Requests for reprints should be sent to Arthur A.

Raney, Department of
Communication, 356 Diffenbaugh Building, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
32306–1531. E-mail:
Moral Judgment as a Predictor of
Enjoyment of Crime Drama
Arthur A. Raney
Department of Communication
Florida State University
The goal of the study is to better understand the relationship between factors
involved in moral judgment of entertainment and the enjoyment of crime
drama. After completing numerous social-justice measures, the 139
participants viewed one of two clips from a crime–punishment movie and then
responded to survey items regarding their enjoyment of the clip. The clips
differed in the type of crime presented. It was predicted that the different
crimes would elicit different levels of moral judgment about the punishments
for those crimes, which would then impact enjoyment. Although the levels of
enjoyment reported for the two clips were similar, enjoyment was predicted by
different factors of moral judgment in each condition, as predicted. The results
lend further support to disposition theory and the integrated model of crime-
drama enjoyment, as well as identify factors of moral reasoning that
consistently serve as predictors of crime-drama enjoyment.
Crime on television and in motion pictures has been the subject of myriad social
critiques (e.g., Lowenthal, 1999; Medved, 1992; U.S. House Subcommittee on
Telecommunications and Finance, 1994) and scholarly inquiries (e.g., Dominick,
1973; Grabe, 1996; Peff l e y, Shields, & Williams, 1996). Although scrutiny is most
often directed at the potential negative effects of such fare, some researchers have
attempted to understand the mass appeal or the enjoyment of media violence and
crime (see Goldstein, 1998, for an overview). One key factor in determining the
appreciation of all dramatic entertainment is the resolution of conflict between
characters (Raney, in press); specifically for crime dramas, this resolution is
presented as the enacting of some sense of justice. Although the role of justice
outcomes has been identified as important to entertainment, few specifics are
known about how an individual’s sense of moral judgment might influence the
evaluation of these justice outcomes, and thus influence enjoyment. The present
study seeks to explore this process by examining the relationship between
psychological factors related to moral judgment and the enjoyment of crime drama.
Copyright © 2002, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
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Although much criticism is levied at the violence contained within crime
drama, this genre of media entertainment is much more than a series of related
acts of aggression. Most often, the violence has a context, a purpose, a message,
or a value. Typically a violent criminal action and the subsequent (often-violent)
punishment for that action are at the heart of the story line. This standard formula
seems to define the genre: Acrime is committed causing an injustice that results
in the need for some form of retribution or punishment to restore justice. (Note:
Hereafter, this series of events will be referred to as a justice sequence.) Violence
is often the means through which justice and injustice are wrought, but the justice
sequence as a whole is what is ultimately most important to the story line.
With that in mind, it seem reasonable to suggest that these crime–punishment
dyads make a statement about what is a fair and appropriate retribution for the
given crime; that is, they each make some statement about justice. In turn, each
justice sequence also communicates a sense of justice (or just-ness) to the
audience. The sequences make a statement about justice, and the audience
members hear/see those statements.
Furthermore, it seems reasonable to suggest that the viewer can then subject
these justice statements to rigorous moral reasoning. For instance, when a viewer
watches the officers on NYPD Blue arrest and cart to prison the gang initiate
responsible for a drive-by shooting, she may consider whether jail time is an
appropriate punishment for the killing, according to her personal sense of justice.
Based on that sense, the viewer may disagree with the punishment portrayed. For
instance, she may hold to a strict lex-talionic principle of justice, and therefore
favor a more “severe” or retaliatory punishment for the suspect.
Ultimately, each viewer can weigh the crime–punishment sequence against
his or her own sense of moral propriety to determine whether justice was served.
Evidence from the active audience and uses and gratification (e.g., Katz,
Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1974), contextual features of media violence (e.g., Kunkel
et al., 1995; Potter, 1997), media literacy (e.g., Potter, 2001), and media effects
(e.g., Jose & Brewer, 1984; Zillmann, 1998; Zillmann & Bryant, 1975) literature
suggests that these evaluations do indeed take place. Consequently, it seems
reasonable to suggest that the outcome of the comparative process will impact a
viewer’s enjoyment
of the sequence and the drama as a whole. The main
objective of the present study is to investigate this proposition.
