Transportation theory (psychology)  

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suspension of disbelief

Transportation theory is concerned with the immersion of individuals within narrative content and the subsequent effects of the transportation experience. More recently, many researchers have shown interest in narrative theory due to the impact narrative have on individuals beliefs and attitudes. An analogy in the form of a journey to explains the process of transportation:

"Someone 'the traveler' is transported, by some means of transportation, as a result of performing certain actions. The traveler goes some distance from his or her world of origin, which makes some aspects of the world of origin inaccessible. The traveler returns to the world of origin, somewhat changed by the journey". (Gerrig, R. J., 1993).

The analogy illustrates that transportation of an individual occurs by some means and the individual must perform certain actions. By meeting the requisite criteria, the world around the individual becomes less accessible as the individual transgress to the further reaches of their minds. After experiencing the journey, "the traveler" returns to their original state, and the process of this journey, alters their perceptions in some way. The "changing" that occurs during the transportation experience has been a topic of particular interest; this effect has been seen as a mean by which narrative is used to alter beliefs and attitudes. The potency of persuasive subtext in narratives has been documented; while narrative theory initially examined the psychological effects of immersion in a textual based narrative, attempts are now made to examine the effects of narrative across different mediums.



Transportation theory has been operationalized by Melanie Green and Timothy Brock. While Green and Brock were not the first scholars to examine the use of narrative communication, their empirical studies have been used to support and measure transportation variables, increasing the use of transportation in narrative and persuasive research,<ref>Green, M. C., & Brock, T. C. (2000). "The role of transportation in the persuasiveness of public narratives". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, (79) (5), 701-721.</ref><ref>Green, M. C., & Brock, T. C. (2002). "In the mind's eye: Transportation-imagery model of narrative persuasion". In M. C. Green, J. J. Strange, & T. C. Brock (eds.), Narrative impact: Social and cognitive foundations. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 315-341.</ref> The term 'transportation' coined by Richard Gerrig, refers to a transporting effect or immersion into a narrative. The conceptual definition Green and Brock use for the Transportation is derived from Gerrig's Book Experiencing Narrative Worlds. In this book, Gerrig defines the term transportation as immersion in a narrative, which after the experience leaves the reader changed.

To gain an understanding of the components that Green and Brock used for their seminal piece on transportation theory, we must delve into the work of Victor Nell. Prior to the Gerrig's view of transportation and immersion into narrative worlds, Victor Nell studied ludic reading or reading for pleasure. Nell's model<ref>Nell, V.(1988) "The psychology of reading for pleasure: Needs and gratifications". Reading and Research Quarterly, 23, 6-50</ref> was much larger in scope than transportation proposed by Green and Brock. In his model, Nell explicated several topics that were central to reading for enjoyment. For an individual to consider reading three criteria had to be met. The individual must have the ability to read the specific material. The individual must have positive expectations of the reading, there has to be a positive reward for the reading process for the individual's continued participation, such as physical arousal. An individual must also select the correct book. If these criteria were not met then the individual would select an alternative for entertainment.

In the next portion of Nell's model, three elements evolved in ludic reading. Ludic reading was composed of 1) the reading process 2) attention, and 3) comprehension. In Nell's model, these act as processes and prerequisites to enjoying narrative. In comparison, the approach Green and Brock used in transportation theory; the psychological components of cognitive and emotional involvement have been explicated and combined with the element of attention. One of the influences of this model was in terms of the consequences of ludic reading. When involved in of ludic reading, Nell's model stated that there are physiological changes that individuals go through, similar to excitation or feeling at the edge of one's seat when reading a good book. Similar to transportation, there are also cognitive changes that occur during this process. The concept of changes in this model seems to be isomorphic to those in Gerrig's and later Green and Brock's conceptualization of "changes" as a result of being transported.

Transportation process

Gerrig's analogy of transportation indicates that some action must be performed to transport an individual. Similar to many psychological processes, an amalgamation of differing elements function together to produce a certain outcome, this is transportation of an individual to a narrative reality. During transportation, three components are essential. As mentioned previously an individual's attention is required. Attention precedes all other components of transportation. Unless an individual is willfully and mindfully attentive, neither of the two proceeding components required for transportation can occur. Once the prerequisite of attention is accomplished, an individual has the potential to become immersed within the narrative. Another essential element of transportation is emotional involvement. Emotional involvement entails the disposition of an individual's feelings towards those in a narrative as they are transported into the setting. As an individual is transported into a narrative, they make emotional connections to those within the narrative. Some level of cognitive ability is also required. Through imagery, individuals must use their imagination to create the setting, protagonist, and other characters that perform in the narrative.<ref name="Gerrig"/>

Consequences of transportation

Green and Brock list three consequences of being transported into a narrative world. The first consequence mentioned is the individual's world of origin becomes inaccessible. Those who are transported into a narrative world exchange the level of awareness in the physical world for awareness in the imaginary world. There are two levels in which this occurs. On a physical level, transported individuals may not notice events happening in the room that they are occupying and are unaware of the amount of time that passes while they were transported. This consequence is related to the high amount of attention devoted to the narrative, in addition, the processing occurs which occupies one's mental systems and capacities. At the psychological level, individuals are mentally distanced from reality exhibiting less scrutiny of information contradictory to factual information and their beliefs.

