This study used a 2 x 2 x 2 design to examine the effects of warning labels, bleeping, and gender on viewers' perceptions and enjoyment of a docu-drama. We also examined the individual difference variable of verbal aggressiveness to test for possible interactions. Overall, the warning labels increased enjoyment of the program containing profanity among college students. Bleeping had no effect on either program liking or perceptions of realism; however, bleeping decreased perceptions of the program's offensiveness, and increased viewers' perceptions of profanity frequently estimates. Lastly, verbally aggressive participants perceived the program as more realistic, and the language as less offensive
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 mandated that broadcasters in the United States adopt program age and content ratings in order to help viewers make program viewing decisions. Since then, not only have program ratings and warning labels become a more familiar sight on television programs, but the very content that viewers are being warned about (e.g., profanity) appears to be occurring more frequently (Bauder, 2002). Research has examined the effect of age and content ratings and warning labels on children's program liking and perceptions of content, and found that in some circumstances, warnings and ratings have effects opposite those intended by the legislators (see, for example, Cantor & Harrison, 1996). Considerably less research has examined the effect on adults' perceptions of content (however, see Bushman, 1997). Furthermore, a majority of the research examines the effects of ratings and warnings on violent content (e.g., Cantor & Harrison, 1996; Cantor, Harrison, & Nathanson, 1998; Herman & Leyens, 1977) or educational content (Krcmar & Albada, 2000). Little, if any research has examined the effect of ratings and warnings on attitudes toward, and perceptions of, other potentially objectionable material such as cursing. It may be interesting to ask, therefore, if assigning a warning label affects how adult viewers interpret and recall cursing when it appears in television programs.
In addition to the use of program warnings, there are increasing numbers of cable channels available to viewers which may have served to loosen some norms regarding appropriate standards for programming. For example, in a recent airing of A Season on the Brink, over 100 instances of curse words (including those restricted by most network television; e.g., goddamn) were recorded. Another airing of the same program self-censored (or "bleeped") the profanity. Therefore, although program ratings have allowed viewers greater opportunity to filter their viewing, lowered norms of self-censorship have perhaps broadened the material available to them. These less restrictive norms, on one hand, and more frequent labeling of material, on the other, lead us to ask how labels and self-censoring affect the enjoyment and perceptions of...