Authors: Beth Dietz
Department of Psychology, Miami University, Middletown, Ohio, US
Department of Psychology, Miami University
Middletown, OH 45044
Dr. Beth Dietz is a professor of psychology at Miami University. Her research interests include social identity, sport fans and spectators, women in sport, and the scholarship of teaching and learning.
Increased Exposure to Women in Sport Increases Familiarity and Liking
Purpose: The quantity of media coverage of sports played by females has not achieved parity with coverage of sports played by males. Additionally, coverage of sport played by females is often regarded as boring, uninteresting, and bland. The current study tests the hypothesis that as exposure to sport and gender increases, so will liking. Methods: Participants completed measures of familiarity, liking, and knowledge before and after a course on Sport and Gender. Results: The results showed increases over time in liking-to-watch, frequency-of-watching, knowledge of and familiarity with sport played by women (results also showed increases for neutral sports and sports played by males). Conclusions: These results suggest that repeated exposure to sports played by females leads to greater liking and interest. Applications: Increasing exposure to sports played by females in the media and in classrooms will lead to increased liking of, and likely demand, for sports played by females.
Key Words: Mere repeated exposure; women’s sports; sports media
Recently, there has been an uptick in interest in sports played by women. Notable examples compiled by the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport (30) include the speed at which tickets to Serena Williams’ US Open finals match sold out relative to the men’s final, the 14.3 million people who watched the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup final, or the 250,000 viewers of the WNBA televised on ESPN2. Although this news bodes well for coverage of sports played by women, the frequency of these occurrences pale in comparison to the media coverage of sports played by males. The increase in participation of sports played by girls and women since the passage of title IX may suggest that media coverage of sports played by females should increase in kind, yet data demonstrates the opposite phenomena. For example, in an analysis of Sports Illustrated feature articles from 1990 to 1999, only 9.7% featured female athletes or sports played by females (18). An analysis of coverage of sports played by females on ESPN’s SportsCenter in 2002 shows a similar paucity of coverage of female athletes (1). Most recently, a 25-year longitudinal analysis (9) of televised coverage of sports played by women continues to show declines over time, with coverage hovering around 2%.
Clearly, coverage of sports played by females has not achieved parity with coverage of sports played by males. Perhaps as a result of the scarcity of coverage of sports played by females, there is a pervasive belief that sports played by females are not just especially interesting (4-5, 14). In fact, sports played by females are often regarded as boring and uninteresting (4, 9-10). But, if coverage of sports played by females increases, it is reasonable to assume that so would liking. In other words, familiarity breeds liking. The purpose of the current study is to test the hypothesis that as sports played by females becomes more familiar due to increased exposure, it will be evaluated as more likable and interesting.
Many reasons have been advanced to explain the differences in the amount and type of coverage of sports played by males and females. Some of these include masculine hegemony or social dominance orientation, attitudes toward women or sexism, and sport fan identity. For example, sports played by males might dominate coverage because of masculine hegemonic narratives (6, 8, 16), which celebrate male physical dominance and subordination of women. A similar construct, social dominance orientation (26), refers to one’s belief that status hierarchies are necessary and desirable. From this perspective, because sport is consensually male (25, 28), it is logical that media coverage of sport is dominated by males, but because male sport is the standard, anything less is considered boring and uninteresting. Still, if coverage of sports played by females achieves parity with sports played by males, then perhaps the status hierarchy can be reduced.
A related explanation for the disparate coverage of sports played by males and females is attitudes toward women or sexism. The literature on the types of coverage of sports played by females attests to the sexist coverage (4, 11, 24). For example, media coverage of sports played by females is often “gender marked”, wherein sports played by males is considered the norm and sports played by females receive a “Women’s” designation, such as Women’s World Cup or NCAA Women’s Basketball (20). Similarly, female athletes are sometimes infantilized (eg., referred to as “girl” or “baby”) by sports commentators, yet it is rare to hear male athletes referred to as “boy” (20). Referring to female athletes as “girl” or by their first names serves to reduce their status and propagate sexist coverage of sports played by females. If the type of coverage of sports played by females is less sexist and more frequent, then perhaps viewers will perceive it as more exciting and interesting.
