The Parasocial Contact Hypothesis


Parasocial contact hypothesis (PCH) postulates that exposure to media characters belonging to minority out-groups lead to prejudice reduction in much the same way as face-to-face interaction. Schiappa, Gregg and Hewes argue that people display the same behavioral and cognitive responses to both real life and mediated interactions. Drawing on this evidence, the authors hypothesized that exposure to media shows featuring characters belonging to minority groups could improve attitudes of majority members towards minorities.    

Study Purpose of the Article

The purpose of this study is clearly stated. The authors sought to test whether Parasocial Contact by majority group with members of minority ground would result in prejudice reduction. They also explored whether impacts of parasocial contact are moderated by prior contact with members of minority groups. Three studies were used to test PCH.

Key Issues

In parasocial contact hypothesis, Schiappa, et al (2005) suggests that it is possible to reduce prejudice and discrimination toward a particular group that is different from oneself simply by media exposure in which members of that group feature. The focus of attention is on intergroup contact to explain the influence of media on heterosexual audience.

Schiappa et al (2005) used the term parasocial contact to describe the link between media exposure and heterosexual’s attitude toward lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals. The theory postulates that exposure to media characters dissimilar from oneself can have the same impact to real-life intergroup contact in decreasing prejudice, discrimination and stereotyping.

According to Schiappa, parasocial interaction can work similarly in real-life intergroup interaction to reduce conflict.  As Schiappa and colleagues point out, stereotypes and prejudice lead people to avoid interaction with groups which are seen to be socially unfavorable. 

Media exposure and portrayals can be a friendly way for individuals to experience groups about which they dislike.

Methodology Used

Schippa, et al (2005) applied parasocial contact theory to investigate the link between heterosexual’s negative and positive parasocial relationship with LGBT characters in media and their attitudes towards LGBT individuals in real life. The researchers used survey method to answer research questions and test research hypothesis. They tested their hypothesis with three independent studies. The first study tested PHC with exposure to media minority characters (Six Feet Under show). The second study tested PCH with gays (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy). The third study tested the generalizability of the parasocial contact hypothesis on male transverstites. To test the PCH, the authors used experimental design. The purpose of each study is clearly stated.

Results and Discussion

The researchers found that attitudes towards LGBT individuals changed after exposing participants to media programs in which homosexual characters appeared and were positively depicted. To assess the extent to which subjects created parasocial relationships, the researchers provided respondents measures to evaluate uncertainty decrease of media characters, task, social, physical and social attraction. The findings showed considerable correlation between parasocial contact and attitudes towards LGBT individuals in real world. Parasocial contact also had interactive and mediating effects on the link between attitudes toward LGBT individuals and the media characters’ perceived realism. The authors argue that parasocial interaction promotes positive responses and transforms prejudice and stereotypes about minority groups.

Schiappa et al (2005) argued that the changed attitude was particularly significant for those participants who claimed not having interactions with LGBT individuals prior to the investigation. The authors also noted that quality and sufficient quantity of parasocial contact is necessary to enable judgments to be rendered concerning mediated characters.  The authors held that the prejudice reduction via intergroup contact is best accounted for as the reconceptualization of group categories.  

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Study

            The study demonstrates how validating portrayals of homosexual sexualities in media can function as a socialization agent for heterosexual audience by providing opportunities and information for validation. Given our tendency to use media cues to make inferences about mediated characters, more appropriations of mediated characters could be considered as a means of reducing prejudice and negative stereotypes associated with disadvantaged groups.

The study provides a useful insight into prejudice reduction. Parasocial Contact Hypothesis offer a meaningful basis for developing tools for reducing prejudice against disadvantaged groups. In fact, it serves as a substitute to direct interpersonal contact. It provides less risky alternative to solving conflicts when direct contact proves too risky. 

While PCH shows great promise for use in conflict resolution, its application is limited to sexual orientation. Schiappa, et al (2005) focused their study on sexual orientation and thus it is not known whether the hypothesis could apply to other areas. Only further research on other minorities could prove that. The study was conducted on prejudice-reducing media interventions and focused on only college students. Further research is needed to determine if PCH is applicable to programs targeting adults.   

In all the three studies, the participants were not randomly selected. Therefore, the population sample cannot be a representative of the general population.   Only randomly selected participant

The parasocial contact hypothesis is a new concept meaning there are few studies on it. More research is needed to be able to determine its weakness and strengths.  

There is no evidence that the authors sought ethical approval. It is recommended to obtain ethical approval when using humans as research subjects.

The optimal conditions for decreasing stereotypes through mass media exposure are not clear. Schiappa Et al (2005) indicate that the strength of response may be related to high echelons of prejudice reduction. They believe that audience may be influenced by physical attraction, task attraction and social attraction of the media characters to the extent of respecting, and identifying with the group.  


Schiappa, E. Gregg, P., & Hewes, D. E. (2005). The Parasocial contact hypothesis. Communication Monographs, 72(1), 92-115.  

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