WHEN GOOD CHARACTERS DO BAD THINGS: EXAMINING THE EFFECT OF MORAL AMBIGUITY ON ENJOYMENT
 
Student researcher

K. Maja Krakowiak (Graduate Student)

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. Mary Beth Oliver

Abstract

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.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. Mary Beth Oliver by e-mail at mbo@psu.edu or by telephone at (814) 863-5552

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