Morality predicts enjoyment but not appreciation of morally ambiguous characters

Allison Eden*, Serena Daalmans, Benjamin K. Johnson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Understanding the role of morally ambiguous characters such as anti-heroes in entertainment experiences has become a central concern for media researchers. Some have argued that different character schemas or tropes may vary along specific moral domains, whereas others promote a linear progression of moral violation from hero to villain. This study presents the results of survey data (N = 294) examining the perceptions of established character tropes in terms of character morality, enjoyment, and appreciation responses. Popular perceptions of character tropes drawn from the website TV Tropes did not significantly differ in terms of which moral domains they upheld or violated, but demonstrated a linear progression of moral violation across five domains of morality. Perceptions of character tropes also did not differ significantly in associations with enjoyment, appreciation, or variables drawn from character identification literature such as self-expansion, wishful identification, or homophily. When examining media responses, however, self-expansion, wishful identification, and moral violation were all strongly related to enjoyment. Unlike enjoyment, appreciation was not related to moral violation. These results are discussed in terms of hedonic and eudaimonic responses to characters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-373
Number of pages25
JournalMedia Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2017


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