Romantic-comedy films are not a major source for developing unrealistic
expectations about relationships among young adults, finds a new study to be published
online this week in the National Communication Association’s journal Communication Monographs.
of 335 undergraduate students in the Midwest found no significant relationship
between reporting watching romantic comedies often and belief in the ideals
“love conquers all,” “one and only” love (soul mate) and “love at first sight.”
findings discredit the popular assumption that exposure to romantic comedies is
a major source leading to unrealistic relational expectations among young
people,” said the study’s principal investigator, Veronica Hefner, Ph.D.,
assistant professor of communication studies at Chapman University, Orange,
the online questionnaire survey at the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign with Barbara J. Wilson, Ph.D., the university’s executive vice
provost for faculty and academic affairs. The authors did find, however, that
those viewers of romantic comedies who reported watching with the motivation to
learn about relationships were slightly more likely to endorse romantic ideals
overall and, in particular, the belief in “idealization of partner.” Idealizing
one’s partner includes believing that the partner should be flawless or will be
completely accepting, loving, and understanding, according to Hefner.
with exposure to romantic comedies, a stronger influence on viewers’ beliefs
about relationships was the reason that young people watch these popular
movies, Hefner said.
students who reported watching romantic comedies to learn about love and
relationships were more likely to endorse idealistic romantic beliefs than
those who watch for other reasons,” she said. “What really matters is not what
you watch, but why you watch.”
these students were more likely to believe in idealizing their partners than in
romantic beliefs such as love at first sight, but Hefner pointed out that this
idealization could have a positive social influence. Some studies have shown
that viewing one’s partner as wonderful and perfect was beneficial for a
romantic relationship and was linked to higher levels of satisfaction in the
half of the survey respondents reported they were currently in a relationship.
Students ranged in age from 18 to 26 years. Of the 335 respondents, 71 percent
were female and 29 percent were male.
researchers found no differences in responses about romantic beliefs between
men and women who responded to the survey. The lack of a sex difference in the
findings disputes another popular belief, Hefner said—“that women are the ones
who are most idealistic and most influenced by romantic comedies.
the researchers found that male characters in popular romantic comedies express
romantic ideals more often than women do. In this separate study, published in
the same article, they performed a content analysis of the 52 top-grossing
romantic comedy films between 1998 and 2008, including 2008’s “27 Dresses” and
the top-grossing “rom-com” of that period, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Of the
52 movies analyzed, 98 percent reportedly featured a romantic ideal expression,
whereas 75 percent of the films featured a romantic ideal takeaway message.
Ideal expressions were any statements related to one of the four ideals. Takeaway messages were the overall
impressions of the films.
ideal statements expressed in these films, the most common were related to soul
mates,” Hefner said, “whereas the most common takeaway ideal theme was the
notion that love conquers all.” Despite
this prevalence of idealism, however, the most commonly expressed statements in
these movies overall were actually realistic in nature. These practical expressions
or challenges to the ideals, such as “relationships take hard work,” were twice
as common in these films as were the idealistic comments.
Hefner said, “the bottom line is that the interactions and statements found in
these films are not idealistic at all.
However, the larger themes of the movies are idealistic. It seems that the couples go through
realistic challenges and difficult obstacles, but resolve their differences
with ideal conclusions.”
article, “From Love at First Sight to Soul Mate: The Influence of Romantic
Ideals in Popular Films on Young People’s Beliefs about Relationships,” appears
online on Friday, April 12, 2013 in Communication
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