WHEN GOOD CHARACTERS DO BAD THINGS: EXAMINING THE EFFECT OF MORAL
AMBIGUITY ON ENJOYMENT
K. Maja Krakowiak (Graduate Student)
Dr. Mary Beth Oliver
Much research has examined responses to purely good and purely bad characters
(i.e., characters that are either consistently good or consistently bad).
However, some of the most beloved and compelling characters do not fall
into either of these categories, because they do both good and bad things.
Even though these morally ambiguous characters are prevalent in literature,
television, and films, little is known about how individuals derive enjoyment
from content featuring these types of characters. The present study empirically
tests the effects of morally ambiguous, good, and bad characters on audience
responses. Findings reveal that affective dispositions, perceived realism,
transportation, suspense, need for cognition, and tolerance of ambiguity
each influence overall enjoyment of entertainment content. Furthermore,
the results indicate that different character types are appealing for
different reasons. Specifically, good characters are enjoyed because they
are well liked; bad characters are liked the least, but they are equally
as transporting, suspenseful, and thus cognitively engaging as other characters.
Morally ambiguous characters, on the other hand, are liked less than good
characters, but they are nevertheless equally as transporting, suspenseful,
cognitively engaging, and thereby enjoyable as good characters. This study
thus provides a deeper understanding of the ways in which different character
types affect enjoyment. The implications of these findings on various
media effects theories are discussed.