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Bonus, James Alex; Matthews, Nicholas L.; Wulf, Tim (2019): The Impact of Moral Expectancy Violations on Audiences’ Parasocial Relationships With Movie Heroes and Villains. In: Communication research
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Abstract

Integrating the predictions of disposition theory and expectancy violations theory, a longitudinal survey assessed adults’ parasocial relationships with characters in a popular movie franchise before and after the release of the latest film installment of that franchise. Consistent with disposition theory, characters’ immoral behavior in the film weakened participants’ parasocial relationships with those characters. However, analyses conducted using a novel statistical technique (i.e., response surface analysis) revealed that further shifts in the strength of these relationships occurred when characters subverted participants’ expectations regarding their typical moral behavior. Specifically, participants’ relationship with the film’s primary villain strengthened when he was perceived as behaving more morally than expected, whereas their relationship with the film’s primary hero weakened when he was perceived as behaving either more or less morally than expected. These findings highlight the need for more nuanced examinations of disposition formation processes.