Our Research

This page presents our current major areas of research. You’ll find descriptions of our projects and links to publications.

Heroes and Villains

Narrative characters are central to the enjoyment we derive from stories. We hope liked characters to experience positive outcomes and negative characters to experience negative outcomes, while we fear the opposite. These are the basic propositions of affective disposition theory. Although the theory proposes that liking develops from moral judgments of character behavior, some researchers such as Art Raney have suggested that liking can develop from character-schema-activation. We have begun and continue to test these propositions in empirical studies where we activate perceptions of heroes and villains through the use of visual cues. Our initial studies in this line were published in 2017 in Communication Research.

Narrative Retribution

Enacting vengeance upon deserving others is a central trope within narratives. Early research indicates that equitable retribution, where the punishment is the same magnitude as the offense, is preferred to forgiveness and overretribution. We are exploring how individuals process and respond to forgiveness, equitable retribution, and overretribution using a speeded-response paradigm. Preliminary results indicate that not only do viewers like equitable retribution more than both forgiveness and overretribution, they are more quick to make their decision in these instances.

Graphic Violence and Its Place in Media

Common sense tells us that graphic violence should be censored in media. Humans, however, are motivated more by concrete examples than abstract accounts. Can graphic violence lead to a more caring public? Will censoring graphic violence fail to engender strong responses to societal problems, such as genocide or mass killings? What are the costs associated with showing and not showing graphic violence? These are some of the questions we are asking. Our initial studies, published in Mass Communication & Society, indicate that more graphic violence can lead to stronger emotional responses and greater desires to quell violence.