The effects of narrative media on self-perceptions: The role of identification and narrative engagement
 
Student researcher

Julia K. Woolley (Ph.D. student)
This paper is based on the author’s dissertation

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. Mary Beth Oliver (advisor, committee chair)

INTRODUCTION

Recent media effects research has investigated how experiences of engagement with media narratives can impact beliefs and attitudes on a wide variety of topics (e.g. Slater, 2002; Strange, 2002). One additional, important area of application for this research is in the role of media narratives in constructing views of the self and one's own life experiences. While this area of application has gained increasing attention over recent years (e.g. Appel, Richter, & Calio, 2011; Djikic, Oatley, Zoeterman, & Peterson, 2009; Gabriel & Young, 2011; Sestir & Green, 2010), many questions about the influence of media narratives on self-perceptions remain unanswered, including the nature and mechanisms of such effects, and the characteristics of media texts which lead to these outcomes. The current study uses an experimental method to test the importance of media exposure in general, as well as the importance of media structure (narrative versus non-narrative), in leading to shifts in self-concept and self-narrative themes. The mechanisms through which narrative (as opposed to non-narrative) media may be particularly influential in this regard, namely via experiences of narrative engagement and identification, are also explored.

RESEARCH QUESTION / HYPOTHESES:

H1: Characteristics of the self-narrative and self-concept will be positively related.
H2: Narrative media structure will result in greater congruency between media characteristics and characteristics of the self-narrative and self-concept than will non- narrative media structure.
H3: Both narrative and non-narrative media structure will result in greater congruency between media characteristics and characteristics of the self-narrative and self-concept than will a non-media control condition.
H4: Narrative media structure will lead to greater identification than non-narrative media structure.
H5: Narrative media structure will lead to greater transportation than non-narrative media structure.
H6: Identification and transportation will be positively correlated.
H7: Greater identification will lead to greater congruency between media characteristics and characteristics of the self-narrative and self-concept.
H8: Greater transportation will lead to greater congruency between media characteristics and characteristics of the self-narrative and self-concept.
H9: Identification and transportation will mediate the relationships between narrativity and congruency between media characteristics and characteristics of the self-narrative and self-concept.
RQ1: What will be more strongly associated with congruency between media characteristics and characteristics of the self-narrative and self-concept: transportation or identification?

METHOD

This study sought to examine if and how media presentations can influence viewers’ self- perceptions. The proposed model hypothesizes that narrative media format will be more influential than non-narrative media format in its effects on self-views, based on its ability to encourage experiences of engagement. The current method implemented a quantitative experimental design to test the proposed model. The use of a quantitative approach answers the call from some recent scholars to integrate psychological work on personal narrative with literary approaches to film and media (e.g. Weilnbock, 2009). The use of a quantitative approach is called for here given that the current study seeks to make generalizations about how media impact self-narratives, rather than explain individual instances of media use in rich detail.

RESULTS

Results indicate that in general, media structure does not predict self-perception outcomes. However, the results do lend partial support for the hypothesized direct effect of media exposure on self-narrative outcomes. Specifically, they suggest that media exposure may lead viewers to incorporate some aspects of media content and themes in forming prospective self-narratives. However, these results do not suggest that these effects are contingent upon narrative media structure or experiences of narrative engagement. Theoretical and practical implications, limitations, and potential future directions are also discussed.

DISCUSSION/ CONCLUSION

Overall, while the results of the current research were generally not supportive of the proposed hypotheses, they do suggest that viewers may incorporate some aspects of media content and themes in forming prospective self-narratives. However, these results do not suggest that these effects are contingent upon narrative media structure or experiences of narrative engagement. This study expands upon and contributes to a growing area of empirical research investigating the effects of media on self-views, by both experimentally testing the importance of narrativity in these processes, and expanding self-perception outcomes to include self-narratives. This particular area of research has important implications for individuals’ psychological well- being and general societal health, including outcomes ranging from the valence of self- perceptions to political beliefs. Future research should use a diversity of methods to continue to explore the characteristics of media texts and technologies which lead to changes in self- perceptions, and parse the various mechanisms through which such influences may occur.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at sss12@psu.edu or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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Media Effects Research Lab at College of Communications, Penn State University