Applied Psychology Researchers Study Media for Social Change

Finding new ways to solve conflict amongst and between groups is an important part of providing a more stable social and political environment — and entertainment media may play a role in fostering these positive relationships.

Using a field experiment in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rezarta Bilali, an assistant professor in applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt, examined the effectiveness of role-modeling prosocial, or helpful, behavior. Bilali and her fellow researchers created two versions of a fictional show; in the experimental condition (role-modeling), the fictional characters discussed community grievances and planned collective action to address them. In the control condition, the fictional characters did not take action toward social change.

The researchers used a radio drama, which uses narrative fiction to address issues of social cohesion, conflict reduction, and empower people for social change

In the first study, the role-modeling manipulation increased collective efficacy and perspective taking, but also evoked more negative intergroup attitudes.

In the second study, the researchers tested the influence of role modeling of collective action on group discussions. Compared to the control, discussions of the role modeling show focused less on grievances, and more on actions to induce social change.

The results were presented by Yeshim Iqbal, a doctoral student in Psychology and Social Intervention at NYU Steinhardt, as part of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology 17th Annual Convention. The symposium, Using Media Narratives to Reduce Prejudice and Improve Intergroup Relations, took place Friday, Jan. 29, 2016 at the San Diego Convention Center.