Want to end prejudice? Watch a sitcom

Story highlights

  • A new study found people who watched a sitcom with positive depictions of Muslims had less bias after watching the show
  • When tested several weeks later, the attitudes toward Muslims improved

(CNN)Ending prejudice may be as easy as turning on your television. Depending on the program, it just might change your view of the world for the better.

Science has shown that exposure to certain programs can make a huge impression, especially if you've had limited exposure to a particular group in the past. This latest study presented to the Society for Personality and Social Psychology found a nationally representative sample of people who watched some episodes of a show called "Little Mosque on the Prairie" had less prejudice toward Muslims and Arabs after watching the show.
"Little Mosque on the Prairie"
This sitcom depicts life in a new mosque in small-town Canada. The characters are positive and fight over issues common in many spiritual communities: what dish to cook for a big celebration or what role women should play in the service. While the group experiences prejudice from airport security and from a radio host in the town, the characters handle the experiences with good humor and the joke is on those who are prejudiced.
    When the group in the experiment that watched "Little Mosque" were tested about their feelings, their attitude had shifted and was more favorable than the other group that had watched a sitcom with a predominantly white cast. As a control in the experiment, the other group watched "Friends."
    What was even more interesting was that the attitude shift seemed to stick. The group still seemed more favorable to Muslims even four to six weeks after they watched the program.
    "We thought the effect might be dampened with the groups actual media exposure prior to watching the program. Typically Muslims and Arabs are shown on television as more violent and aggressive and are shown in more stereotypical ways like as terrorists," said Sohad Murrar, the study author. Murrar is a graduate student studying social and personality psychology in at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "It was particularly exciting to see this positive shift it was quite a robust effect, and we think if people's prejudice was dampened in this case, this could be applied to other target groups."