Identification as a Mechanism of Narrative Persuasion

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CRXXXX10.1177/0093650211408594De Graaf et al.Communication Research © The Author(s) 2011 Reprints and permission: http://www.

Identification as a Mechanism of Narrative Persuasion

Communication Research 39(6) 802–823 © The Author(s) 2012 Reprints and permission: DOI: 10.1177/0093650211408594

Anneke de Graaf1, Hans Hoeken2, José Sanders2, and Johannes W. J. Beentjes1

Abstract To provide a causal test of identification as a mechanism of narrative persuasion, this study uses the perspective from which a story is told to manipulate identification experimentally and test effects on attitudes. In experiment 1, 120 participants read a story that was told either from the perspective of one character or another character, with both characters having opposing goals. Results showed that perspective influenced identification and story consistency of attitudes. Moreover, identification with one of the characters mediated the effect of perspective on attitudes. In experiment 2, 200 participants read a different story that was told from one of two perspectives, with both characters having opposing opinions. Results showed that identification with both characters mediated the effect of perspective on attitudes. The results of these experiments indicate that identification can be a mechanism of narrative persuasion. Keywords narrative persuasion, identification, narrative engagement, transportation, perspective

Identification as a Mechanism of Narrative Persuasion
It is by now well-established that narratives can have effects on readers’ real-world beliefs and attitudes (e.g., Appel & Richter, 2007; Diekman, McDonald, & Gardner, 2000; Strange & Leung, 1999). This phenomenon has been termed “narrative persuasion” and has attracted research interest from various disciplines such as health communication (Green, 2006), entertainment-education (Morgan, Movius, & Cody, 2009; Moyer-Gusé & Nabi, 2010), 1 2

University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Corresponding Author: Anneke de Graaf, Amsterdam School of Communication Research, University of Amsterdam, Kloveniersburgwal 48, 1012 CX Amsterdam, The Netherlands Email:

De Graaf et al.


and cultivation research (Busselle & Bilandzic, 2008). However, the exact mechanisms through which narratives exert persuasive influence are not clearly established. Generally, there is a consensus that the extent to which a reader is engrossed in a story or transported into a story world plays a role in generating narrative effects (see, for example, Green & Brock, 2000; Moyer-Gusé, 2008). Some research has shown that this narrative experience can indeed influence persuasive outcomes (Green, 2004; Green & Brock, 2000). However, recent research has shown that the experience of a narrative is multidimensional. (Busselle & Bilandzic, 2009). Some dimensions may be more important for persuasive effects to occur than others. Busselle and Bilandzic (2009), for instance, showed that their dimension of emotional engagement was correlated more strongly to story-consistent attitudes than the dimension of attentional focus. Establishing which dimensions of the narrative experience actually lead to persuasive effects will further expand our understanding of the mechanisms of narrative persuasion (see Busselle & Bilandzic, 2009; Green, 2006, p. 165). In this article, we focus on the dimension of identification with story characters. Several scholars put forward the idea that identification is a mechanism through which narratives exert persuasive influence (e.g., Green, 2006; Slater & Rouner, 2002). Also, some associations have been found between identification and story-consistent attitudes (De Graaf, Hoeken, Sanders, & Beentjes, 2009; Iguarta, 2010). However, a causal test of the effect of identification on...
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