Violence on television has long been a scourge of parents, politicians, and children’s advocates. Countless hours have been spent documenting and criticizing—to say nothing of watching—TV’s depiction of murder, torture, and other violent acts.
But what about televised altruism? For the first time ever, researchers have measured the amount of behavior on TV that reflects the brighter side of human nature, and they’ve outlined where viewers can find it.
For 17 hours a day over 12 weeks, researchers recorded 18 channels on American TV—from PBS to Fox to MTV to A&E—and analyzed the results. They were looking for particular kinds of helping or sharing behavior. “If it was a mother helping her own child—that’s not really altruism, it’s role related,” says Sandi Smith, a professor of communication at Michigan State University and one of the lead researchers. “It had to be above and beyond what you’d expect in everyday life.”
Over those 12 weeks, they found that 1,621 programs featured altruistic acts, which represents nearly 73 percent of all the programs they recorded. There was a total of 5,152 incidents of altruism on those programs, a rate of 2.92 acts per hour. Here are some other highlights from their study, which was recently published in the Journal of Communication.