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. www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15213269.2013.773494

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Teens unlikely to be harmed by moderate digital screen use

January 13, 2017

Parents and pediatricians alike may worry about the effects of teens' screen time, but new findings from over 120,000 adolescents in the UK indicate that the relationship between screen time and well-being is weak at best, ...

Schizophrenia could directly increase risk of diabetes

January 12, 2017

People with early schizophrenia are at an increased risk of developing diabetes, even when the effects of antipsychotic drugs, diet and exercise are taken out of the equation, according to an analysis by researchers from ...

0 comments

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.