Finally, disparate media coverage of sports played by males and females might be attributable to sport fan identification, or the extent to which a fan feels a psychological connection to a team or sport or athlete (23, 32). Most fans of sport can usually name their favorite team or sport or athlete. Likewise, most fans, when prompted, are able to report on the strength of their identification with the team or sport or athlete. There exists a sizable literature on the consequences of sport fan identification, including affective, cognitive, and behavioral effects (12). For example, sport fans who identify strongly with a team or sport experience strong emotions when their favorite team wins or loses (15). Fans also tend to evaluate their favorite team more favorably after wins than losses, after outcomes that were expected rather than unexpected, and after games receiving more positive than negative media attention (13). Sport fans who identify strongly with a team can also display fairly extreme behaviors related to the team. They have expressed a willingness to engage in illegal activities on behalf of their favorite team (33), are more willing to engage in violent acts after their team loses rather than after their team wins (35), and to consider anonymous acts of violence acceptable (34). Clearly, those who identify strongly with a team or sport or athlete have fairly rigid views of the target of their identification, which often leads to endorsement of the view that sport is male. Perhaps increased exposure to sport played by females will increase its familiarity, which in turn might increase identification with female athletes or their respective sports.
To summarize, media coverage of sports played by females is grossly unequal to the coverage of sports played by males. The disparate coverage might be a result of beliefs that sport is (and should be) a predominantly male domain and therefore should dominate media coverage. The disparate coverage could also be a result of sexist beliefs that carry over from other parts of society. Similarly, those who have a strong identity as a sport fan are likely to be more comfortable with inequality in coverage. These explanations, if correct, suggest that unless personalities and ingrained cultural systems can be changed, interest in sports played by females will not change. Instead, it might be possible to try to increase coverage of sports played by females, which may have consequent effects on these dispositional and cultural constructs.
Evidence suggests that increasing exposure to a stimulus increases liking of that stimulus. Specifically, the mere repeated exposure effect (7, 21, 37) refers to the phenomenon whereby the more often one is exposed to a stimulus, the more positively the stimulus is evaluated. Zajonc (37) found that high frequency exposure to such stimuli as Chinese-like characters, men’s faces, and Turkish words led to increased liking of these stimuli. More recent studies show that the effect applies to stimuli received outside of conscious awareness (19). Participants who did not recognize music that had been playing in their ear reported liking the music. Similarly, an innovative field study (22) showed that students exposed to female classmates in varying frequencies (0, 5, 10, or 15 times) reported an increase in perceived familiarity, attraction, and similarity as a function of the number of exposures. The mere repeated exposure effect also applies to virtual communication (27). Same-sex pairs of college students were invited to randomly chat by email at varying times (1, 2, 4, 6, and 8) per week. The results showed that the more interactions the students had, the more they liked their partner and the more interested they were in staying in contact with their partner after the study concluded.
If the mere repeated exposure effect is sufficient to increase liking of unfamiliar characters, music, strangers, and classmates, for example, it is appropriate to suggest that increasing exposure to sports played by females is sufficient to increase liking of these sports and consequently helping to dispel the belief that sports played by females are not likable or interesting. In the current study, students participating in an upper-level course about Gender and Sports were asked to indicate their level of liking and interest in sports played by females at the start and at the end of the course. During the course, students were exposed to scholarly and popular literature related to gender and sport (eg.,media perceptions of male and female athletes, gender and sport fans, gender, and sport controversies). In addition, students completed two research projects and one research proposal related to gender and sport and shared the projects with the class, further increasing exposure. Based on the mere repeated exposure effect, it is hypothesized that increased exposure to the issues related to sports played by females will increase familiarity with and liking of sports played by females. Relatedly, exposure to gender and sport are likely to lead to increases in sport fan identity and attitudes toward women over time, while social dominance orientation should decrease. Finally, as an exploratory analysis and consistent with prior literature on explanations for disparate coverage of sports played by males and females, it was expected that social dominance orientation, attitudes toward women, and sport fan identity would be significantly correlated with familiarity with and liking of sports played by females.
Participants were 19 (2 males and 17 females) undergraduate students enrolled in a senior-level course titled “Gender and Sport” who voluntarily participated in this study as a class activity. The average age was 22.67 (SD = 2.11) years. No other demographic or identifying information was collected.
Materials and Procedure
Respondents were students in an upper-level course on Gender and Sport. The topics covered in the course included the social psychology of gender; gender and sport controversies; history of sport; famous male and female athletes; sport, gender, and the media; participation in sport; and sport fans and spectators. The materials used in the course were predominantly scholarly articles, but also made use of media coverage of issues related to gender and sport. Each week, students took turns leading a discussion of the reading material. In addition to exposure to scholarly and popular literature, students also completed two research projects that required collection and analysis of data. Students were required to present their studies to the class, which also increased exposure to gender and sport. Finally, students completed a research proposal and presented it to the class.
