Sensing Heroes and Villains: Character-Schema and the Disposition Formation Process

Matthew Grizzard, Jialing Huang, Kaitlin Fitzgerald, Changhyun Ahn, Haoran Chu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Character morality is an integral variable within disposition theories. Zillmann proposed that moral judgments of characters result from a viewer monitoring and approving/disapproving of a character’s behaviors. Raney proposed a schema-based theoretical expansion of this model, wherein moral judgments of characters and disposition formation—facilitated by the activation of character-schema (e.g., hero/villain)—might occur prior to the observation of behavior. Three experimental studies were conducted to test Raney’s hypotheses and to integrate them into Zillmann’s original models. Study 1 indicates that visual cues associated with heroes and villains evoke character-consistent moral judgments absent character behaviors. Study 2 demonstrates that character-schema activation is magnified by the presence of an opposing character. Finally, Study 3 demonstrates that schema-based moral judgments can bias approbation of behaviors and subsequent moral judgments of characters. Theoretical implications and directions for future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)479-501
Number of pages23
JournalCommunication Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018


  • character-schema
  • disposition theory
  • media entertainment
  • morality
  • narrative


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