What is the Line Between Love and Hate? Archetypal Role, Social Behavior
and Their Effects on Character Perception and Attraction
Meghan Sanders, Djung Tchoi, and Hope White
This paper is based on a project from a graduate research methods course.
Dr. S. Shyam Sundar
For a complete report of this research, see:
Sanders, M. S., Tchoi, D. J., & White, H. L. (2003, May). The line
between love and hate: Archetypal role and behavior's effects on character
perception and attraction. Paper presented to the Mass Communication Division
at the 53rd annual convention of the International Communication Association,
San Diego, CA.
Film characters are often the main targets for influencing audiences.
Researchers have found that people tend to imitate characters they see,
wish to be like them and even find solace in being third-party observers
of their “day to day” actions and the events that take place
in their lives. Screenwriters and producers of television and film tend
to focus on what they call “character-driven” projects in
an effort to draw viewers in, making them feel various emotions for the
characters depicted. Attraction to characters may depend upon the character’s
behavior, character’s perceived personality traits, character identification,
or the desire to be in the character’s shoes. Certain images and
characters have been found to have significantly greater influences than
other types of images and characters. This has been evidenced in research
examining advertisements, film, and literature. Therefore it is of interest
to determine which characters (heroes or villains) have more influence
on audiences than others and what in particular causes certain perceptions
and attractions, behavior or the role itself.
Research Question and Hypotheses:
Specifically, we asked the following research question:
RQ: For college students, what is the relationship between character’s
archetypal role and behavior and perception of character and type and
degree of attraction to the character?
Given that attraction and the perceptions formed about characters can
depend on behavior and the roles that are being portrayed and that other
researchers have found the two to be intertwined we hypothesized that:
H1: Role and behavior will have unique effects for both character perception
H2: Characters who are perceived prosocial heroes will be more liked
by viewers than any other character.
H3: Viewers will like prosocial villains less than they will any other
To examine the effect of archetypal role and behavior on character perception
and attraction, an experimental research design was developed. Using a
2 (Role) X2 (Behavior) between subjects fully crossed factorial design,
four experimental conditions were established: hero prosocial, hero antisocial,
villain prosocial and villain antisocial. A total of 84 Penn State students
participated in the study and were randomly assigned to conditions. Since
character roles and development are especially distinct in comic books,
often emphasizing archetypal role and behavior, a comic book was created
as a stimulus. Two female comic characters from the “Danger Girl”
comic book series were chosen and biographies created for the characters.
The biographies and dialogue were manipulated to fit the characteristics
of the roles and behaviors. The second character was designed to be the
control character not exhibiting characteristics of any archetypal role
or behavior. The control character’s biography and dialogue was
not changed for any of the conditions. A factor reduction of the personality
traits measured yielded three factors: Gentility, Ability, Integrity.
H1: Supported. Participants thought prosocial characters and heroes to
be more Gentile and have more Integrity than antisocial characters and
villains. However, they thought villains had greater Ability than heroes;
the characters’ behavior did not affect ratings of Ability. As seen
in the graph below, behavior was an influencing factor on perceptions
of Integrity for the hero, but the behavior did not matter in perceiving
Integrity when the character was a villain.
H2 and H3: Not supported.
The results did not show role and behavior to have a combined effect
on how much each of the manipulated characters were liked. However, behavior
alone did influence how much the characters were liked and how much participants
viewed them as being similar to themselves. Prosocial characters were
liked more and were thought to be more similar to the participants. Role,
as well as behavior, did determine how each participant wishfully identified
with the characters (i. e., if they could be a character, which one would
they wish to be). When the main character was a hero, more participants
wished they could be the control character. However, when the main character
was a villain, more participants wished they could be that villain. When
the main character showed prosocial behaviors, more participants wished
they could be that prosocial character, but when the main character was
antisocial, more participants wished they could be the secondary character.
These results suggest that there may be a distinction between attraction
to characters and how we evaluate them. Behavior may be what viewers deem
as most important when determining how attracted they are to a character.
Role, on the other hand, may be taken more into consideration when people
are evaluating the characters being viewed. This may help explain why
viewers can like characters but still evaluate them as being the "bad
guys" (i.e. Hannibal Lecter, cheering of villains/bad guys in professional