Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones, Hank Moody in Californication or even Homer in The Simpsons… These three protagonists all have one thing in common: they always seem to have a drink in their hand and it never seems to be empty. But these aren’t the only fictional characters that seem to be drawn to the drink. Almost 90% of films contain scenes with alcohol and 43% of the individuals in these scenes are portrayed in a positive and socially attractive way.
Now that these observations have been made, do you think our favourite programs encourage us to drink? Since nearly one in four 18-75 year-olds exceeds the consumption limits(10 drinks per week, 2 drinks per day), researchers decided to look into this matter and share their findings from a series of studies conducted to verify this implicit encouragement in a long article in The Conversation on 24th September. Their results were also published in The Journal of Psychology in March 2020.
A positive view of the characters… and their glasses
In their initial study, in order to get participants to respond as spontaneously as possible, they first performed a so-called mentally ‘painful' task - crossing out as quickly as possible all the ‘e's in a text, except when they were located two spaces from another vowel or space. Then, they randomly viewed one of two clips - one in which alcohol was visible and very prominent, and another where it was not - from the comedy series How I Met Your Mother.
The volunteers who were exposed to characters who were drinking reported more positive representations of alcohol after viewing the clip. But does this effect reverse when the tone of the film or series is negative? In another similar study, extracts from films and TV series depicting anxiety-provoking and dramatic events associated with alcohol consumption were shown as well as scenes showing beneficial consequences.
Participants reported more negative attitudes towards alcohol when the film’s tone was negative… And more positive attitudes when the tone was positive. The Conversation reported:
Our results suggest that when a viewer is paying attention to the content presented to them, changes in the representations of the desirability of alcohol may occur if it is presented under favourable circumstances, which is most often the case.
As a result, viewers are encouraged to pay attention to how alcohol is used in their favourite programs. In case you weren’t aware, according to figures from France’s Public Health department, 41,000 people die every year as a result of drinking. The authors of this research also encourage TV writers to be aware of the effects that alcohol clichés can have on health when shown in TV series and to perhaps use them in a better and more conscious way. Unless psychotropic drugs are an essential ingredient of an addictive series, that is?