A Content Analysis on the Media Portrayal of Characters with Limb Loss

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Abstract

Background

Mass media, such as movies, may be a factor in how society views people with limb loss. If the portrayal is inaccurate or negative, then this could create additional challenges for people with limb loss to cope with their amputation and reintegrate with society. The purpose of this study was to define the portrayal of characters with amputation in movies. The hypothesis was that positive portrayal of characters with amputation, defined as heroism and realistic prostheses, would increase over time.

Methods

Quantitative content analysis was performed to systematically and objectively analyze the media's portrayal of characters with amputations. Movies released in US theaters from 1966 to 2015 were selected from the International Movie Database. Characters were identified as being portrayed as a hero or a villain and by the type of prosthetic technology they used.

Results

A total of 162 characters in 118 movies were identified, but only 92 characters could be identified as hero or villain for subsequent analysis. Time was found to have no effect on positive portrayal (p = 0.324). Heroism alone was found to increase significantly over time (p = 0.007), whereas realistic prostheses demonstrated a trend to decline over time (p = 0.238).

Conclusion

Positive portrayal did not increase over time. However, heroism did increase over time, whereas inaccurate depictions of prosthetic limbs were more frequent overall, regardless of time. This means that when a character with amputation was a hero, he/she was more likely using prosthetic technology that does not exist in reality. These data demonstrate a need to better educate the public and encourage more accurate depictions in the media.

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