Respondents were informed that they would be asked to complete a questionnaire about sports. respondents were asked to complete a questionnaire (described in detail below) to measure their liking of and familiarity with sports, the extent of their sport-fan identification, their attitudes toward women, and their social dominance orientation. The identical questionnaire was used at the beginning of the course (pre-test) and at the end of the course (post-test). To match responses, participants were asked to generate and record a code based on the day of the month they were born and the first three letters of their maternal grandmother’s name.
To measure familiarity with and liking of sports, the first set of questions on the questionnaire asked respondents to indicate their attitudes about sports. Although the primary sport target was females, neutral and male targets were also included for comparison. Specifically, they were asked how much they liked (1 = dislike to 7 = like) watching sports, watching sports played by females, and watching sports played by males. They were also asked to indicate how often (1 = not very often to 7 = very often) they watched sports, watched sports played by females, and watched sports played by males. Then, they were asked to indicate how knowledgeable (1= not very knowledgeable to 7 = very knowledgeable) they were about sports, about sports played by females, and about sports played by males. Finally, they were asked to indicate how familiar (1= not very familiar to 7 = very familiar) they were with sports, with sports played by females, and with sports played by males. Note that respondents were asked the same questions on the pre-test and the post-test.
Respondents were then asked to complete the short-version of the Attitudes Toward Women Scale (AWS) (29). This scale consists of 25 items measured on a 4-point scale (1 = Disagree Strongly to 4 = Agree Strongly), with higher scores indicating more egalitarian attitudes. Sample items include “Women should take increasing responsibility for leadership in solving the intellectual and social problems of the day.”, and “A woman should not expect to go to exactly the same places or to have quite the same freedom of action as a man.”. In the current sample, these items were shown to be reliable (Cronbach’s alpha = .762 for the pre-test and .809 for the post-test) and were combined to form a pre-AWS and post-AWS Scale.
Respondents were then asked to complete the Sport Spectator Identification Scale (SSIS) (31). The SSIS consists of seven Likert-type questions with anchors ranging from 1 to 8, with higher scores indicating stronger sport fan identity. Sample items include “How important is it to you that your favorite team wins?”, and “How strongly do your friends see you as a sport fan?”. In the current sample, these items were shown to be reliable (Cronbach’s alpha = .898 for the pre-test and .852 for the post- test), and were combined to form a pre-SSIS and post-SSIS Scale.
Respondents were also asked to complete the Social Dominance Orientation Scale (SDO) (26). This scale consists of 16 items designed to measure respondents’ level of agreement with inequality among social groups. Respondents indicated the extent of their agreement (1 = Strongly disagree to 10 = Strongly agree) on such items as, “To get ahead in life, it is sometimes necessary to step on other groups.”, “It’s probably a good thing that certain groups are at the top and other groups are at the bottom.”, and “Sometimes other groups must be kept in their place.” Higher scores indicate a lower social dominance orientation. These items were reliably (Cronbach’s alpha = .870 for the pre-test and .873 for the post-test) combined to form a pre-SDO and post-SDO Scale.
Finally, participants were asked to respond to several demographic questions, including gender and age.
It was hypothesized that liking, frequency of watching, knowledge of, and familiarity with sports played by females would increase by the end of the course. To test these hypotheses, I conducted 3 (target: neutral, male, and female) x 2 (time: pre-test and post-test) analyses of variance on each of the four dependent variables. Target was a between-participants variable, while time was within-participants.
The descriptive results for liking-to-watch are displayed in Table 1. As shown, there was indeed an increase in liking to watch sports played by females over time. There was also a slight increase in reported liking of watching sports played by males. Analysis of variance showed a significant target main effect, F(2, 36) = 4.29, p < .05, η2= 23.83%. Post-hoc results show that the mean liking rating is higher for neutral than female targets, p < .05, and male than female targets, p < .05. The results also showed a significant interaction of time and target, F(2, 36) = 3.39, p < .05, η2= 18.84%. Driving this interaction is the increase in liking for sports played by females, which shows the largest increase over time.
The descriptive results for how often respondents watched are displayed in Table 1. There is an increase in how often respondents reported watching sports for all targets, but most notably the increase for watching sports played by females is the highest. It is noteworthy that all of the means are below the midpoint (3.5) of the scale, suggesting that most students generally did not watch sports. Analysis of variance showed a significant target main effect, F(2, 36) = 7.31, p < .01, η2= 40.59%. Respondents reported watching sports played by males the most, followed by neutral, then sports played by females. There were no other significant effects.
