Two separate studies conducted by Robin L. Nabi and Shannon Clark of the University of California assessed whether or not televised depictions of risky sexual behaviours alter viewers' expectations of their own future sexual behaviours, regardless of their consequences.
In the first study, researchers examined the contents of TV programming schemas and found that viewers expect main characters to ultimately survive and thrive despite the adversity they face.
In the second study, college women were exposed to various portrayals of promiscuous sexual behavior, such as one night stands, that were edited to display more or less positive or negative outcomes.
The researchers revealed that portrayals of the risky behaviour were likely to affect only those without direct experience with the target behaviour, while people with direct experience with such behaviour are not influenced.
The portrayal of outcomes, good or bad, did not affect attitudes or intentions regarding that behaviour.
Specifically, for those who had not previously had a one night stand, viewing fictional depictions of this behaviour significantly increased expectations of the likelihood of having one in the future, regardless of the positive or negative outcomes portrayed.
"Even when behaviours are negatively portrayed, audiences may be motivated to model them anyways," the authors said.
"We hope this research stimulates greater care in the application and testing of psychological theories to the study of media content and effects," they added.
The study appears in the Journal of Communication.