The portrayal of female characters as "weak" in television shows is what influences attitudes about women - not sex and violence, according to a new study.
Christopher Ferguson, Associate Professor at Texas A&M International University, who conducted the research, dubbed the apparent phenomenon the 'Buffy Effect', saying it is the portrayal of women, rather than the twists and turns of the plot, that has positive or negative effects.
He told The Huffington Post UK that society has been "distracted by sex and violence," adding he believed the study showed the "importance of strong female role models."
"We've probably been too distracted by sex and violence in the media, as they are part of the 'culture wars'," Ferguson said.
"Increasingly research indicates violent media has very little impact on behaviour, contrary to previous thought.
"We may have been distracted by the "moral" content, and not paid enough attention to the more basic issue of how women are portrayed."
Professor Malcolm Parks of the University of Washington said the study challenged the assumption "that viewing sexually violent TV involving women causes men to think negatively of women."
"The results of this carefully designed study demonstrate that they do so only when women are portrayed as weak or submissive," he said.
"Positive depictions of women challenge negative stereotypes even when the content includes sexuality and violence."
The study, published in the Journal of Communication, looked at reactions to portrayal of women in 7th Heaven, Gilmore Girls, The Tudors, Masters of Horror, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Law and Order: SVU in a controlled study with 150 students in the US.
"I think this points to the importance of strong women role models, both in real life and in fictional media, and how important these role models are for both men and women, or boys and girls," he said.
"I do believe this research points to the value of strong women characters in all manner of fictional media."