Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communication

Document Type



This dissertation examined tolerance of polygamists as a result of exposure to television programming. Specifically, it looked at how audiences form attitudes toward the practice of polygamy and its participants in light of viewing its portrayals in popular television entertainment. Using historical research, semi-structured interviews, surveys of viewers and students, and an experiment, I explored the issue of tolerance among different types of Americans. The findings in these studies demonstrate that Americans never cared for polygamy and continue to find little appeal for its practice. Yet, we are captivated by television shows that focus on polygamy. Part of our habit of tuning in is related to how we process portrayals of individual polygamists; we compare ourselves with them, sometimes upwardly or downwardly, and may build parasocial bonds with them through our screens. I found strong support for the parasocial contact hypothesis, and argue that with positive portrayals over time, viewing individual characters in such shows could erode the sense of “divergence” we feel as a result of our unfamiliarity with the practice. On the other hand, negative and even mixed portrayals of polygamists can reinforce our existing stereotypes and prejudices.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Porter, Lance