Psychological research on narrative appears in many forms, originating in numerous separate disciplines. Recently, a publication in the journal Psychological Science caught my eye, although on the face of it there was not mention of narrative. Wilhelm Hofmann (Chicago), Kathleen Vohs (Minnesota), and Roy Baumeister (Florida State) conducted an intriguing study about desire during daily life. These researchers provided over 200 participants (primarily students) with Blackberry smartphones and for a week asked them to use these devices to respond to questions regarding their desires. These questions were sent to the participants 7 times a day, distributed over a 14 hour period, for 7 consecutive days, providing a portrait of desires for the week. Initially, participants simply indicated whether they were currently experiencing a desire or had just experienced one in the last 30 minutes. For those that answered in the affirmative, they then indicated what type of desire it was, from a list of 15 domains. Subsequent questions dealt with the strength of the desire, whether it conflicted with other personal goals, whether they tried to resist acting on this desire, and if so, whether they were successful in resisting the desire. Over the course of the week, the entire sample provided details on 7,827 episodes of desire. The most frequent desires were to eat, drink, and sleep. The finding that intrigued me, however, was that the desire to engage in media activities was the hardest to resist, with people failing to resist those desires almost half of the time (42%). The article itself does not mention what constitutes a media activity, so one might suspect that this was largely Internet use. However, the supplementary material provided online for this article indicate that the majority of these desires related to watching TV or other forms of video (51%), with Internet use accounting for only 32% of these desires (computer or videogames accounted for 11%). Although it is not clear how much of the television or video was narrative in nature, most of this content has narrative elements; even reality TV involves narrative tropes, complete with character arcs and traditional plot dynamics. In other words, although engaging with narrative was not the most frequent desire, it seems quite possible that engaging with narrative was one of the most difficult desires to resist.
Hofmann, W., Vohs, K. D., & Baumeister, R. F. (in press). What people desire, feel conflicted about, and try to resist in everyday life. Psychological Science.
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