The pursuit of hopefulness in entertainment media

September 23, 2013

Has a movie or TV show ever left you feeling happy or uplifted about your own life? Entertainment media provides a wealth of emotionally evocative content, but relatively little attention has been paid to the subject of media creating positive emotions, and specifically, hope. In a recent study entitled "The Pursuit of Hopefulness: Operationalizing Hope in Entertainment Media Narrative," published in Routledge Journal's Media Psychology, author Abby Prestin researches the effects of hope and underdog characters in entertainment media.

Feelings of hope are associated with benefits for psychological and physical wellbeing, and efforts to increase or sustain hopeful feelings are increasingly incorporated into wellness interventions. Positive emotions have also emerged as important predictors of social, physical, psychological, and even . Hope can be a coping resource during hardship, or can be an achievement-oriented emotion that predicts in a classroom. Recent research points to media as uplifting and elevating affective viewing responses, and could be a powerful means of generating hope.

"I felt that there was a in the existing literature, with the bulk of the research focusing on negative effects of entertainment media," says Prestin. "When you look out into the world, it's not difficult to find real life stories of people surviving situations where the odds aren't in their favor. Do these stories actually have an effect on the audience, and if so, what?"

Prestin set out with two goals for this study. First to identify a media narrative that evokes hope in viewers by testing the effectiveness of media portrayals of underdog characters, struggling to achieve their goals despite unfavorable odds. Second, she wanted to explore the extent to which such elicitation of hope motivates important , after viewing. "Is it something we feel briefly, like most emotions, and move on," Prestin asks, "or, is it something that changes us or that we carry with us?"

Participants were assigned to one of three media groups - underdog narrative, comedy, and nature scenes - or a no-media control group. Those in the media groups were assigned to view one 5-minute video clip per day for five consecutive days. Following this period, those in the underdog narrative group felt more hopeful and reported greater motivation to pursue their own goals than those in other conditions. And, partially consistent with Prestin' second hypothesis, the experience of hope was durable, with hopefulness remaining at elevated levels up to three days after the final media exposure.

Prestin's research shows a number of potentially important results. First, exposure to different types of positive , in all three cases, led to three different positive emotional responses. Second, the results of this study suggest that underdog narratives not only provide viewers with models of hard work and determination, but that inducing hope may increase the likelihood that viewers will pursue their own goals. "It has always seemed to me that there's an undeniable potency to inspirational stories that we haven't quite harnessed yet," says Prestin. "These results, to me, indicate that there are certain emotional, cognitive, and motivational pathways that inspirational underdog stories appear to activate. Although I wouldn't say I have harnessed the power of these stories yet, this study is a step in that direction."

Explore further: Multitasking may hurt your performance, but it makes you feel better

More information: The Pursuit of Hopefulness: Operationalizing Hope in Entertainment Media, Media Psychology.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Elderly may face increased dementia risk after a disaster

October 24, 2016

Elderly people who were uprooted from damaged or destroyed homes and who lost touch with their neighbors after the 2011 tsunami in Japan were more likely to experience increased symptoms of dementia than those who were able ...

Research examines role of early-life stress in adult illness

October 24, 2016

Scientists have long known that chronic exposure to psychosocial stress early in life can lead to an increased vulnerability later in life to diseases linked to immune dysfunction and chronic inflammation, including arthritis, ...

Plan ahead for successful aging, researcher says

October 20, 2016

For many people, the prospect of aging is scary and uncomfortable, but Florida State University Assistant Professor Dawn Carr says that research reveals a few tips that can improve our chances of a long, healthy life.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.