Marriage ending in divorce is a very common occurrence in the United States as well as around the world. According to the American Psychological Association, 40 to 50 percent of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. While research on this subject and how it affects families is very common, research on the way divorce is portrayed in the media is less prevalent.
Researchers in Texas Tech University's College of Media and Communication decided to tackle this subject in an article titled, “College Students' Perceptions of Media Portrayals of Divorce.”
The team of researchers included Dr. Narissra Punyanunt-Carter, assistant dean of international affairs and an associate professor of communication studies, Dr. Jenna Shimkowski, assistant professor of communication studies, and Dr. Mary Norman, assistant professor of practice.
Punyanunt-Carter said her interest in this subject stems from being divorced herself and having young children who watch cartoons where the parents are typically still married. She said she was concerned her children were getting negative impressions of divorce because of these cartoons.
“Those media images influence our perceptions about our expectations in relationships,” Punyanunt-Carter said. “I thought college students would be the perfect population. College students have had a huge amount of media intake and they would be able to let me know what their perceptions are about this topic.”
For this study, Shimkowski said 100 college students completed an online survey with four questions regarding positive and negative media representations of divorce. These questions included how real they feel those depictions are, and the extent to which they believe media impacts their view of marriage and divorce.
“Media are pervasive in our lives, and may easily influence our perceptions of reality, our desires, or our goals,” Shimkowski said. “To date, very little research has been conducted to examine divorce in the media.”
Shimkowski said college students were a perfect audience for this questionnaire because marriage could be in the near future for many of them. She said it is necessary to consider how media has potentially affected their views on this topic.
“Most people will learn about sex, race, and communication from their friends, real-life situations, but also from the media,” Shimkowski said. “It is important to understand how people view divorce and how they truly think about divorce based on what they see in media.”
While divorce was the initial topic of study in this research, Punyanunt-Carter said they are going to continue conducting several other studies in this topic area.
“We are also looking at how parents talk to their child about divorce, we are looking at the differences between how college students view stepmothers and stepfathers in the media, how social media affects perceptions of divorce, and if there are differences between communication patterns in divorce and intact families.” Punyanunt-Carter said.