In addressing the role of moral judgment in enjoyment, Zillmann (2000)
noted that great variability exists between individuals with regard to notions of
social justice, propriety, and retributive equity. Therefore, how viewers judge the
justice presentations will greatly vary as well. Zillmann stated, “In constructing
theories of drama appreciation that involve moral sanction as an essential
mechanism it is therefore imperative to recognize, and make allowances for, the
diversity of basal morality in strata of the population at large” (pp. 60–61). The
present study investigates how the comparison between a crime drama’s
statement of justice and a viewer’s personal notion of social justice ultimately
affects the enjoyment of the crime drama.
The most comprehensive explanations of the enjoyment of various media content
are the disposition-based theories forwarded by Zillmann and his colleagues. In
their most basic forms, disposition-based theories indicate that enjoyment of
media content is a function of a viewer’s affective disposition toward characters
and the outcomes associated with those characters. In sum, enjoyment increases
as positive outcomes are experienced by liked characters and/or negative
outcomes are experienced by disliked characters. Conversely, enjoyment
decreases as negative outcomes are experienced by liked characters and/or
positive outcomes are experienced by disliked characters. Support for
disposition-based theories has been demonstrated with humorous content
(Zillmann, Bryant, & Cantor, 1974; Zillmann & Cantor, 1972, 1976), sports
spectatorship (Sapolsky, 1980; Zillmann, Bryant, & Sapolsky, 1989; Zillmann &
Paulus, 1993), dramatic content in general (Zillmann, 1994, 2000; Zillmann &
Cantor, 1976), fright-inducing drama (Hoffner & Cantor, 1991; Oliver, 1993),
action films (King, 2000), reality-based programming (Oliver, 1996), and news
programming (Zillmann, Taylor, & Lewis, 1998).
Of specific interest for the current project is the moral-sanction theory of
delight and repugnance (Zillmann, 2000). The theory serves as an extension of
the more general disposition theory of mirth (Zillmann & Cantor, 1976) and as
the most comprehensive explication of the nature of drama appreciation to date.
The model predicts enjoyment of drama in which positive or hoped-for outcomes
(i.e., justice conditions) and/or negative and feared-for outcomes (i.e., injustice
conditions) are presented. More specifically, in situations involving justice,
witnessing the victimization of a disliked antagonist at the hands of a liked
protagonist fosters delight (i.e., enjoyment). The intensity of that enjoyment
increases with (a) the liking of the protagonist, (b) the disliking of the antagonist,
and (c) the extent to which the antagonist is deemed deserving of a particular
In contrast, in situations involving injustice, witnessing the victimization of a
liked protagonist at the hands of a disliked antagonist fosters repugnance (i.e.,
counterenjoyment). The intensity of that counterenjoyment increases with (a) the
liking of the protagonist, (b) the disliking of the antagonist, and (c) the extent to
which the protagonist is deemed undeserving of a particular victimization.
The theory is perfectly intuitive and seems to mirror our social relationships:
Humans tend to like it when good things happen to their friends and dislike it
when bad things happen to those same people. Furthermore, humans tend to
dislike it when good things happen to their enemies, whereas they tend to find
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delight in the misfortunes of those same enemies. One leading rationale for this
pattern of evaluation is based in justice considerations. Specifically, we like it
when good things happen to our friends (or a liked character in a drama) because
we think that those people deserve to receive good things; their benefaction is
what is just. Similarly, we dislike it when an enemy (or a disliked character in a
drama) prospers because we do not think that they deserve such; in such a case,
an injustice occurs. Good people deserve benefaction; bad people deserve
misfortune. These justice considerations are accepted as a key mechanism in all
disposition-based theories of enjoyment (Raney, in press).
