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Glenn Sparks, professor of communication, also has studied the physiological effects people experience, such as elevated blood pressure, while watching frightening images on television.


September 6, 2005

Prof: TV shows may tune our beliefs in supernatural

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Americans' interest in the supernatural is only natural, but a Purdue University mass media expert says television programs – including some in this fall's lineup – may influence what people believe about the paranormal.

"This is a great form of entertainment, but it can be harmful when people are unable to sort out what is real and what isn't," says Glenn Sparks, professor of communication who studies the effects supernatural television shows have on the way people believe and accept the supernatural. "For example, watching these shows could encourage people who can least afford it to start spending money on psychics.

"Also, teenagers' belief systems are still forming, so they are more susceptible to being influenced by these shows. Parents should talk to their children about what they are watching, and the networks should consider posting disclaimers about the reality of the shows."

Following the success of last year's television shows that dealt with supernatural topics, such as unexplainable force on an island where people are stranded on "Lost," this year's program lineup features a number of new shows in the same vein. Their storylines include ghost hunters, psychic detectives, a water landing by aliens and people who communicate with supernatural beings.

Sparks, who studied how television shows in the 1990s influenced people's beliefs in unidentified flying objects and alien abductions, says programs about ghosts and the supernatural saw renewed popularity in the 1980s when a writers' strike left Hollywood in need of low-cost programming. The networks began producing the shows for entertainment, but they employed a documentary-style. In the 1990s, the growth in cable allowed channels, such as the Sci-Fi Channel, to focus on the supernatural. Now supernatural programming is jumping to primetime networks.

"This genre may be appealing in this scientific age because people are interested in belief beyond the scientific way of knowing," says Sparks, whose next paranormal study will look at how mass media affects belief in ghosts.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, (765) 494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Glenn Sparks, (765) 494-3316, gsparks@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


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