To walk a mile in someone else's shoes: How narratives can change causal attribution through story exploration and character customization

Report Author: 
Nathan Walter, Sheila T. Murphy & Traci K Gillig
Original Date of Publication: 
2017 Dec

Fictional narratives are often an effective way to deliver "prosocial messages," and storytelling has been utilized to increase empathy and understanding toward people who belong to stigmatized groups. One way in which changed attitudes can be measured is by examining the causal attributions that a reader makes. Causal attributions refer to the reader's judgments about whether internal or external characteristics are to blame for a character's negative outcomes or actions. Typically, people blame external characteristics (such as environmental factors) for the failures of members of their own social group while blaming internal characteristics (such as laziness) for the failures of outgroup members. This research included several studies, one of which focused on a story about an undocumented youth. The authors found that engaging participants in story exploration (the ability to make choices that are integrated into the narrative) did lead to an increase in external attribution for the undocumented youth's negative actions. These results, along with several other studies described in this article that focused on other non-immigrant groups, help support the efficacy of using fictional narratives to shape attitudes toward immigrant groups. (Immigrant Integration Lab)

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Walter, N., T. Murphy, S., & Gillig, T. K. (2018). To Walk a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes: How Narratives Can Change Causal Attribution Through Story Exploration and Character Customization. Human Communication Research, 44(1), 31–57.

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