The descriptive results for how knowledgeable respondents are about sports played by males, females, and neutral targets are displayed in Table 1. There is an increase in reported sport knowledge for both the male and female targets, with the largest increase for males. Analysis of variance showed a significant target main effect, F(2, 36) = 3.70, p < .05, η2= 20.50%. Respondents reported greater knowledge of sports played by neutral targets, followed by sports played by males, then sports played by females. There were no other significant effects.
The descriptive results for familiarity of sports are displayed in Table 1. There is an increase in familiarity for all targets over time, with the largest increase being with sports played by males. Analysis of variance showed a significant target main effect, F(2, 36) = 6.23, p < .01, η2= 34.62%. Respondents reported the greatest familiarity with sports played by neutral targets, followed by sports played by males, then sports played by females. There were no other significant effects.
In summary, the results suggest that the course had the intended effect of increasing liking of and familiarity with sports. Although respondents reported more liking of and familiarity with neutral sports and sports played by males more than females, it is encouraging that there was an increase over time for sports played by females on each of the measures. It is likely that increased liking of sports played by females over time is a result of increased exposure to gender and sport, as predicted by the mere repeated exposure effect.
It was also hypothesized that sport fan identity and attitudes toward women would increase over time, while social dominance orientation would decrease. The descriptive statistics for each of those measures are displayed in Table 2. Repeated-measures t-tests were performed on each of the constructs. The results showed that respondents’ attitudes toward women and social dominance orientation did not change significantly over time. But respondent’s sport fan identity did increase significantly from the start to the end of the course, t(18) = -2.39, p < .05, d = .450.
Finally, as an exploratory analyses, the correlations were examined between each of these constructs and the measures of liking and familiarity for each of the targets. Although exploratory, one would expect, prior to the start of the course, that strong egalitarian attitudes, low social dominance orientation, and strong sport fan identity would be associated with more liking and familiarity of sports played by females. At the end of the course, one might expect to see these relationships strengthen. The results of the analysis of the pre-test data are displayed in Table 3. Sport fan identity was significantly and positively related to several variables. Notably, stronger sport fan identity was associated with greater liking of neutral and male targets, with frequency-of-watching neutral and male sport targets, and with familiarity with neutral sports. Attitudes toward women was significantly related to how often one watches female sports – stronger egalitarianism is associated with less watching. Similarly, a strong social dominance orientation was associated with infrequent watching of sports by neutral and female targets. These results, although interesting, are not necessarily in line with expectations.
The results of the post-test analyses are displayed in Table 4. Although exploratory, one would expect stronger relationships between attitudes toward women, social dominance orientation, and sport fan identity and liking and familiarity of sports played by females. The results showed that sport fan identity was positively and significantly related to liking-to-watch, frequency-of-watching, and knowledge of neutral sport targets. It was also significantly and positively related to knowledge of male sport targets. Attitudes toward women was significantly and positively related to liking-to-watch male and female targets. Finally, social dominance orientation was significantly and positively related to liking-to-watch, how often one watches, and knowledge of neutral sport targets. Lower social dominance orientation was associated with greater liking, frequency-of-watching, and knowledge of neutral targets. Social dominance orientation was also significantly and positively related to knowledge of and familiarity with male sports. Lower social dominance orientation was associated with greater knowledge of and familiarity with male sport targets. As in the pre-test correlations, there were few significant relationships between these constructs and any of the liking and familiarity variables for female sport targets.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
The primary hypothesis of the study was that familiarity with and liking of sports played by females will increase over the duration of the course. This hypothesis was confirmed. On measures of liking-to-watch, frequency-of-watching, knowledge of, and familiarity with sports played by females, there was an increase from the start of the course to the end of the course. These results are consistent with the mere repeated exposure effect (37), showing that increased exposure to a stimulus is a sufficient condition to increase liking of those stimuli. So as not to overstate these results, it is noteworthy that scores on the measures associated with sports played by females did not exceed any of the scores for sports played by males or neutral targets. In short, attitudes towards sports played by females are still less favorable than sports played by males, but that there were significant differences in attitudes over time for sports played by females is significant. These results suggest that exposure to gender and sport literature can improve attitudes about sports played by females.
