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Research

Broadly speaking, my research interests are in attitudes and persuasion, particularly persuasion through narratives. I am also interested in the psychology of the Internet, including how Internet and other media communications affect interpersonal relationships. For a longer version of my research interests, click here for a research statement.

Narratives and Persuasion: Changing Beliefs through Stories

Transportation into Narrative Worlds

Within the area of persuasion, I have been particularly interested in the effects of narratives or stories on individuals' beliefs. My research has focused on the phenomenological experience of being absorbed in a story—a process we call "transportation into a narrative world"—as a mechanism of narrative impact. Most people have had the sensation of being "lost in a book" (Nell, 1998), swept up into the world of a story so completely that they forget the world around them. Instead of being aware of their physical surroundings, transported readers see the action of the story unfolding before them. They react emotionally to events that are simply words on a page. Transportation resembles flow, or optimal experience (Csikszentmihalyi, 1982). A transported individual is cognitively and emotionally involved in the story, and may experience vivid mental images.

We have developed and validated a scale to measure the extent of transportation experienced by readers, and conducted studies demonstrating that highly transported individuals showed more story-consistent beliefs on both story-specific and general dependent measures (Green & Brock, 2000). Transportation is also associated with increased positivity toward sympathetic characters and a reduction in negative cognitive responding.

» Transportation (into Narrative Worlds) Scale

Fact and Fiction

Nonfiction, with its pretension of veridicality, and fiction, with its patina of verisimilitude, but no necessary pretension to accuracy, are popularly understood as distinct realms. However, research in a variety of domains shows that the fact-fiction distinction is overstated: individuals may blur the boundaries between truth and imagination. The extent to which individuals integrate products of imagination into their real-world belief structures is of critical importance, yet this topic has received little attention in the persuasion domain. My collaborators and I have also been attempting to identify the conditions under which individuals might differentiate between factual and fictional narratives; to date, we have found that fictional stories often have an influence on individuals' opinions that is comparable to that of factual narratives.

Social Capital: How the Internet and Other Media Affect Individuals and Communities

Real vs. Ersatz Social Interactions

Another line of research broadens my focus from individual functioning to the basis for healthy, civic communities. Specifically, I am investigating the psychological factors underlying the development of social capital, the "features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit" (Putnam, 1995, p. 67). Interest in factors promoting social capital became widespread after Putnam (1995) suggested that social capital was declining in the United States. Putnam considered a range of possible causes for this decline, but in the end, concluded that the rise of television played a major role.

My research investigates people's reliance on ersatz, or substitute, social activities, rather than real social activities. I define ersatz activities as media-based activities, particularly those that provide alternate means for individuals to fulfill belongingness and interaction needs (Green & Brock, 1998). Ersatz activities include television viewing, but also computer-mediated interaction. Real social activities are more readily presumed to create social capital than ersatz activities. In other words, I am interested in when and why individuals might choose to watch the television show Friends rather than spending time with actual friends, and what the consequences of these types of choices might be for trust and civic participation. Broadly speaking, my research investigates how the interaction between technology and individuals can be managed to build strong communities.

Internet Interactions

I am also exploring the role of the Internet in creating or reducing community and social bonds, and the way in which trust develops in Internet relationships. Trust, both specific and generalized, is an important ingredient in smoothly functioning relationships. A key question in the trust literature is understanding how trust is developed and maintained in different circumstances. An emerging area of investigation is the development of trust in computer-mediated or on-line relationships. These types of relationships are becoming increasingly frequent, given the rise in individuals who have access to the Internet. On-line relationships pose unique challenges for individuals: false identities are easy to create and difficult to verify (see, for example, Turkle, 1995; Van Gelder, 1985). Because individuals communicating on-line are likely to be geographically distant from one another, it is often impossible to rely on mutual acquaintances to vouch for the trustworthiness of a person. We are investigating factors that contribute to or detract from social support and trust in relationships in which participants do not have face-to-face contact.

Evolutionary Psychology

My students and I have been exploring influences on gender differences in responses to infidelity in romantic relationships. We have also investigated factors that influence mate attraction, including an individual's level of storytelling ability.