The examination of ordinary cruelty televised within a just world


Televised cruelty has become more severe in recent years likely in an attempt to pique the interest of viewers desensitized to its milder forms. Following the recent empirical interest in research dedicated to televised violence, which encompassed the typical, physical realm of cruelty, little research has focused on the psychological forms of cruelty demonstrated on television. Specifically, no research has examined the extent to which teasing, humiliation, gossip, ridicule, and verbal abuse, the five constituents of Caputo, Brodsky, and Kemp's (2006) definition of "ordinary cruelty," are perceived and enjoyed. A pilot study was conducted to narrow a pool of videos selected for their apparent content of ordinary cruelty. After the calculation of satisfactory estimates of reliability, summative scores were used to select the clips with the highest cruelty ratings: American Idol and Maury. Both videos were used in an experimental investigation of ordinary cruelty on television. Specifically, participants were divided into two groups: each group read a vignette, but the victim's deservingness was high in one group and low in another. Afterwards, all participants watched the same video clips and answered questions related to sympathy, empathy, parasocial identification, and other just world correlates. Belief in a Just World for Others (BJW-0) has been shown to be an index of harsh social attitudes. II was hypothesized that participants who have a high BJW-0 should enjoy the suffering of a deserving victim while not enjoying the suffering an undeserving victim, as the latter would present a threat to their beliefs. This hypothesis was marginally supported when measures were combined across both clips used within the study, but not for each individual clip separately. Sympathy is defined as expression compassion for another's suffering, while empathy is defined as experiencing one's emotions as though they were one's own. Both sympathy and empathy were hypothesized to be positively related to being victimized in the past, having no prior experience with the show, to perceiving oneself as similar to the victim, to not having committed victimization in the past, and to not perceiving oneself as similar to the perpetrator. The results partially supported these hypotheses, and the implications are discussed. Also hypothesized was that parasocial interaction, the feeling of closeness with the television character, with the victim would relate to less enjoyment, having a low BJW-O, and the victim's deservingness. However, none of these hypotheses were supported. Parasocial interaction with the host, however, significantly predicted enjoyment of the show. Results and limitations of the study overall are discussed as well as implications for Just World Theory.


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Thesis Completion





Fisher, Randy


Bachelor of Science (B.S.)


College of Sciences

Degree Program



Dissertations, Academic -- Sciences;Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic







Access Status

Open Access

Length of Campus-only Access


Document Type

Honors in the Major Thesis

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