Narrative Persuasion in Historical Films: Examining the Importance of Prior Knowledge, Existing Attitudes, and Culture

Di Cui, Zihan Wang, Arthur Raney


This study examines the persuasive effect of a historical movie about World War II in audiences with different attitudes toward and prior knowledge of the figures and events portrayed in the movie, based on different cultural backgrounds (U.S. and China). Empathy levels for controversial historical figures (e.g., Adolf Hitler, Josef Goebbels) and groups (e.g., Germany as a nation) were analyzed, as were related story-consistent beliefs. U.S. participants reported having more empathy toward the figures and groups after viewing, while their general opinions toward war were more negative. A different and mostly contradictory pattern was observed among Chinese participants. Results suggest that preexisting attitudes and knowledge likely play an important role in the narrative persuasion process for historical movies.


narrative persuasion, historical narrative, multicultural comparison, attitudes, prior knowledge

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