Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The effects of interactivity and visual realism on children's cognitive empathy toward narrative characters
by Dodge, Tyler, Ph.D., Indiana University, 2009, 392; 3380154
Abstract (Summary)

The focus of this dissertation is how to support observational learning of social reasoning from narrative characters. In view of the mediating role of cognitive empathy in both observational learning and narrative engagement, the work was approached with a multi-stage conceptual framework synthesized from the domains of social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1986) and empathy (Davis, 1994). As a topic for research, the central role of presence in both cognitive empathy and contemporary media design, and the conceptualization of telepresence in terms of interactivity and immersion, suggested testing the effects of interactivity and immersion, specifically visual realism, on cognitive empathy toward narrative characters.

Study One took place in three fourth grade classrooms in a Midwestern town, recruited by convenience and using cluster assignment. Study Two took place in eight middle school classrooms in three countries, recruited by convenience and using random assignment. The materials were two original, illustrated hypertext stories, bearing the conceptual features of an interactive, immersive medium while still affording observational rather than participatory engagement. Study One tested the effects of interactivity by comparing print and hypertext versions of the stories. Study Two tested the effects of visual realism, conceptualized as informativeness and accuracy, by comparing hypertext versions illustrated with three different styles. Both experiments used a between-subjects, posttest-only control group design. Children’s perspective taking and fantasy identification were measured through questionnaires, and two intrapersonal empathy outcomes were measured through writing prompts. The questionnaire was adapted from existing instruments, and both measures demonstrated evidence of validity.

In Study One, interactivity was found to negatively affect fantasy identification and intrapersonal empathy outcomes, and as these represent subfunctions of observational learning, this suggests that, in the context of this study, for a reader positioned outside of a story, perceived agency may reduce the reader’s sense of identification with characters and therefore reduce their effectiveness as social models. No other effects on empathy were found for interactivity, nor, in Study Two, for visual realism. These findings may inform the design of media to support cognitive empathy and observational learning of social reasoning, and the conceptual framework and instrumentation may inform related studies.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Barab, Sasha A.
Commitee: Boling, Elizabeth, Fox, Julia, Peppler, Kylie A.
School: Indiana University
Department: School of Education
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 70/12, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Language arts, Developmental psychology, Mass communications, Educational technology
Keywords: Empathy, Hypermedia, Illustrations, Interactivity, Narrative characters, Perspective taking, Picture books, Realism
Publication Number: 3380154
ISBN: 978-1-109-50466-8
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