Audience reactions to media personae Audience members can react in many ways to media personae • The reaction/perspective will depend on a variety of factors. A few significant questions include: – Does the audience member treat the personae as realistic in some way? • Does the audience member ‗suspend disbelief in relation to the portrayed environment? To the character? To the actor/anchor/etc. – What impression does the audience member have of the character‘s personality? – What position does the audience member take in relation to the text and/or the character? – Is the viewer/audience member drawn to the character in some non-cognitive way? Does the audience member treat the personae as realistic in some way? • This does not require that the audience member perceive the persona to exist as a real person when the show ends. The persona must be capable of acting as an appropriate character within the constraints of the program-world and the program-world must be accepted in the sense of suspension of disbelief. – Robot What impression does the audience member have of the character‘s personality? • Viewer/listeners/audience members evaluate the morality of characters, etc. through their words and deeds and, sometimes, their thoughts as revealed by the author/director, etc. – Attribution • Audience members tend to affiliate with those they admire, but there are exceptions – Large numbers of viewers liked J.R. Ewing the best among characters on Dallas • Viewer evaluations vary along a wide contiuum, from adoraction (fan clubs) to disgust (chearing at the dismemberment of villains, etc.) What position does the audience member take in relation to the text and/or the character? • Does the audience member maintain the position of external spectator, aware of the fictitious nature of the presentation? • Does the audience member take a perspective from inside the portrayed world? – Character within the story – Internal spectator • Does the audience come to inhabit the body of a character, ―living within‖ the on-screen (or instory, or on-radio) persona? Does the viewer/audience member react to the character in some non-cognitive way? • The evidence seems to indicate that an audience member may be attracted to, repulsed by, terrified of, or in some other non-thinking way, affected by the persona portrayed. What is ‗identification‘? • Identification is where the audience member takes on the role of the persona – ―vicarious experience‖ of things that we could not otherwise have any access to [Cohen, 2002] – Audience members may ‗try on‘ others‘ identities, etc. • Seen as both natural and troubling in teenagers • Thought to be especially common in online roleplaying • ―Identification is fleeting and varies in intensity (Wilson, 1993), a sensation felt intermittently during exposure to a media message. While identifying with a character, an audience member imagines him- or herself being that character and replaces his or her personal identity and role as audience member with the identity and role of the character within the text. While strongly identifying, the audience member ceases to be aware of his or her social role as an audience member and temporarily (but usually repeatedly) adopts the perspective of the character with whom he or she identifies.‖ • Cohen, 2006 • An important basis for identification is when the audience member understands and then adopts the goals of a character. The audience member then reacts to the attempt to reach those goals within the environment of the story, etc. • Cohen, 2006 • Directors and writers create characters with whom audiences are meant to interact to enjoy books, films, or television programs. Unlike identification with parents, leaders, or nations, identification with media characters is a result of a carefully constructed situation. Thus, media studies of identification must account for the production of identification targets as well as the identification of audiences with them. Finally, it is important to note that identification is a response to communication by others that is marked by internalizing a point of view rather than a process of projecting one‘s own identity onto someone or something else. • The process of identification may begin because of a production feature that brings the audience member to adopt a character‘s perspective (Wilson, 1993), an audience member‘s fondness for a specific character (Cohen, 1999), or a realization that a similarity exists between the audience member and a character (Maccoby & Wilson, 1957). These lead to a psychologicalmerging(Oatley, 1999) or attachment, inwhichthe audiencemember comes to internalize the characters‘ goals within the narrative. The audience member then empathizes with the character and adopts the character‘s identity. As the narrative progresses, the audience member simulates the feelings and thoughts appropriate for the events that occur. Identification may be ended or interrupted whenthe audience member is made aware of him- or herself through an external stimuli (e.g., the phone rings), a textual stimuli (e.g., a change of camera angle or a direct reference to the reader), or the end of the story. Outcomes of identification may include increased liking or imitation but can also include negative feelings. Identifying with extremely negative characters who are evil or very violent may evoke some understanding or even sympathy for them during reading or viewing but strongly identifying with such a character is likely to cause dissonance, guilt, or even fear. Identification Parasocial interaction Interactional Liking, similarity, affinity Attitude Imitation Nature of process Emotional and cognitive, alters state of awareness Understanding and empathy As character Absorption in text, emotional release Behavior Basis Attraction Perception of character and self As self Fandom, realism Modeling Positioning of viewer Associated phenomena As self Attachment to character and text, keeping