Current Issue Summary
Dec 2020 (Vol. 60, Issue 4):
The Role of Empathy and Efficacy in Public Service Announcements: Using Narratives to Induce Bystander Intervention in Domestic Violence
We know from earlier research that effective storytelling not only can generate positive attitudes and purchase intentions for a brand, but also can promote responsible behaviors, such as bystander intervention, donations and responsible drinking. Some studies, in fact, have demonstrated the effectiveness of using narratives (as opposed to non-narrative messages) in public services announcements (PSAs) for promoting youth-violence prevention programs, because of their ability to connect with potential audiences through relatable characters and strong emotional response. New research by Eunjin (Anna) Kim (USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism) and Sidharth Muralidharan (Southern Methodist University) fills a gap in this body of work: “Very few studies… have examined the impact of narratives on domestic-violence prevention,” they write.
Their work “explores the understudied relationship between two crucial variables—empathy elicited by narratives and the degree of efficacy possessed by bystanders”—by using narratives in PSAs. Two PSAs were created that used narrative and nonnarrative appeals. The nonnarrative appeal was a domestic-violence prevention message, with information about intimate partner violence repercussions for the victim and statistics on how rampant domestic abuse is across the U.S. The narrative PSA was a fictitious account of Susan, a 28-year-old woman from Seattle who was abused severely by her husband. Both ads used the same layout format and imagery. The study’s six scale item categories, drawing from earlier research, were attitude toward the PSA, reporting intentions, empathy, bystander efficacy, issue involvement and altruism.
Among the findings:
- Narrative messages are more effective than non-narrative messages.
- Empathy-laden narrative messages produce more positive PSA evaluations and stronger intentions to call the helpline.
- The positive effect of narratives on empathy is enhanced when participants issue involvement is high.
- Empathy is not enough, however, so it is crucial for bystanders to possess self-efficacy—prosocial benefits that denounce domestic violence and drive bystanders’ capability to help abused individuals.
Read the full article here.