Furthermore, with dramatic content, moral judgments of justice also dictate
how dispositions toward characters are formed, altered, and maintained
(Zillmann, 1994, 2000). That is, a viewer’s moral judgment of a character’s
behaviors determines the extent to which the character is liked or disliked. So it
follows that we form more positive dispositions toward those characters whose
behaviors best fit within our sense of moral propriety. Likewise, we form more
negative dispositions toward those characters whose behaviors least fit within
our sense of moral propriety. Consequently, Zillmann (2000) suggested that
viewers of drama must act as “untiring moral monitors,” who continually render
verdicts about the rightness or wrongness of a character’s actions. As a result,
when viewing a drama, we like characters whose actions we judge as proper or
morally correct, whereas we dislike characters whose actions we judge as
improper or morally incorrect. As with all disposition-based theories, the
strength of these affective dispositions falls along a continuum of affect, and
because of our constant moral monitoring, these dispositions are subject to
change as the drama progresses.
Zillmann and Bryant (1975) first demonstrated the role of moral judgment in
the formation of affective dispositions in drama. In the study, children at varying
levels of moral development (based on Kohlberg, 1981, and Piaget, 1948)
viewed one of three versions of a fairy tale. The plot of the tale involved a good
king who has an opportunity to punish his evil predecessor who had previously
planned to banish the good king to the kingdom’s wasteland. The three versions
differed in the severity of punishment enacted by the good king: an under-
retribution condition in which the evil king was forgiven, an equitable-retribution
condition in which the evil king received the banishment that he had planned for
the good king, or an excessive-retribution condition in which the evil king was
publicly beaten and imprisoned for life. It was predicted that the older children
(7- to 8-year olds), who were assumed to be at higher stages of moral
development, would be free to enjoy the equitable-retribution version, but not the
under- or excessive-retribution ones that violated their sanctions of moral
propriety. In contrast, younger children (4-year olds), who were assumed to be at
an earlier stage of development, would be unable to make such moral judgment
based distinctions and would, thus, enjoy the condition in which the wrong had
been most “appropriately” righted (i.e., the excessive-retribution condition).
These predictions were supported in full and were further validated by Zillmann
and Cantor (1977).
As a result, the role of moral judgment in the enjoyment of dramatic
entertainment is generally accepted. Because individuals hold different levels
and notions of moral propriety (Zillmann, 2000), it follows that these differing
levels and notions lead to different enjoyment experiences between people.
Disposition-based theories address this fact by conceptualizing dispositional
affiliation and enjoyment along a continuum. However, to date disposition-based
theories in general and the moral sanction theory more specifically, although
assuming individual differences in basal morality, have not directly sought to
predict enjoyment based on those differences.
Again, the moral sanction theory
suggests that enjoyment is predicted by a viewer’s evaluation of the outcomes
associated with characters with whom some affiliative disposition has been
formed. Furthermore, those affiliative dispositions are said to be formed based
on the viewer ’s moral judgment of the characters’behaviors. It seems to follow
that, if we better understand how a viewer makes these moral judgments (i.e.,
better understand the moral-judgment criteria for an individual viewer), we
might better predict how she or he will judge the behaviors of characters (and
thus better understand how, in what direction, and with what intensity
dispositions are formed, and ultimately better predict enjoyment).
Raney and Bryant (2002) took the perspective outlined above in relation to
crime-based entertainment. The researchers attempted to extend moral sanction
theory to include the identification of individually held notions of social justice
as predictors of dispositional affiliation and thus enjoyment. The resulting
integrated model of enjoyment of crime drama suggests that both affective
(traditionally associated with disposition-based theories; specifically, empathy)
and cognitive factors influence the enjoyment of a crime drama (see Fig. 1).
