Two Sides of the Coin: Examining the Role of Character-Similarity and Identification in the Effects of a Narrative on Children's Learning and Bias

Dore, Rebecca, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Lillard, Angeline, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

When identifying with a character in a narrative, one experiences the narrative from the character’s perspective, as if the events were happening to oneself. Many researchers and theorists have suggested that a character’s similarity to the audience member should be related to identification. Although some research supports this relationship, it has rarely been tested directly. Additionally, higher identification may lead to more learning from a narrative. These two proposed links, between character similarity and identification, and between identification and learning, suggest that children may learn more from narratives that contain characters who are similar to them than from narratives with dissimilar characters. There is, however, another side to the coin: Reading about (and perhaps identifying with) dissimilar characters may decrease children’s outgroup biases. This study tests these two possibilities, examining race as a point of similarity. Findings suggest that (1) White children may be more likely to identify with own-race characters than with other-race characters, (2) White children do not appear to learn more from stories with own-race characters than those with other-race characters when knowledge is probed via specific questions, but do freely recall more information from stories with own-race characters, and (3) Exposure to a storybook with a Black main character does not reduce White children’s racial bias. These findings inform our understanding of the nature and effects of children’s identification with own- and other-race characters.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
fiction, narratives, learning, bias, identification, race
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