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Researchers say salespeople most negatively portrayed job in TV and movies

Researchers analyzed 136,000 films and TV shows to find how on-screen representations of professions have changed.

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By Stephen Beech via SWNS

Salespeople are the most negatively represented profession onscreen, reveals new research.

Architects and engineers are the most positively portrayed professions, according to the study of movies and TV shows over seven decades.

Mentions of astronauts, detectives, therapists, musicians, singers and engineers have become more positive over time while sentiment expressed toward lawyers, police and doctors has become more negative.

The analysis of 136,000 films and TV shows to find how on-screen representations of professions have changed also found that mentions of sports and entertainment occupations have increased, while mentions of manual labour and military professions have decreased.

Researchers say that probing media depictions of professions can highlight stereotypes or discrimination.

It can also underscore trends in career choices.

For example, "Mad Men" prompted many to enroll in advertising courses, while Dana Scully, as portrayed by Gillian Anderson in "The X-Files", inspired young women to pursue a career in science and the release of the movie "Top Gun" saw a dramatic increase in US Navy recruitment.

Researchers at the University of Southern California created a database of the English subset of the OpenSubtitles dataset, analyzing mentions of 4,000 professions in subtitles across 136,000 movies and TV shows released between 1950 and 2017.

While overall the frequency of job titles in media correlated with real-world employment statistics of corresponding professions, the researchers found differing trends for specific occupations.

They saw increased mentions of STEM, arts, sports, and entertainment occupations over the years, and a decreased frequency of manual labor and military occupations.

They also found that gender-neutral terms such as massage therapists and flight attendants are becoming more frequent than their gendered counterparts.

The findings, published in the journal PLOS One, also showed that the frequency of some female job titles - such as waitresses, congresswomen, and policewomen - has either increased or remained steady, but are not as frequent as most male job titles.

The frequency of specialized professions - such as cardiologists, gynecologists, and neurologists - has increased while generic terms such as doctor and nurse have decreased

The research team says their study is limited to subtitles and to UK and US media, so may not capture all aspects of visual representation on screen, and the frequency and sentiment analyses do not control for frequency and sentiment in everyday language.

However, they believe that the study provides a "valuable insight" into media depictions of professions over time.

Co-author Professor Shrikanth Narayanan said: “AI provides a quick and fast way to quantify social trends in movies and TV over time.

"In this particular study, we are able to understand sentiment towards a host of professions. It is interesting to note that the careers on screen dovetail with real-life trends in employment.

"It is important to study how entertainment media represents professions because it influences our beliefs, actions, and behaviors, including our choices in life, including one’s career path.

"We chose to investigate how professions are broadly represented and portrayed in media supported by computational approaches.

"We reviewed the subtitles of 136,000 movies and TV shows over seven decades, and using AI, studied the frequency and sentiment trends communicated about professions.

"Our goal was to find which professions had become popular in media narratives over time, and which jobs were portrayed favorably, versus which were talked about negatively in media content.

"We noticed a few trends. First, gender-neutral and specialized professional words have become more frequent over time.

"Second, science and technology-related professions are portrayed more favorably than jobs involving manual labor.

"Third, the frequency of some explicitly-gendered professional terms such as waitresses, policewomen, and congresswomen has increased, but their overall frequency lags behind that of their counterpart male job titles.

"Lastly, the frequency of profession mentions correlates with real-world employment figures.

"The most interesting finding is that media frequency significantly correlates with employment statistics.

"Professions that employ more people are talked about more in movies. However, we should be careful not to infer causality between the two trends."

He added: "We observed more mentions of the word 'actor' than 'actress' in adventure and thriller-genre movies, but the opposite holds for the romantic-genre content, suggesting gender bias in these genres.

"However, we did not study how this changed over time, and only focused on the overall frequency."

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