These cognitive factors include one’s personally held notions of social justice,
which are then used as the interpretive or evaluative lens through which
characters and their behaviors are judged and dispositions formed. Two major
components of social justice—attitudes about vigilantism and punitive
—have been identified as key cognitive inputs that predict how the
behaviors of characters within a crime drama are evaluated, disposition are
formed, and ultimately enjoyment is ascribed. An initial evaluation lent support
to the integrated model, with enjoyment of a crime drama being predicted both
by empathy (in keeping with disposition and moral sanction theory) and the two
components of social justice. The current work serves as a further examination
of the Raney and Bryant (2002) model.
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Figure 1. An integrated model of crime-drama enjoyment from Raney and Bryant (2002).
According to the integrated model of enjoyment, the affective and cognitive
factors—that is, empathy, attitudes about vigilantism, and attitudes about
punitive punishment—will be used to evaluate the characters’ behaviors, in
particular the crime(s) and punishment(s), resulting in actual moral judgments.
These moral judgments ultimately lead to the formation of a dispositional
affiliation with the characters. Those dispositional affiliations seemingly would
be comprised of two key components: affect toward the victim and/or villain (as
influenced by subjectively held levels of empathic concern) and cognitions
regarding the justice enacted by or deservedness for the punishment(s) in light of
the crime(s) (as influenced by the individually held notions of social justice).
And because the support for moral sanction theory indicates that dispositional
affiliations predict enjoyment, it follows that the measure of a viewer’s sympathy
and of a viewer’s attitudes about the propriety of the enacted justice will directly
impact a viewer’s enjoyment of the presentation.
In summary, Raney and Bryant (2002) contended that empathy and social-
justice attitudes held by each viewer will impact a viewer’s moral judgments
about the characters and their actions in a crime drama. The outcome of these
moral evaluations—operationalized for this study as sympathy toward the plight
of the victim and an evaluation of the deservedness of the criminal’s
punishment—are then thought to impact enjoyment. Further testing of these
predictions are the goal of the present project.
As suggested by Zillmann (2000), this process will differ between crime
dramas because the relative severity of the crime presented will elicit different
moral judgments. More specifically, some crimes may be relatively too
innocuous to motivate moral judgments, whereas others might be so egregious
that moral judgments become nearly universal. Therefore, the following is
Hypothesis 1: The nature of the relationships between empathy, social-justice
attitudes, moral judgments, and enjoyment will vary based on the relative
severity of the crime presented in the crime drama.
To evaluate Hypothesis 1, we used two experimental conditions defined by
the relative severity of the crime depicted in each condition. To do so, one
condition was exposed to stimulus materials depicting physical (but not sexual)
abuse of a woman and property destruction (henceforth, the no-rape condition).
In a second condition, the stimulus materials depicted physical and sexual abuse
of a woman, as well as property destruction (henceforth, the rape condition). In
an attempt to further evaluate the integrated model of enjoyment, the following
was predicted:
Hypothesis 2: Enjoyment in the rape condition will be positively predicted by
the following: (a) a viewer’s judgment of sympathy for the victim of the
crime, and (b) a viewer’s judgment of the deservedness of the punishment
presented for the crime, both of which will be predicted by three key social-
justice attitudes: (a) vigilantism, (b) punitiveness, and (c) empathy.
Similarly, but with variation expected (as predicted in Hypothesis 1), we
predicted the following:
Hypothesis 3: Enjoyment in the no-rape condition will be positively predicted
by the following: (a) a viewer’s judgment of sympathy for the victim of the
crime, and (b) a viewer’s judgment of the deservedness of the punishment
presented for the crime, both of which will be predicted by three key social-
justice attitudes: (a) vigilantism, (b) punitiveness, and (c) empathy.
Groups of male and female undergraduate students were administered a
“personality questionnaire” that included items measuring attitudes and values
concerning empathy, vigilantism, and punitive punishment for criminal behavior.
On completion of the questionnaire, the students viewed one of two edited
portions (approximately 18 minutes) of a motion picture. The two experimental
conditions differed only by the nature of the crime committed in the movie clip;
otherwise, the two clips were identical.
