The summary of the study



Obligatory is an abstract of the research report on a separate which in less than 150 words summarizes the goal of the study, the method, results and general conclusion. Abstracts provide a reader with the most important aspects. Ideally, the abstract enables the reader to decide whether he or she should read the article. The abstract should not be composed of selected sentences from the body of the report. Instead, use brief sentences that are very to the point. The writer should sit down and try to distil the essential elements of the work to be reported.


"I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track of myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?" - Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahanin Dirty Harry (1971).

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Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry is a classic example of an ambivalent portrayed movie character. This though guy single-handedly fights crime but always does this with his .44 Magnum in his pocket and he is not afraid to use it. Similar to Callahan, there are numerous examples of actors being portrayed as 'good-bad guys' or ambivalent guys in Hollywood movies: they possess both positive aspects like having a sense for justice and negative aspects such as killing people.

When watching these movies, viewers can become immersed in the story and identify themselves with the ambivalent portrayed movie characters. Morley (1992) even states that it is hard to imagine any television text having any effect without identification. Cohen (2001) calls this identification: "a mechanism through which audience members experience reception and interpretation of the text from the inside, as if the events were happening to them" (p. 245).

Viewers can also go a step further and immerse in the phenomenon called 'wishful identification' which refers to the desire to be or to be like a character (Feilitzen & Linné, 1975; Hoffner, 1996). These desires can be explained by portrayed dissimilar characteristics between the viewer and ambivalent guy such as physical attractiveness, success, intelligence or admiration by others (Hoffner & Buchanan, 2005).

Other than wanting to possess such dissimilar characteristics, perceived similarities between viewer and character also play a role in wishful identification. Turner (1993) for example, reports that people are attracted to others who share similar attitudes, values and beliefs. Hoffner and Buchanan (2005) underline this statement by reporting a greater wishful identification between viewers and same gender characters and with characters who seemed more similar in attitudes.

        There is already research on wishful identification, protagonists, hero's and violent characters (e.g. Liss, Reinhardt, & Fredriksen, 1983; Konijn & Hoorn, 2005; Greenwood, 2007; Konijn, Nije Bijvank, & Bushman, 2007) but not yet with ambivalent portrayed characters. In addition, these studies all look at if people wishfully identify with these characters, but leave the how question open. If the how can be answered, it could be possible for example to detect which aspects in wishful identification with violent ambivalent characters cause violent behaviours (Huesmann, Lagerspetz, & Eron, 1984; Konijn et al., 2007).

        In order to explore this how question on wishful identification with ambivalent portrayed guys, this study links the five 'Moral Foundations' harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity (Haidt & Graham, 2007) to the phenomenon. As stated above, people who perceive characters similar to themselves in attitudes, values and beliefs report higher wishful identification with portrayed characters. Thus, it could be possible that the more similarities between viewers and ambivalent movie characters on the abovementioned five values, the higher the wishful identification is.

This leads to the overall Research Question of this report:

"How do people Wishfully Identify with ambivalent portrayed movie characters based on the five Moral Foundations?"

Insights in Wishful Identification & Moral Foundations

Herewith all the central constructs involved in this study are explained. On the path towards the hypotheses first an overview of overall identification is given. Next, the specific case which is used in this study, wishful identification, is mentioned. After this, the five Moral Foundations of Haidt & Graham (2007) are explored followed by the hypotheses that are investigated in this study.


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Hoffner (2005) came to the conclusion that the phenomenon of identification with portrayed movie characters is defined in many different ways. She looked at the works of researchers such as Kelman, Burke and Freud and concluded that all the definitions of identification do indeed share aspects despite the different contexts in which the phenomenon is used. Also did she explored works of Basil (1996) and Wright (1994) and stated that "all the definitions involve a bond or connection between an individual and another person (or entity), such that the individual adopts traits, attitudes, or behaviours of the other person, or incorporates the other's characteristics into his or her sense of self" (p. 326).

