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“Web-sling to save or shoot to kill?” The impact of dissonant origin and antiheroic action on dispositional polarization and enjoyment

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The current study explores the impact of dissonant origin information (information about character origin that counters audiences’ prior knowledge) on dispositional shift (movement from more to less extreme judgments). In a 2 (action: pro- or anti-social) x 2 (outcome: rewarded or punished) x 2 (canonical/control or dissonant origin) between-subjects experimental design, participants receiving dissonant origin experienced greater dispositional polarization (that is, dramatic shift) – from extreme positive to extreme negative judgments; these effects intensified when the character’s actions were anti-social.

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“Web-sling to save or shoot to kill?” The impact of dissonant origin and antiheroic action on dispositional polarization and enjoyment

  1. 1. “WEB-SLING TO SAVE OR SHOOT TO KILL?” Interaction Lab (#ixlab) Bowman · Roman Knoster · Sanders
  2. 2. ABSTRACT The current study explores the impact of dissonant origin information (information about character origin that counters audiences’ prior knowledge) on dispositional shift (movement from more to less extreme judgments). In a 2 (action: pro- or anti-social) x 2 (outcome: rewarded or punished) x 2 (canonical/control or dissonant origin) between-subjects experimental design, participants receiving dissonant origin experienced greater dispositional polarization (that is, dramatic shift) – from extreme positive to extreme negative judgments; these effects intensified when the character’s actions were anti-social.
  3. 3. BACKGROUND • Morally ambiguous characters possess traits spanning the good/evil “dichotomy” • Origin stories set the anchor for this assessment
  4. 4. BACKGROUND “It is in the exposition that audiences are given the origin story of a character, and this origin often serves as the cognitive and affective anchor by which we weigh a character’s subsequent actions” (Raney, 2003).
  5. 5. BACKGROUND Origin Stories Espoused origins provide the moral lenses for … Character dispositions …our initial assessments of a character … Character actions …and contextualize how we accept or reject a character’s actions (regardless of this action’s “objective” valence) Origins provide the anchor for character impression formation (Sanders, 2010)
  6. 6. BACKGROUND The Comics Code Authority lead to the “great Silvering” of gritty heroes such as Batman.
  7. 7. HYPOTHESIS • (H1) The presentation of dissonant origin information will lessen the degree to which audiences are affectively polarized toward characters. • (H2) Moral evaluations of characters and their behaviors will mediate the relationship between origin stories and affective polarization. • An increase in good/evil polarization will be associated with – (H3a) lower feelings of eudaimonic appreciation – (H3b) higher feelings of hedonic enjoyment. Good “Meh” Evil
  8. 8. METHOD • N = 292 for a “story on superheroes” – (52% male, age M = 29.51, 30% comic fans) Your random* character is: Spider-Man The pages you’re about to read are still “in progress” so you’ll notice that the art and storyline are still a bit rough – this is completely normal as artists and writers will often tweak their products after getting feedback from readers. Please pay close attention to the developing storyline, and we’ll ask you about your thoughts once you’ve had a chance to read them. There should be five total draft comic book pages. *participants completed knowledge test on six super-heroes (foil)
  9. 9. METHOD • Five-page comics created w/ existing Spider-Man art Sample “good” action
  10. 10. METHOD • Spider-Man either rewarded or punished for his actions… “Punishment” “Reward” • …and directly (“bad”) or indirectly (“control”) killed his Uncle Ben
  11. 11. METHOD • Measures – Character disposition (-2 to +2) • Avg shift from 1.02 to -0.19; dispositional shift of M = -1.20 – Character knowledge (six-point) • all but n = 11 knew Spider-Man’s origin – Character morality (six-point) • Raney (2004); M = 2.93, SD = 1.11 – Enjoyment & appreciation • Oliver and Raney (2011): enjoyment M = 2.93 (SD = .86), appreciation M = 2.76 (SD = .88)
  12. 12. RESULTS: H1 • Dissonant origins should reduce polarization; not supported – Largest shift for “bad action, bad/good outcome, dissonant origin” (M ~ 1.90) – Least shift for “good action, bad/good outcome, control origin” (M ~ .50)
  13. 13. RESULTS: H2 Dissonant Origin -.240 Character Morality .486 Polarization “Good Action” narratives: ? ? Character Morality .376 Polarization Bad Action” narratives
  14. 14. RESULTS: H3 • Greater polarization was associated with higher enjoyment (H3a, R2 = .225)
  15. 15. DISCUSSION • “At least for the writers of such a popular superhero as Spider-Man, the current study suggests that when it comes to cherished heroes, “with great popularity, comes great responsibility.” Providing a dissonant anti-hero origin might be expected to give audiences more to contemplate, but the current study suggests that the introduction of intense dissonance might well result in a rejection of the hero label in favor for the villain one. In a way, the anti-hero exists in a precarious valley in between the heroic and the villainous – in between the web-slinger and the gun-slinger.”
  16. 16. FOR MORE INFORMATION http://comm.wvu.edu /fs/research/lab Nick Bowman, Ph.D. [CV] Twitter (@bowmanspartan) Skype (nicholasdbowman) nicholas.bowman@mail.wvu.edu Interaction Lab (#ixlab)

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