Social knowledge and programme structure in representations of television characters
It was argued that the social psychology of person perception, mass communications and cultural studies can be related to viewers' representations of television characters. Mass communications needs to incorporate viewers' interpretations and programme structure. Social cognition could satisfy the former need and cultural studies the latter. A literature review showed little research on viewers' interpretations of television programmes. There is a considerable body of research on person perception, gender stereotypes, the effects of viewing and programme structure. A study of viewers' accounts of viewing soap opera showed that they become involved with the characters and find the programmes realistic. Soap opera plays an important role in their lives. Viewers' representations of soap opera characters were examined using multidimensional scaling. This revealed stable, replicable character representations for Dallas, Coronation Street and EastEnders. The representations were compared with the oppositions which structure the programmes, Implicit Personality Theory and Gender Schema Theory. Dallas characters were represented by themes of morality and power/activity. Power was correlated with gender, with some counter-stereotypic females. Coronation Street characters were organised around morality/potency, gender (matriarchal) and approach to life. This related to person prototypes and contrasted with interaction patterns between characters. EastEnders characters were represented by themes of morality/power, gender and approach to life/centrality. Free descriptions validated the attribute ratings and showed further features of the representation. No socio-structural group differences in representation were found. Viewers' character representations were a constructive integration of programme structure and social knowledge. The application of abstract knowledge to a structured domain was discussed. Textual analysis of a narrative identified the 'role of the reader' and textual openness. This was related to stereotypes, narrative expectancies, myth and character representation. Distinct types of divergence in viewers' interpretations of narrative were discovered. Further, a narrative containing two readings was interpreted in four distinct ways by viewers, depending on their perceived relationships with characters. The conclusions and limitations of the research were discussed. Implications for person perception, stereotyping and textual analysis were examined. A taxonomy of factors relating to the interpretation and representation of television drama was presented.