Following exposure to the video segment, the students rated their enjoyment of
the presentation under the guise that the information would be used to determine
the viability of expanding student programming on a local cable-access station.
The response form also contained measures of victim sympathy and deservedness
of punishment in relation to the crime–punishment sequence in the stimulus
materials. The personality measures were then used in conjunction with the
enjoyment and other dependent measures to further investigate the relationship
between moral judgment (in relation to crime and punishment) and enjoyment.
Research participants were 158 undergraduate students enrolled in
communication courses. Previous exposure to the motion picture used was
measured on the follow-up questionnaire; 18 participants stated that they had
previously seen the film and were excluded from the analysis. Therefore, the data
for 139 participants were analyzed. Of these participants, more were female
(61.9%) than male and more were White (81.3%) than non-White.
Research participants were informed that they would complete three short
research projects: a personality study (independent measure), an evaluation of a
radio-news spot (distracter), and an evaluation of a motion picture for the student
television services (stimulus and dependent measure). All participants completed
IRB-approved consent forms and were debriefed about the purpose of the study
at the end of the research session.
Independent Measures. During the “personality study,” participants
completed a 33-item survey ambiguously titled “Personality Questionnaire”
designed to identify the attitudes and opinions of participants with regard to
social justice and empathy. Twenty-two social-justice items were taken from the
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instrument reported in Raney and Bryant (2002): 16 items identified vigilante
attitudes about justice (observed α = .92), and 6 measured attitudes regarding
punitiveness (observed α = .85). The final 11 items were drawn from an extant
empathy measure (Ordman, 1996; Salomonson & Tamborini, 1994, as cited in
Ordman, 1996). The specific items identified the respondents’ overall empathic
concern for others in need, as well as their ability and willingness to see
situations from another person’s perspective (observed α = .75). All items, after
correcting for reverse-scored items, were scored on a scale from 1 (Strongly
Disagree) to 7 (Strongly Agree). Therefore, the independent measures yielded
three powerful unidimensional scales: vigilantism, punitiveness, and empathy.
During the second project, participants evaluated (for recall and company
image) a radio news spot about an international corporation’s reaction to a
product defect. This distracter task was used to provide separation between the
independent-measure data collection and exposure to the stimulus materials.
Dependent Measures. Participants were informed that the third and final
project was to determine the feasibility of expanding the student television
services on local cable to include feature-length motion pictures. To that end,
participants viewed an edited portion of a motion picture (i.e., the stimulus
materials) and completed the enjoyment questionnaire. To rate enjoyment of the
experimental stimulus, participants responded to six items concerning various
entertainment aspects of the motion picture clip: how exciting, suspenseful, good,
and well acted the clip was, overall enjoyment, and enjoyment of the subject. T h e
students also responded to two items designed to assess their future intentions:
how much they would like to see and how likely they were to watch the entire
movie. All of the items were scored on an 11-point scale from 0 (Not at all
s u s p e n s e f u l) to 10 (E x t remely suspenseful). The observed α for the enjoyment
measure was .96.
Two additional sets of items measured aspects of the viewers’ moral-
judgmental reaction to the presentation, that is, the products of their moral
reasoning. A three-item victim sympathy measure investigated the extent to
which the viewer felt sorry for the victims of the crime (observed α = .89). All
of the items were scored on an 11-point scale similar to the enjoyment factor.
The second set contained two items that measured the extent to which the viewer
thought the assailant received a rightful punishment (i.e., deservedness). The
deservedness items (r = .70, p < .001) also employed an 11-point scale with 0
representing deserving much less punishment, and 10 representing deserving
much more punishment.
Therefore, the dependent measure yielded three powerful unidimensional
scales as well: enjoyment, victim sympathy, and deservedness. However, victim
sympathy and deservedness—as functions or products of moral judgment—will
also be used as predictors of enjoyment.
