Curious or Afraid of Using Study Drugs? The Effects of Self-Referent Thoughts and Identification on Anticipated Affect
This study examines 2 processes by which audience members relate to narratives that depict a character’s risky behavior and its harmful consequences: (1) narrative-stimulated thoughts about the audience’s self (self-referent thoughts) and (2) identification with the story character. In an experiment, college students read a story, written either from a first- or third-person perspective, in which a character illicitly used attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) stimulants and experienced negative consequences. Compared with the third-person account, the first-person account increased antidrug (intended) self-referent thoughts, which in turn led to greater anticipation of negative affect after illicitly using ADHD stimulants. Although prodrug (unintended) self-referent thoughts were not influenced by the perspective of the story, they were positively associated with positive anticipated affect. As audience members identified with the story character, they were more likely to anticipate positive affect after the illicit stimulant usage. This study advances narrative persuasion theory by identifying different pathways through which narratives produce intended and unintended effects.