Alcohol portrayal on prime-time television: manifest and latent messages

J Stud Alcohol. 1998 May;59(3):305-10. doi: 10.15288/jsa.1998.59.305.


Objective: The research in this article is designed to improve our understanding of alcohol messages embedded in prime-time television, especially when adolescent characters are shown portraying or consuming alcohol.

Method: Manifest and latent content analyses are used to assess the frequency of alcohol portrayal in prime-time television and the personality traits (powerful, admirable, smart) of characters shown consuming or portraying alcohol on prime-time television. The sample includes 224 hours of programming across 276 programs on four major networks.

Results: Alcoholic beverages were the most frequently portrayed food or drink. The prominence of alcohol in prime-time television applies to all characters, including adolescents. The proportion of all food and drink incidents accounted for by alcohol equaled .14 for male and .20 for female adolescent television characters. Moreover, when adolescent characters are involved with alcohol incidents, they are more likely to be shown consuming this alcohol than are adults. A significant finding was that adolescents portraying alcohol in programming were shown to have significantly more negative personality characteristics than did characters in older age groups.

Conclusions: Compared with other studies, this study finds higher rates of alcohol portrayal by adolescents on prime-time television. The negative character portrayal of adolescents involved with alcohol is encouraging. However, adult and high-income characters involved with alcohol, who might serve as role models for younger adults are, on average, shown with positive personality characteristics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Alcoholic Beverages
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personality
  • Public Opinion*
  • Social Desirability
  • Social Identification
  • Television*