Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Communication, Technology, and Society

Committee Chair/Advisor

Erin Ash

Committee Member

Gregory Cranmer

Committee Member

CJ Calabrese


Two distinct bodies of research examine means of increasing people’s health- related risk perceptions through persuasive message design. First, Construal Level Theory (CLT) posits that reducing perceived psychological distance from a health risk can increase people’s perceived relevance of the health issue. Second, models of narrative persuasion posit that narratives elicit audience engagement, which reduces counter- arguing and increases risk perceptions. So and Nabi’s (2013) Risk Convergence Model (RCM) was proposed to merge the two bodies of research: the model posits that viewers’ engagement with narratives diminishes perceived social distance from characters, resulting in a convergence of risk between characters and viewers. Character-driven engagement (e.g., identification) and plot-driven engagement (e.g., transportation) are theoretically distinct and may have separate implications for different dimensions of psychological distance (i.e., spatial distance). The current study seeks to expand the RCM, distinguishing between character-driven and plot-driven forms of narrative engagement. Manipulating transportation and identification as experimental factors, this research proposes that while (1) character-driven variables reduce social distance from characters, increasing personal risk perceptions and promoting behavior change, (2) plot- driven variables reduce spatial distance from characters, increasing societal risk perceptions and promoting policy support. Results of two PROCESS models revealed that character-driven engagement and plot-driven engagement produce distinct persuasive outcomes and that separate mechanisms drive these effects. Namely, character-driven engagement promotes individual behavior change by creating perceived spatial proximity to at-risk characters, subsequently causing viewers to internalize exemplified health risks. Conversely, plot-driven engagement drives societal health risk perceptions by promoting perceptions of spatial proximity. Additionally, plot-driven engagement, but not character- driven engagement, increases support for health-related policies. Theoretical implications and calls for future investigations are presented

Author ORCID Identifier




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