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Cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Flemish television: challenges to the television effects hypothesis
  1. J Van den Bulck,
  2. K Damiaans
  1. Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Department of Communication, Leuven, Belgium
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professsor J Van den Bulck Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
 Department of Communication, Van Evenstraat 2 A, 3000 Leuven, Belgium;


Background: People who watch a lot of medical fiction overestimate the success rate of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). It has been suggested that this is because CPR is usually shown to be successful on television. This study analysed a popular Flemish medical drama series. Previous research showed that heavy viewing of this series was related to overestimation of CPR success.

Method: Content analysis of 70 episodes of “Spoed” in the period between 2001 and the first three months of 2003. Causes and treatment of cardiac arrest and outcome of CPR were recorded in the same way as previous studies.

Results: CPR was performed 31 times in the 70 episodes. Only 19% of the patients survived the resuscitation attempt. Most patients were middle aged or older. Causes of arrest were different from those in British or American television series.

Conclusions: The low survival rate challenges the idea that heavy viewers adopt the overestimation shown by television. Psychological research shows that people ignore base rate information in the shape of statistics, in favour of vivid, dramatic examples. Showing some impressive examples of success might therefore be more important than the overall success rate. It is suggested that the message of television fiction is that doctors are not powerless and that treatment does not stop once the heart stops beating. This helps to create what has been called an “illusion of efficacy”.

  • cardiopulmonary resuscitation
  • television effects

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  • Funding: none.

  • Conflicts of interest: none declared.

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