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Media-Induced Elevation as a Means of Enhancing Feelings of Intergroup Connectedness.

The majority of research on media counter‐stereotyping of race/ethnicity has tended to employ positive portrayals or counter‐stereotypical exemplars as a primary strategy in eliciting positive attitudes among White participants. In contrast, this article reports the results of an experiment on the unique role of affective responses to media messages as a mechanism in inducing greater feelings of connectedness with a diversity of racial/ethnic groups. Our focus is on the affective response of elevation specifically, which refers to feelings of being moved, touched, and inspired by images of people engaged in morally beautiful acts such as love, generosity, and kindness. Results show that the experience of elevation in response to inspiring videos was associated with heightened feelings of overlap between the self and humanity, with this overlap associated with greater feelings of connectedness with those from a diversity of racial/ethnic groups. This connection was also associated with more favorable attitudes.

“Kid President”—the nickname for media personae Robby Novak—is an African American child comedian who has gained recent fame for his motivational and inspiring videos that have “gone viral” and have captured the hearts of millions of YouTube viewers across the world. In perhaps his most popular video, “A Pep Talk from Kid President to You” (viewed by over 33 million viewers on YouTube at the time of this writing), Kid President encourages viewers to aspire to their dreams, to care for one another, and to work together to make the world a better place (‐gQLqv9f4o). Viewers have responded with an outpouring of enthusiasm, providing comments such as “Makes me feel good in the heart,” “This is your time to make a difference,” and “This is so inspiring! I cried while I laughed! I was so moved!!” Indeed, the popularity of this video resulted in Kid President being invited by President Barak Obama to visit the White House to help launch the annual Easter Egg Roll.

User comments, such as those noted here, suggest that viewers experience feelings of tenderness, inspiration, and restored “faith in humanity.” Although only anecdotal, these responses appear to reflect feelings of connectedness with humankind per se—feelings that presumably transcend the viewer's own ingroup to recognize the common hopes and needs that are present across demographic boundaries such as race, ethnicity, or culture. As one person commented, “I think the bottleneck in solving the world's problems is not science or technology, but just us all getting along. I'm on your team. You're on my team. I think that's his core message.” But even if we are correct in inferring these viewers’ reactions, the specific characteristics of the video that engenders such responses are not readily identifiable. On the one hand, such responses may reflect that the video features a very positive and likable exemplar of an African American character. On the other hand, the responses may reflect the content of the message itself—that people need to believe in themselves and each other. Still, yet, the responses may be most strongly predicted by the affective reactions that the video appears to elicit—feelings of being touched, moved, and inspired.

The purpose of this research is to examine the viability of this latter explanation—that affective response to inspiring media messages gives rise to heightened perceptions of connection with humanity that ultimately result in greater feelings of connectedness with a diversity of others that transcend racial and ethnic boundaries. Although this study appreciates the importance of specific media portrayals of race/ethnicity in reducing racial prejudice, in this article we test the unique role of elevating effect in heightening Whites’ feelings of connectedness with diverse others. We begin by examining how extant research has frequently approached media efforts at counter‐stereotyping, using this research as a basis for our interest in examining effect. We then turn to scholarship regarding elevation as a distinct and relevant emotional response. Subsequently, we apply the concept of elevation to issues regarding media and race/ethnicity, suggesting that media content that elicits elevating effect holds the promise of creating feelings of closeness to humanity, which ultimately results in feelings of connectedness with a diversity of others.

Media and Counter‐Stereotyping of Race/Ethnicity

Media content is filled with exaggerated and destructive portrayals that provide viewers with a seemingly never‐ending supply of negative examples of people of color, such as “African Americans as criminals,” “Arabs as terrorists,” and “Latinos as overly sexualized,” among others (Mastro, [ 22]; Tukachinsky, Mastro, & Yarchi, [ 34] ). Because research on the harmful effects of media portrayals on racial attitudes has frequently examined these negative portrayals as catalysts for the development or priming of racial stereotypes, it stands to reason that many studies interested in counter‐stereotyping have examined how positive depictions or exemplars may serve to diminish negative racial attitudes (Ramasubramanian, [ 29] ).

Bodenhausen, Schwarz, Bless, and Wanke ([ 5] ) were among the earliest to examine the effects of counter‐stereotypical exemplars. Based on three studies, these authors concluded that exposure to well‐known exemplars of successful African Americans (e.g., Oprah Winfrey) results in a greater awareness of racial discrimination in society, but only if the exemplar is liked and the atypicality of the exemplar is not salient. Building on these results, more recent experimental research indicates that positive and archetypal media characterizations (over merely sympathetic or counter‐stereotypical portrayals) are critical to reducing stereotypes and promoting more favorable intergroup outcomes (Mastro & Tukachinsky, [ 23] ). More generally, Dasgupta and Greenwald ([ 8] ) reported that exposure to favorable depictions of African Americans (and negative depictions of Whites) not only diminished self‐reported racial prejudice among White participants but also reduced negative implicit (or automatic) attitudes as assessed via the Implicit Association Test (IAT).

With these notable studies in mind, we also recognize other studies suggesting that efforts at counter‐stereotyping may face several challenges. For example, Holt's ([ 20] ) research on crime‐related counter‐stereotyping implies that content characteristics in media messages other than race (e.g., a focus on crime) may overwhelm the effects of any counter‐stereotypes that are also included. Further, Ramasubramanian and Oliver's ([ 30] ) research suggests that media depictions of one racial group may result in “comparative stereotyping” of members of other groups. Specifically, these authors reported that exposure to news stories about Asian Americans led to more hostile perceptions of African Americans. Finally, some earlier research shows that even when counter‐stereotypes are salient, viewers may tend to interpret the content in ways that sustain their existing racial attitudes nevertheless. In a now‐classic study, Vidmar and Rokeach ([ 35] ) reported that viewers scoring high on a measure of racial prejudice interpreted the television program All in the Family as depicting the bigoted main character (Archie Bunker) as heroic, despite the show's intention of mocking the absurdity of racial prejudice.

Together, research using positive media exemplars of race and ethnicity to combat stereotyping shows both promise and challenges. Though some studies have been effective at reducing negative attitudes via favorable depictions, other studies have been less successful; in some cases failing to produce prosocial outcomes, and in others, even perpetuating and heightening negative attitudes about racial/ethnic groups. Further, even under conditions where counter‐stereotypes are effective, the specific attributes of the messages that best predict positive outcomes are somewhat difficult to isolate. For example, the importance of viewers’ liking of exemplars (Bodenhausen et al., [ 5] ) suggests that media messages may be effective at increasing positive attitudes when they illustrate counter‐stereotypes and/or elicit favorable affective responses. As a result of these issues, the additional scholarship is clearly needed to identify media characteristics and audience responses that may optimize the likelihood of increasing positive attitudes toward a multitude of diverse groups—not just the one portrayed, and not at the expense of those not being featured. We approach this challenge by considering viewers’ affective responses to entertainment specifically, and their experience of elevation in particular.

DMU Timestamp: March 18, 2021 17:33

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