Having a good understanding of how to engage others through character reaction is a key skill for any writer. Whether you are writing for a children’s book or a thriller, engaging others through a character’s reactions can be the difference between a great story and a bad one.
Several studies have shown that morality salience engages others through character reaction. This effect may be attributed to the fact that a person’s judgment of the morality of an action is a bottom-up cognitive process. It involves contextual processing and associative processes, which involve interactions between brain regions and downstream control resources for immoral content. It is also influenced by the individual’s perception of his/her own personal moral self-concept.
In order to examine the role of morality salience in engaging others, we designed a study with young adults. Participants participated in a two-part experiment: a primary session in which they completed baseline measures and a second session in which they completed manipulation checks. They then read a short story that included a late reveal of immoral behavior. They were then asked to rate how moral the behavior was on a seven-point scale.
The results showed that the time lag between the initial reveal and the onset of the task was associated with identification with the fictional criminal antagonist for males and a significant change in real-world attitudes toward criminals for females. This result raises important questions about the influence of the mental self-concept on character engagement.
Additionally, identification with the fictional criminal antagonist was positively associated with attitudes towards persons in the real world who commit similar immoral actions. This result suggests that morally complex characters are viewed as influential in the real world. However, more research is needed to better understand the real-world attitudinal consequences of identification with a morally complex antagonist.
To measure the neural mechanisms underlying the engagement with the fictional criminal antagonist, we measured activity in a number of areas related to semantic judgments involving moral content. We found that these judgments were associated with activity in executive control and salience networks. These regions were co-active with the default network (lateral PFC) early in the epoch, and increased in the post-decision epoch. The enhanced rTPJ activation reflected more extensive processing of mental state information and positive or negative moral judgments.
The results of this study suggest that the human salience network plays an essential role in detecting and interpreting behaviorally relevant stimuli. It may contribute to the early detection of immoral content. This network also modulates reappraisal of antisocial actions and may divert attentional resources to associative processing.
Considering the wide range of moral emotions that are likely to be encountered throughout a person’s life, it is interesting to consider how these may influence a person’s moral behaviour. For example, the emotion of guilt, which primarily arises after a moral lapse, can motivate reparative actions. It can also foster a lifetime pattern of moral behavior.
Similarly, feelings of pride arising from a successful achievement are another important motivator. These feelings have implications for a person’s moral behavior because they reinforce a commitment to an ethics of self-respect and to the community. In addition, these feelings can act as a powerful retrieval cue to help individuals remember a positive event.
Research has identified a number of risky behaviors that are linked to shame, including sexual and drug abuse. However, despite these findings, the relationship between these behaviors and morality is unclear. There is, however, a growing body of evidence to suggest that shame is a moral emotion.
The attributions that individuals make about the cause of an event can influence the extent to which they experience this emotion. For example, a person who thinks that the cause was a misfortune is more likely to suffer from the feeling. In contrast, a person who believes that the cause was intentional is less likely to feel this emotion.
Finally, studies have found that empathy, while not explicitly a morally relevant emotion, can be a motivator for moral behavior. In particular, empathy can trigger moral schemas in a person’s memory. When these are stored, they can trigger a response that will be justifiable depending on the person’s moral reasoning maturity.
One possible explanation for the lack of strong empirical support for a public/private distinction is that the most important factors involved in this distinction are not yet known. This may explain why little research has examined the relationship between moral standards and moral emotional factors. Nevertheless, future research should explore how such factors contribute to real-time moral decisions. In addition, an integrative framework incorporating aspects from developmental psychology and social neuroscience could be a step in the right direction.
Engagement with antagonists
Identifying with an antagonist can lead to significant changes in real world attitudes and behaviors. However, little is known about the actual outcomes of identification with morally complex characters. The current study explored the effect of identification with a fictional criminal antagonist on real-world attitudes. The study examined the relationship between identification and policy attitudes, as well as punitive and lenient attitudes towards criminals.
The results revealed that identification with the fictional criminal antagonist influenced the participants’ attitudes toward criminals in the real world. Participants who identified with the character were more likely to support harsher penalties for economic criminals. Similarly, participants who identified with the criminal character felt shame for the criminal’s actions and supported punitive policies. The study highlights the importance of examining the impact of identification with morally complex characters in the real world.
The research also suggests that gender can play a role in identification with morally complex characters. While male participants were more likely to identify with the fictional antagonist, female participants were more likely to identify with the secondary characters. This raises important questions in future research. The study suggests that the relationship between gender and engagement with morally complex characters may involve unique processes.
Another potential factor influencing engagement with an antagonist is moral self-concept. The study found that women valued fairness more than men. The study suggests that moral self-concept may influence narrative selection and identification with a morally complex antagonist. Further research should address the role of moral emotions and salience of vices. The present findings provide initial steps in addressing these issues. Further research is necessary to determine how character identification is influenced by these factors and to understand the real-world consequences of identification.
The identification process may be unique for identification with morally complex antagonists. While this study investigated key predictors of engagement with the fictional criminal antagonist, future research is necessary to explore the effects of morality and vice salience, as well as the recency of moral violations. It is still unclear whether the effects of identifying with an antagonist are due to a positive bias or a negative bias.