living within the village loudspeaker’s reach and listened to the broadcast together in a community center setting. The village loudspeaker broadcast group was composed of the remaining individuals who lived within the reach of the public village loudspeaker. Households outside of the loudspeaker´s reach who did not receive the CD-rom were used as the baseline group. Participants were asked a series of questions on six outcomes relating to domestic violence: three questions on their beliefs and estimation of others´ beliefs and actions around violence against women (personal beliefs, perceived social rejection of domestic violence, and future expectations) and three questions measuring individual attitudes and actions (transmission of values to the next generation, their potential reaction to a domestic violence episode, and if they would sign a petition creating a violence against women support group). Responses were then compared across all four treatment conditions.