Fiction reading and sexism: Exploring the effects of fiction reading and transportation on sexist attitudes
It has long been suspected that stories are a powerful method of persuasion. Now, research is emerging that supports these suspicions, that reading fiction can change people’s attitudes. Specifically, being immersed in a narrative, also known as being transported, has been proposed as a conditional mechanism for narrative persuasion. Both transportation and narrative are beginning to be examined as tools for attitude change, particularly with the intention of reducing discriminatory beliefs. However, negative attitudes about women have not been examined in this context. The goals of this thesis were two-fold: First, to demonstrate that reading fiction may lead to reduced sexism, and second, to show that this association would be moderated by narrative transportation. A correlational study (Study 1) was conducted to assess whether long-term readers report lower sexism. Using indirect measures of reading habits, it was demonstrated that people who read more overall showed less benevolent, hostile, and implicit sexism. Individual tendencies to be transported did not predict this relationship. However, as the effects of fiction and non-fiction reading were unable to be disentangled, experimental studies followed to examine whether reading fiction specifically is associated with reduced sexism. Study 2 examined whether sexism could be altered by reading fiction compared to nonfiction, and whether transportation would moderate this effect. Readers who were more or less transported into the narrative showed a decrease or increase in sexism, respectively, after reading fiction but not after reading non-fiction. However, there were no differences between fiction conditions with different sexism content. This was examined further in Studies 3 and 4. While Study 3 showed no interaction of transportation between different fiction conditions for sexism, Study 4 included a more rigorous test of content effects, and showed that for more transported readers, sexism decreased over a two week period after reading a fictional passage about sexism, but not after reading about racism. Studies 5 and 6 attempted to manipulate transportation, by increasing the opportunity for mental imagery (Study 5) or by providing pictures with the readings (Study 6). However, neither study was successful in manipulating transportation. In Study 5, mental imagery interacted with measured transportation to increase benevolent sexism scores. Study 6 also showed no effect of imagery on transportation, however, imagery did manipulate the sexist effects of reading about a female character. These results suggested that predicted processes in transportation such as imagery, may actually work independently from transportation. In a final exploratory study (Study 7), participants had heart rate variability (HRV) measured while reading a fiction passage containing explicit examples of sexism. As transported readers were predicted to experience the narrative as if it were real, then this should be associated with physiological correlates. Although transportation was not directly associated with HRV, transportation interacted with HRV for implicit sexism measures, meaning that less transported readers showed a positive association between HRV and sexism, with no association found for more transported readers. These results suggest that transportation may involve several processes, but also that physiology could be an exciting tool to help examine transportation processes in the future. In conclusion, this thesis contains original contributions to narrative persuasion literature, by showing that reading fiction is generally associated with lower sexism, and that these effects are often moderated by transportation. This thesis also highlights several implications for Transportation Theory: that the boundary conditions of transportation effects and the components involved must be further explored, and that consistent manipulation of transportation is essential for continued study of narrative persuasion.
Advisor: Halberstadt, Jamin
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Psychology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: narrative persuasion; fiction reading; transportation; sexism; ambivalent sexism; sexism reduction
Research Type: Thesis