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.
- disposition theory
- media entertainment