company As self As learner (self as other) Learning, reinforcement Positioning of viewer As character As self As learner (self as other) Four dimensions of identification The first is empathy or sharing the feelings of the character (i.e., being happy; sad; or scared, not for the character, but with the character). The second is a cognitive aspect that is manifest in sharing the perspective of the character. Operationally this can be measured by the degree to which an audience member feels he or she understands the character and the motivations for his or her behavior. The third indicator of identification is motivational, and this addresses the degree to which the audience member internalizes and shares the goals of the character. Finally, the fourth component of identification is absorption or the degree to which self-awareness is lost during exposure to the text. • [Cohen, 2002] Influence of medium • Literature—invites identification with hero/protagonist and, to a lesser extent, narrator • Film—encourages spectator role, but may foster identification with protagonist or camera—‖narrator‖ • Television—too uninvolving to lead to identification at all – Domestic, chaotic viewing situation Identification and fictional involvement • Identifying with a character: – ―provides a point of view on the plot‖ – ―leads to an understanding of character motives‖ – brings about ―an investment in the outcome of events‖ – generates ―a sense of intimacy and emotional connection with a character‖ • [Source: Cohen, 2006] Encouraging identification • ―Writing, acting, and directing must be of sufficient quality‖ • ―partly achieved by offering an illusion of reality‖ • ‗relevance‘ and ‗resonance‘ of issues and events Antecedents to identification • Similarity and homophily • Children: – Identify with role models—who they would like to be more than who they are like • Especially children over 8 – Attitude homophily positively related to identification – Identified with child characters (similar to themselves) • Exception: girls often identified with male characters – Identified with animals • Teens – Often chose opposite-sex characters based on romantic or sexual attraction – Favored young adult rather than teen characters • Working-class women identified with upper class women on Dynasty more than did middle class women • 1/5 of German men chose female favorite TV person compared to 1/3 German women choosing male • Aggressive children repored higher homophily and identification with aggressive characters • ―it seems that whereas similarity in attitudes predicts character choice, simple demographic similarity is not a good predictor. People often identify with characters that represent what they wish to be or to whom they are attracted, rather than what they are. It also seems that psychological similarity is more important than demographic similarity in shaping identification.‖ • [Source: Cohen, 2006] Traits of characters that encourage identification • Men: Boys and girls like them for their intelligence, girls like them for sense of humor • Women: Boys and girls judged them based on their looks • Heroes identified with more often than villains – Exception: many preferred J.R. Ewing • In general, strength, humor and physical attractiveness are preferred – Much like in real life • In general, much left to be determined in why people are attracted to characters Authorial devices • Protagonist point of view • Voice-over narration of thoughts • Direct address to audience Viewer characteristics • Findings on gender ambiguous – Women higher in parasocial interaction • Findings concerning age are ambiguous – Young, teens and older adults appear to have stronger parasocial relationships • Does not appear to be related to poor interpersonal relations – Some indication that ―those anxiously attached individuals who desire strong relationships but have trouble developing secure and stable relationships‖ have the strongest parasocial relationships • [source: Cohen, 2006] Identification and effects • ―most—but not all—studies point to identification as playing an important role in media effects and suggest several reasons why identification intensifies the effects of media‖ – Cohen, 2006 Identification effects • • • • • • Increase enjoyment of fiction Persuasion Memorability Modeling and imitation Learning Reduced critical stance • ―In sum, identification is an active psychological state, but neither stable nor exclusive. It is one of many ways we respond to characters, and one of many positions from which we experience entertainment. The development and strength of identification depend on multiple factors: the nature of the character, the viewer, and the text (directing, writing, and acting). Finally, identification is part of a a larger set of responses to entertainment, ways in which we become engrossed and delighted by the fortunes and misfortunes of others.‖ – [Source: Cohen, 2006] Parasocial interaction • Horton and Wohl used the term in 195 Parasocial interaction • Developing a relationship with a media persona that exhibits some of the characteristics of interpersonal relationships • Liking, dislike • Talking to the character/yelling at the character • Feeling as though the character is addressing her individually • Seeing the persona as a ‗friend‘ • Caring about the persona • Missing the persona when skipping an episode, etc. Bibliography • Cohen, J. (2006). Audience identification with media characters. In J. Bryant & P. Vorderer (Eds.), Psychology of entertainment (pp. 183-197). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. • Horton, D., & Wohl, R. R. (1956). Mass communication and para-social interaction: Observations on intimacy at a distance. Psychiatry, 19, 215-229. • Klimmt, C., Hartmann, T., & Schramm, H. (2006). Parasocial interactions and relationships. In J. Bryant & P. Vorderer (Eds.), Psychology of entertainment (pp. 291-313). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.