Experimental Stimuli. The motion picture Rob Roy (1995), an historical
drama about Robert Roy MacGregor (Rob Roy), a hero of 18th Century Scotland,
served as a source for the stimulus material. Several short scenes from the film
were edited and combined to produce an 18-minute clip. The scenes were selected
to establish the narrative context of the film, define character roles (e.g., villain,
victim), present a crime, and present a retribution (or justice) for the crime.
Two versions of the film clip, differing only in the crime, were created for
viewing and analysis. In the first version, the crime involved the rape and other
physical abuses of Rob Roy’s wife, Mary, and the burning and destruction of
their home and livestock (hereafter, rape condition). In the second version, the
30-second rape sequence was omitted (although the nonsexual, physical abuses
remained) and replaced with 30 seconds of additional footage of the burning and
destruction of the MacGregor home (hereafter, no-rape condition). All other
aspects of the two versions were identical: clip length, content of scenes, and
retribution (the killing of the villain by Rob Roy). No direct or indirect allusion
to a sexual assault was made in the no-rape condition stimulus material.
Independent Measures and Random Assignment
Although research participants were not randomly assigned to a specific group
or session (participation times were selected by the individual), the groups were
randomly assigned to one of the two experimental conditions. One-way analyses
of variance (ANOVA) were completed to ensure that the conditions were
homogenous relative to the moral judgment factors of empathy, vigilantism, and
punitiveness. As expected, no statistically significant differences (p > .1) were
found between conditions for the three independent measures.
Dependent Measures
Given the different crimes presented, one might expect an overall difference in
evaluations of enjoyment, victim sympathy, and deservedness between the two
conditions. One-way A N O VAs found a significant difference only in
deservedness between the two conditions: Interestingly enough, the punishment
in the rape condition (M = 5.46, SD = 1.32) was judged to be significantly more
severe than deserved (F = 4.14, p < .05) than it was in the no-rape condition (M
= 4.99, SD = 1.38). As was mentioned, no significant differences were found for
the enjoyment (F = 1.75, p > .1) or the victim sympathy (F = 1.92, p > .1) factor.
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Hypotheses Testing
To test the hypotheses, path analysis was employed using Lisrel 8.0; a single path
model was used in each condition to test the hypotheses. The path model
diagrams the proposed relationships between the variables: When watching a
crime drama, it is proposed that a viewer’s attitudes about social justice will
predict specific moral judgments about the events portrayed in the content, which
will then predict enjoyment.
Rape Condition. As Figure 2a indicates, with respect to the social-justice
factors predicting moral judgments, only one of the paths approached
significance: empathy predicting victim sympathy. None of the social-justice
factors were significant predictors of deservedness. In other words, neither
empathy, vigilantism, nor punitiveness was observed to predict the actual moral
judgments of viewers of the rape condition (except empathy weakly predicting
victim sympathy).
As Figure 2a further indicates, victim sympathy was found to be a significant
predictor of enjoyment; deservedness was not. The resulting path model for the
rape condition was an acceptable fit for the data: χ
= 7.25, p > .1; GFI = .97;
AGFI = .84.
Figure 2a. Path model for hypothesis testing: Rape condition.
No-Rape Condition. In the no-rape condition—as in the previous case—
none of the paths from empathy, vigilantism, or punitiveness to deservedness
were significant. However, as Figure 2b indicates, all three social-justice factors
were significant predictors of victim sympathy in the no-rape condition, with
punitiveness carrying a negative coefficient.
Figure 2b. Path model for hypothesis testing: No-rape condition.
As Figure 2b further indicates, both victim sympathy and deservedness were
found to be significant predictors of enjoyment. The resulting path model for the
no-rape condition also was an acceptable fit for the data: χ
= 3.45, p > .1; GFI
= .98; AGFI = .91.