Burke's work (1950) for example proposed that a bond with a character is established to the extent that a viewer sees similar or shared values and perceptions. When this similarity is found, the viewer can become more affected by the performance of this character. Kelman's (1961) theory on identification on the other hand, looks at the fact that when the phenomenon is set in motion, viewers will attempt to be like the other person or character.

In their study on children's identification with television characters, Reeves and Miller (1978) mention that children's perceived similarities with television characters "has considerable intuitive appeal as a measure of identification" (p. 72). They scaled 'distance' between children and television characters in order to index children's identification with these characters. In this study identification is defined as a process in which psychological characteristics such as values and social roles of the portrayed character are being adapted by the audience.

Oatley (1994) presented his theory of identification in fictional literature based on Aristotle's 'mimesis'. He argued that the term 'imitation' is misleading and that 'mimesis' is more closer to the 'simulation' of characters: "Fictional simulations run on people's minds. For them to run successfully readers adopt a character's goal and use their own planning procedures to connect actions together meaningfully" (p. 53). So in order to simulate a character, viewers have to adopt the goals of the portrayed character.

In his theoretical study on identification and search to define the construct, Cohen (2001) described the phenomenon as: "a mechanism through which audience members experience reception and interpretation of the text from the inside, as if the events were happening to them" (p. 245). He further argued that identification with a character gives the audience a change to switch roles and replace their personal identity with the identity of the character which they are watching. In the case of stronger identification, the viewer stops being aware of their role as an audience and adopts perspectives of the identified character.

Also did Cohen (2001) stated that identification with a character consists of strong feelings towards that character. Through these strong feelings, people become 'absorbed' in stories and can understand the feelings, motives and goals of the character with whom they identify. In other words: people experience what will happen to them through the characters' adventures and forget that they are indeed members of the audience. This process will eventually enhance and intensify the experience of watching (Cohen, 2001).

So, in identification people tend to forget the fact that they are the audience. Galgut (2002) proposed that this suspension plays an active role in people's minds but not a stable one. When a viewer ignores fictional events and becomes immersed in the process, he or she does not lose the abilities to discern reality. Galgut (2002) also suggested that when viewers identify themselves with a character, they suspend their identity for a moment but do not lose it.

        After exploration, all the above mentioned researches and studies on identification do indeed have aspects in common like Hoffner (2005) proposed in her study. Identification involves a viewer of a medium and a character portrayed in this medium. The viewer experiences a connection with this character and through this connection values, attitudes and behaviours of this character can be adopted in order to feel the same as this figure. But what when the viewer goes even further?

Wishful Identification

This step further occurs within the viewer-performer relationship 'wishful identification'. In this particular identification process, the viewer has the desire or desires to be or to be like the performer he or she is watching (Feilitzen & Linné, 1975; Hoffner, 1996). In wishful identification it thus can occur that viewers emulate a character. This wishful identification can take place in general terms for example as a role model for future actions or in a more specific way: imitating particular behaviours (Feilitzen & Linné, 1975; Hoffner & Buchanan, 2005).

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Rosengren, Windahl, Hakansson, and Johnsson-Smaragdi (1976) conducted research on this 'long-term identification'. In their scales they used items such as 'I would really love to be like the people in this programme'. These types of responses are referred to as wishful identification. Rosengren et al. (1976) investigated different response patterns to characters while watching. Hereafter it was suggested that relationships which extended the moment of viewing were equally or even more important: 'Most important, perhaps, is identification regarded as a more durable phenomenon- 'long-term identification' with one or more of the personae of the media world (p. 349).

There seems to be sort of consensus on what wishful identification beholds. In their study on older adults' involvement with favorite television performers, Chory-Assad and Yanen (2005) refer to the earlier mentioned description of Feilitzen and Linne (1975) and Hoffner (1996) for a description of the phenomenon. In their search for a description, Konijn et al. (2007) also refer to the works of Hoffner & Buchanan (2005) in their pioneering work 'I Wish I Were A Warrior'. Thus, wishful identification can be called the phenomenon in which viewers immerse and wherein they have desires to be (or to be like) the portrayed character. It gives them "a glimpse of 'what if'" (Konijn et al., 2007, p. 1039).