It was also hypothesized that exposure to gender and sport would lead to increased sport fan identity and attitudes toward women over time, while social dominance orientation should decrease. Surprisingly, the results showed no significant differences in social dominance orientation or attitudes toward women over time. During the course, students spent ample time learning about various types of sexism in general and as applied to female sport figures. Prior research (36) found that endorsement of hostile and benevolent sexism was significantly reduced among students in a research methods course designed to reduce endorsement of these types of sexism. The Gender and Sport course in the current study was designed to do the same, but perhaps not as directly as the course in the Yoder et al. (36) study. Similarly, the results failed to support a reduction in social dominance orientation, also a topic that was covered in detail in the current course. Because the measurement of these constructs was more general and not specific to gender and sport, perhaps students did not realize the connection.
Students did, however, show a significant increase in sport fan identification over time. Recall that sport fan identification refers to the psychological connection that people have with a sport or sport team or athlete (23). The consequences of sport fan identification are numerous, including affective, cognitive, and behavioral effects (12). It is not surprising that exposure to the literature on gender and sport would increase student’s psychological attachment to sports.
The three constructs previously discussed – attitudes toward women, social dominance orientation, and sport fan identification – were included in an exploratory analysis to examine their relationship with attitudes toward sports played by females. At the start of the course, few of the constructs were related to the attitude measures (liking, frequency, knowledge, and familiarity) for sports played by males or neutral targets, and none were related to sports played by females. Still, the construct that emerged as having the strongest relationship with the attitude measures was sport fan identification. A stronger sport fan identification was associated with a greater tendency to watch sports and be familiar with them. At the end of the course, the results showed that a more positive attitude toward women was related to stronger liking of sports played by females as well as by males. Social dominance orientation and sport fan identification emerged as the constructs with the most significant relationships to the attitude measures, although none were related to sports played by females. Again, because the measurement of these constructs was more general and not specific to gender and sport, perhaps these proposed relationships failed to emerge.
There are a number of limitations of the current research. As noted, measurement of the explanatory constructs (attitudes toward women, social dominance orientation, and sport fan identification) were designed as broad measures, while the measure of attitudes was more specific. The principle of compatibility suggests that constructs should be measured on the same level of specificity (2-3). Still, because these constructs are dispositional in nature, one would expect them to exert effects on attitudes of any target. Relatedly, the basic research paradigm of the mere repeated exposure effect involves exposure to a stimulus, with subsequent measures of liking toward that stimulus. For example, Moreland and Beach (22) exposed students to varying frequencies of four different women and then asked students to rate their liking of the four women. In the current study, students were exposed to the scholarly and popular literature on gender and sport and then asked to indicate their liking for sports (played by females, males, and neutral targets). At no time in the course did students spend time watching sports; instead, they were exposed to research on sports. A more stringent test of the mere repeated exposure hypothesis should involve exposure to sports played by females.
APPLICATIONS TO SPORT
Still, these results are promising in terms of increasing the favorability of attitudes toward sports played by females. Those students, after being exposed to the literature on gender and sport, showed an increase in all of the attitude measures about sports played by females, suggest that mere repeated exposure may have led to increased interest in sports played by females. Anecdotally, it is worth mentioning that most of the students taking the course had little interest in the topic. The course was the only upper-level course offered at the time, and several students actively protested or petitioned to get out of the course because the topic was of no interest to them. That the favorability of attitudes toward sports played by females increased at all is laudable. These results suggest that exposure to sports played by females and to female athletes may go far in improving attitudes among even the most resistant and those who argue that sports played by females is boring and uninteresting (4-5,14, 24). The results also pose a challenge to producers and commentators who explain that the lack of coverage of sports played by females is due to lack of audience demand (9, 17). There is indeed interest in sports played by women, even if there is a lack of media coverage and attention (17). Increasing exposure to sports played by females likely goes far in helping to create demand.
As mentioned previously, a more stringent test of the mere repeated exposure hypothesis involves exposure to sports played by females or female athletes. Increased exposure to these stimuli should show subsequent increases in liking and attraction, and perhaps on other measures such as interesting and exciting. In fact, consistent with Musto et al.’s (24) finding that coverage of sports played by females has become “gender bland” (boring and not exciting) over time, it would be interesting to repeatedly expose participants to exciting coverage of sports played by women and measure their liking and attraction. Finally, extending the sport fan identification results of the current study, future research might focus on ways to increase the degree of sport fan identification, which may lead to increased interest in sports played by females.
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