The ultimate goal of the present study is to better understand the relationship
between factors involved in moral judgment and the enjoyment of drama
involving crime and punishment. The integrated model of enjoyment of crime
drama suggests that certain subjectively held notions of social justice will predict
a viewer’s moral judgments about how deserving the criminal’s punishment was
and how sympathetic he or she is toward the victim. In turn, the outcome of those
two moral judgments (i.e., deservedness and victim sympathy) will predict
enjoyment. Hypothesis 1 suggested that these predictive processes will vary
based on the nature of the mediated crime (in this case, a rape and a no-rape
Hypothesis 1 was supported; indeed, the two conditions rendered quite
different predictive relationships among the variables. More will be stated about
this finding shortly.
Hypotheses 2 and 3 seek to test the integrated model of crime-drama
enjoyment (Raney & Bryant, 2002) by proposing that certain subjectively held
notions of social justice (i.e., vigilantism, punitiveness, and empathy) will predict
a viewer’s moral judgments about how deserving the criminal’s punishment was
and how sympathetic the viewer is toward the victim. In turn, the outcome of
those two moral judgments will predict overall enjoyment. Hypothesis 2
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predicted this process for stimulus materials containing a rape scene; Hypothesis
3 did so for the same stimulus material without the rape scene.
Both Hypotheses 2 and 3 were supported in part. More specifically, in the rape
condition (Hypothesis 2) enjoyment was significantly predicted by victim
s y m p a t h y. This finding clearly supports disposition theory. As predicted by the
t h e o r y, enjoyment increases in relation to positive outcomes for the liked
characters and negative outcomes for the disliked. Beyond this finding, nothing
else that was hypothesized in Hypothesis 2 was supported. Specifically, none of
the three personality factors or the deservedness factor was predictive of any other
factor; although, as we will see later, all were so in the no-rape condition. Why?
The most logical explanation is found in the notion of the “latitude of moral
sanction” identified by both Zillmann (2000) and Raney and Bryant (2002),
which posits that the nature of certain crimes presented in dramas fall within the
boundaries of “acceptable injustice” for some viewers, whereas the same crime
falls outside those boundaries for others. As a result, a mediated crime might be,
for instance, too inconsequential (e.g., a simple assault) to engage much moral
reasoning. As a result, the moral monitoring is too inconsequential to
significantly influence the enjoyment process. In such cases, it can be expected
that reliance on other influences (e.g., disposition) overwhelmingly, if not
completely, guide one’s enjoyment.
In the rape condition, the crime presented is, of course, not inconsequential;
in fact, it is generally considered one of the most heinous crimes imaginable. In
this case, it seems that the rape falls outside the boundaries of the viewer’s
“acceptable injustice” into a range of “unacceptable injustice.” However, the
terms acceptable and unacceptable are not necessarily linked to enjoyment; in
fact, no significant differences were observed for the enjoyment factor between
the rape and no-rape conditions (F = 1.75, p > .1). Instead, the term acceptable
refers to that which engages moral deliberation. The heinous nature of the crime,
it would seem, made moral considerations unnecessary. All viewers thought that
the act was deplorable, thus eliminating any variance on the deservedness factor
even between participants with quite different social-justice beliefs. This would
seem to explain why victim sympathy was the only positive predictor of
enjoyment in the rape condition.
In the no-rape condition (Hypothesis 3), the empathy, vigilantism, and
punativeness factors all significantly predicted victim sympathy as anticipated.
Note that punativeness unexpectedly carried a negative beta coefficient in
relation to victim sympathy in this condition. One plausible explanation for this
finding is that the viewers who are more likely to sympathize with a victim are
also those more likely to sympathize with convicted criminals to the extent that
they oppose death as a punishment for crime. In other words, they sympathize
with the plight of the criminal, perhaps on a basic human level (e.g., reverence
for human life or life in general). Therefore, although the viewer agrees that
some punishment is due the criminal, perhaps they cannot morally justify that
punishment being death. This would appear to be a reasonable explanation for
the finding; however, if it is the case, then one might expect that punitiveness and
(the more general) empathy factor would be correlated. However, such a
correlation—as is reported below—was not found. Unfortunately, no other
explanation is readily available from this author or from a review of the extant
literature. In fact, the punativeness measure itself may be the cause. Further
investigation is needed.
