Speaker: R. L. Victoria Pöhls
Affiliation: Max-Planck-Institute for Empirical Aesthetics
Title: Can literary refugee narratives decrease ingroup bias? An experimental reader-response study using implicit methods
Abstract (long version below): Can narrative empathy of engaged readers carry over to members of the represented group in real life? In this experimental study, it was examined whether readers of refugee short stories show less ingroup bias on an implicit measurement task when compared to a control group. Contrary to expectations, no general decrease was found. The narratives had opposite effects on different readers: While some became less biased and showed this effect even after being retested two weeks later, it had the opposite effect on some, making them more biased towards refugees.
Fiction reading may facilitate the understanding of characters that are very different to the reader and/or belong to a different social group. But does the narrative empathy engaged readers may develop for characters carry over to members of the represented group in real life? Will they be perceived as less different to one’s own ingroup after contact through fiction? To find out whether this is the case, I examined stereotypical expectancies regarding refugees by readers who either read two fictional short stories written from a refugee perspective (test condition) or non-refugee short stories (control) and then answered items on linguistic intergroup bias (LIB).
Description of methods
Participants (N=286, German as only mother tongue) read different short stories based on their random assignment to either test group 1 (TG1), test group 2 (TG2) or control (C): Both TG1 and TG2 read stories about refugees’ troubled settling-in in their ‘adopted home country’ , while stories in the control were of similar length, but did not touch upon the topic of refugees. TG1 read the original stories, focalized through a 1st-person-refugee narrator, whereas TG2 read the same stories but stylistically manipulated, narrated by a 3rd-person narrator, to determine whether focalization matters.
To assess whether stereotypical expectancies regarding refugees changed and ingroup bias decreased through reading stories about this outgroup, an implicit test for Linguistic Intergroup Bias (LIB) was developed based on the theory and findings of Maass et al. (1989) to avoid a social-desirability bias, and participants were not fully informed about the overall study objective.
According to the pertinent findings of the LIB, the same behaviour is linguistically encoded differently when performed by either ingroup or outgroup members.
The developed LIB test consists of 45 images, showing characters introduced as refugees (outgroup), foreigners (outgroup), or native Germans (ingroup), who (inter)act in various social situations either seen as undesirable or desirable behaviours as pretests (N=15) confirmed.
After each image, participants were presented with four slightly different verbal descriptions describing the situation seen. Descriptions vary along dimensions of abstractness vs. concreteness, thereby allowing to implicitly test participants’ stereotypical expectations by having them rate the sentences for image fit.
When viewing a positively valenced action by ingroup members, participants more often describe it with a stability-indicating adjective (e.g., “The person is friendly”). In contrast, the same action performed by outgroup members tends to be labelled with concrete action verbs, suggesting no cue to an underlying positive character trait (e.g., “The person lends the hammer to his neighbour”).
Participants were tested right before, right after and two weeks after reading, allowing possible time-sensitive effects to appear.
Data is analysed using the software R. LIB scores are calculated for each individual at all measuring time points, allowing for within-subject and between-groups comparison.
I hypothesized that LIB scores for control group members will not change significantly across time and baseline measures before reading will not differ significantly between groups.
It is further expected that TG1 and TG2 measures after reading will show a decreased LIB compared to C – as they have engaged with a refugee’s perspective, the felt distance between their own ingroup and the refugee outgroup should have decreased.
As this is, to my knowledge, the first study attempting to measure LIB across time, it was difficult to foresee whether these effects increase or decrease between the second and third measuring time point: Attributing the changed attitude to fiction reading might enlarge the effect two weeks later once participants do not remember this connection (cf. Appel 2007), but, being a largely unconscious effect, it might also wear off once the fictional experience that prompted the change lies further in the past.
Story liking, narrative engagement, and identification with characters was measured by self-report measures. I hypothesized that in TG1 and TG2 higher ratings on these measures correlate with greater decrease in LIB measurements, compared to less impacted readers.
A mixed ANOVA shows that LIB scores are normally distributed and, as expected, not significantly different across groups before reading. As hypothesized, there are also no significant differences within the control group across measuring time points, while a different trend can be observed in test conditions: Contrary to expectations, no overall reduction of bias is observed, but a flattening of the curve to both sides. Thus, some participants become more, whereas others become less biased. Data analysis is still ongoing with regard to the question whether this can be attributed to personal characteristics (age, gender, education, political leaning) or aesthetical experience of the narratives (liking, personal relevance, felt emotions, identification with characters).