Does anthropomorphism affect people's ability to distinguish fact from fiction?
Hight, Sarah Rosemary
Anthropomorphism is a fictional tool that is used in documentaries to invoke empathy and communicate science in an entertaining and engaging way. However, the appropriateness of anthropomorphism is contested as it may fictionalise scientific content, create misleading messages and undermine the factual authority of documentaries. This thesis presents the benefits and consequences of using anthropomorphism and explores whether anthropomorphism can alter people’s ability to distinguish fact and fiction. To test this empirically, participants (N= 265) were shown one of two films and then asked to answer a short online survey. The two films were the same duration (1.56 minutes), and used identical footage from A Million Dollar Nose (Hight, 2016; the creative component of this thesis). Although they both used the same narrator, one films’ narration was anthropomorphic (Film A) whilst the other was non-anthropomorphic (Film B). Half of the participants watched Film A and the other half watched Film B. All participants then completed a short survey containing multi-choice and Likert scale questions that tested memory recall and their attitudes towards the film’s content. The results found that although both films were perceived as having the same level of accuracy, the anthropomorphised film was less strongly identified as a documentary (P=0.002). However, the anthropomorphised film also increased accurate information recall (P=0.035) without creating anthropomorphic attitudes towards the films content. This suggests that anthropomorphism is a useful tool for communicating science, engaging audiences and increasing content absorption without compromising the information’s integrity.
Advisor: Davis, Lloyd Spencer
Degree Name: Master of Science Communication
Degree Discipline: Centre for Science Communication
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: anthropomorphism; documentary; science communication; fictional tools
Research Type: Thesis