Nevertheless, the identification of predictors of victim sympathy is extremely
important. To this point, entertainment theorists have relied on disposition to
predict enjoyment of drama. Now, at least in the case of crime dramas, it seems
that predictors of disposition—other than empathy, which has been identified in
the literature—have been isolated, namely vigilantism and punativeness.
Furthermore, the overall correlation between the empathy factor and the other
two factors are not statistically significant (empathy–vigilantism r = –.16, p >
.05; empathy–punativeness r = –.16, p > .05), which perhaps indicates somewhat
independent influences on victim sympathy (and thus, disposition).
Also, the two measures of moral judgment—victim sympathy and
deservedness—were found to be significant predictors of enjoyment. Again, with
regard to victim sympathy, this finding supports disposition theory. However,
deservedness unexpectedly carried a negative beta coefficient. Therefore, the
more a viewer thought the villain deserved a less severe punishment, the more the
drama was enjoyed. Conversely, the more a viewer thought the villain deserved a
more severe punishment, the less the drama was enjoyed. It appears that the
phenomenon can be explained in terms of expectations of the genre. Earlier, it was
mentioned that the crimes must fall within the boundaries of expected injustice to
engage moral reasoning, and apparently in this case that happened. However, the
punishment for that crime must also follow some guidelines based on
expectations. As a result of these findings, it is suggested that persons expect that
the punishment for a crime that is portrayed must surpass the “deserved”
punishment that is determined through moral reasoning. In other words, viewers
of crime drama tend to expect (and perhaps even demand) a retribution that is
greater than what is morally acceptable in reality. This would explain why viewers
enjoyed the stimulus material with the punishment that was shown, even though,
when further probed, they suggested that a lessor punishment would meet their
own moral standard for justice. Furthermore, this might shed light on the
righteous justice of today’s entertainment fare identified by Zillmann (1998),
which is typified by “the apparent euphoria of young men upon seeing the bad
guys being riddled with bullets and collapsing in deadly convulsions” (p. 205).
The study is not without its failings as well. Deservedness was not predicted
by anything, in either condition. It seems reasonable to suggest that one’s beliefs
about social justice and empathy have an impact on how one determines
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deservedness; however, in this study, no connection could be made. Furthermore,
one could reasonably expect some relationship between victim sympathy and
deservedness; the correlation observed between the two factors was
nonsignificant (p > .1) in both conditions. Identifying moral judgment factors
that predict determinations of deservedness is the next step in this process.
However, this initial step in better understanding the contributors to disposition
formation in crime dramas will hopefully prove useful in encouraging others to
conduct similar research with this and other entertainment genres.
Throughout all entertainment studies, the term enjoyment remain somewhat nebulous.
Historically, the term appreciation was used almost exclusively to refer to one’s hedonic
response to media fare. Only in the last decade or so have we started using the (arguably
broader) term enjoyment. Much like the term entertainment, scholars have yet to
conclusively define enjoyment, but for the sake of this project, enjoyment will be
discussed as the pleasure experienced from consuming media entertainment and will be
measured with self-report items often employed in this research tradition.
Zillmann (1991, 1994, 2000) and Hoffmann (1987) have identified empathy as the chief
mechanism by which dispositions are formed. The current work, although agreeing that
empathy plays a large role in disposition formation, contends that empathy is not the sole
predictor or determinant of how a character will be judged. Surely other factors contribute
to the moral judgment of the behaviors of an individual in real-life and characters in a
drama. In other words, various factors (including empathy) help us evaluate the rightness
and wrongness of behaviors; we attempt to identify and understand some of these
additional factors.
Regarding vigilantism, Raney and Bryant (2002) stated that “the term is generally used
to refer to attitudes favorable to retribution and punishment enacted by private citizens or
by unsanctioned law enforcement agents” (p. 407) And in reference to punitive
punishment, the researchers stated that the factor taps into an individual’s “attitudes
concerning severity of punishment” (p. 407).
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