Monday 18 January 2016

Research Bulletin: Engaging with Compelling Stories and Promoting Prosocial Behavior

Deep engagement in a narrative is sometimes known as “transportation”, based on the metaphor of being transported into a narrative world (Gerrig, 1993). This includes our level of immersion in a narrative, including our ability to understand, pay attention to, and have strong emotional experiences in reaction to characters and events in a narrative. Being deeply transported into a narrative also makes us more likely to be persuaded by the themes embedded in the story. Kelly A. Correa, Bradly T. Stone, Maja Stikic, Robin R. Johnson, and Chris Berka (Advanced Brain Monitoring, inc.) set out to find whether narratives could promote prosocial behaviour, such as donating to a charity. Their study involved participants (N = 49) watching a video of a professional storyteller telling one of two possible versions of a story, with both stories having a theme of fairness and justice. The two versions of the story differed in the level of injustice present at the story’s resolution, along with the degree of empathy elicited toward the protagonist and antagonist. While watching the video, the researchers monitored the heart-rate of the participants to gauge their emotional reactions to the story. After viewing the video, participants completed questionnaires about the narrative and their level of immersion in the story. Lastly, participants had the opportunity to donate to a charity of their choice at the end of the study (out of a selection of 3 possible charities). 

The researchers found that the level of injustice portrayed in the story had an effect on participants’ decision to donate. Only 21.7% participants who listened to the version of the story with the unjust resolution donated, compared to 46.2% of the participants exposed to the just resolution. Additionally, participants’ emotional states and the variability in their heart rate predicted their donation behaviour. 

This study provides evidence that narratives can persuade and influence concrete prosocial behaviour. It also highlights how emotion plays an important role in motivating the behaviours endorsed by a story. 

Correa, K. A., Stone, B. T., Stikic, M., Johnson, R. R., & Berka, C. (2015). Characterizing donation behaviour from psychophysiological indices of narrative experience. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 9:301. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2015.00301

Gerrig, R. J. (1993). Experiencing narrative worlds. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Post by Lilach Dahoah-Halevi

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