"Terrorism Is Theater": How Antagonist Portrayals in Action Films Affect Stereotyping and Impression Formation

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Virginia Tech

This study examined portrayals of terrorists in several action films and their effects on participants' thoughts concerning the films and their characters. A 2 x 2 x 2 factorial experiment was used to test the effects of antagonist ethnicity (white or non-white), antagonist portrayal type (sympathetic or non-sympathetic), and mortality salience (treatment or control) on narrative transportation, attitude toward the antagonist, attitude toward the video, stereotype endorsement, and response time for attitude toward the antagonist. Gender differences were also investigated.Participants viewed one 15-minute clip from an action film that manipulated antagonist ethnicity and antagonist portrayal. Then, participants answered several questionnaires surrounding the previously mentioned dependent variables. White terrorists and sympathetic portrayals were preferred over non-white terrorists and non-sympathetic portrayals. Participants in the mortality salience control condition evaluated Arabs more favorably than those exposed to the mortality salience treatment. In addition, males rated antagonists more favorably than females, and males were also less likely to engage in stereotyping of Arabs and African Americans. Implications for theory and suggestions for future research were discussed.

Action Films, Terrorism, Narrative Persuasion, Mortality Salience, Stereotyping