Character Gender and Disposition Formation in Narratives: The Role of Competing Schema

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How viewers form dispositions toward narrative characters is a central question of affective disposition theory. Two routes are explained by current models: Schema activation, whereby viewers’ dispositions are based on perceived narrative role, and behavioral approbation, whereby viewers’ dispositions are based on moral approval/disapproval of behavior. What remains unclear is how competing character schemas function: Do they exert their influence in the same location of the serial process? Or, does the impact of schemas on disposition formation depend on the schema? The current paper builds on past work that experimentally manipulated schema activation and behavioral approbation with experimental inductions. We extend that past work by crossing its hero/villain-schema induction with another: character gender. After validating stimuli in a pilot study, our main experiment demonstrated that gender did not moderate hero/villain-schema activation; behavioral approbation, however, was more extreme for female characters. Theoretical implications suggest that various character schemas may have distinct roles to play in disposition formation, with these distinctions being unaccounted for by current theory. Practical implications suggest that female characters may elicit stronger positive/negative dispositions and, through outcome evaluation processes, narrative enjoyment. Thus, Hollywood’s current lack of female character representation is likely hurting their bottom line.




Francemone, C. J., Grizzard, M., Fitzgerald, K., Huang, J., & Ahn, C. (2022). Character Gender and Disposition Formation in Narratives: The Role of Competing Schema. Media Psychology, 25(4), 547–564.

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