Another consequence is the strong emotions and motivation, which individuals experience during transportation. Once transported into a narrative, individuals share emotions and motivation with the protagonist.<ref>Polichak, J. W., & Gerrig, R. J. (2002). "Get up and win! Participatory responses to narratives". In M. C. Green, J. J. Strange, & T. C. Brock (eds.), Narrative impact: Social and cognitive foundations. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 71-95</ref> In his book, Gerrig discusses transported individuals' desire for protagonists to have favorable outcomes; during unhappy endings, transported readers consider alternative events that could have led to a desired outcome. An additional consequence of transportation is alteration at the individual level. In transportation theories seminal work, Green and Brock detailed a shift in views towards conclusions that could be drawn from the narrative text.<ref name="Gerrig"/> In this experiment, participants read a short narrative titled Murder at the mall. It was a short story about a student witnessing a child brutally killed by a psychiatric patient. After reading, the passage participants were asked to indicate their beliefs concerning the topics of psychiatric patients, violence, "just world", and "Crime doesn’t pay". The relationship between the narrative and the participant has revealed that individuals who were transported seemed to hold differing beliefs based on what was presented in the narrative.

Studies conducted in the area of rhetorical communication have dominated the agenda of persuasion-type studies. While models following the "magic bullet" type of approach have accounted for little variance, transportation theory has exhibited a moderate impact on beliefs and attitudes. There are three ways which transportation impacts persuasion. When individuals are transported into a narrative, they are less likely to counter argue against information presented.<ref name="Gerrig"/> Gilbert<ref>Gilbert, D. T. (1991). "How mental systems believe". American Psychologist, (46), 107-119</ref> suggests two reasons individuals may not attempt to correct themselves, ability and motivation. Green asserts that due to the level of cognitive capacity individuals utilize to process a narrative, they are less able to counter argue against information and the points of view presented [7]. Individuals are also less motivated to counter argue during a narrative because constant interruptions would decrease their immersion of the narrative.

Narratives also affect persuasion through direct experience. In the narrative, direct experience affects beliefs and attitudes in two ways. As an individual is transported into a narrative world, the experiences of the protagonist are shared by the individuals, creating a stronger connection between the protagonist's beliefs, motives and views which the individual holds. Also, when an individual recalls details from narrative, they sometimes attribute information gained in the narrative as derived from a factual source instead of a fictitious one.

Transportation is conducive to persuasion because individuals identify with the protagonist. Cohen defines identification with a character as an event where emotional and cognitive connections are shared by a character supplants one's own self-awareness. In this situation, an individual develops a strong affection for a character (commonly the protagonist).<ref>Green, M. C. (2008) "Transportation Theory". In W. Donsbach (Ed.) The International Encyclopedia of Communication. (pp.) Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell</ref> Furthermore, it has been demonstrated recently, that focusing on a story from the point of view of the main character enhances the probability that readers empathize with this character and share his or her world view.<ref>van Laer, T., & de Ruyter, K. (2010). "In stories we trust: How narrative apologies provide cover for competitive vulnerability after integrity-violating blog posts". International Journal of Research in Marketing, 27(2), 164-174</ref> When an individual identifies with a character, they are also more likely to model their behavior after the character.<ref>Cohen, J. (2001). "Defining identification: A theoretical look at the identification of audiences with media characters". Mass Communication and Society, (4), 245-264.</ref>


The transportation scale is commonly used to measure an individual's level of transportation. This scale was designed to examine the main variables: mental involvement, emotional involvement, and attention. The likart type questions the participants received ranged from one extreme "very much" to the other "not at all". When assessing mental involvement in narrative text, items involved more imagery and imagination. An example of this type of question was worded "While reading the narrative, I could easily picture the events in it taking place". Mental involvement is also assessed with scale items which are dependent on the stimuli used in the experiment. These items usually ask participants if they had vivid images of the particular characters (by name) while reading in the text. These items also solicit information concerning emotional involvement are typically worded as "The narrative affected me emotionally". The items concerning attention are worded as "While I was reading the narrative, activity going on in the room around me was on my mind. Items used in conjunction with the attention component on were typically worded negatively require reverse scoring. In addition to transportation scale scores, measures of change in beliefs and attitudes are used to gauge the effect of transportation under other contexts.


Transportation theory is useful in areas that seek to convey information using narratives to alter beliefs and attitudes. Communication scholars have examined the use of transportation in communication in different contexts. Some of the notable areas have been advertising, health communication, and political communication. Since narratives use spans many forms of media, transportation theory can be applied to virtually any area of communication.

An example of the scope of transportation can be found in the advertisements that bombard us every day. Escalas examined the use of transportation in an advertisement. One campaign referenced was centered on immersing the potential consumer in the experience of owning a Lexus automobile and the status that accompanies it.<ref>Escalas, J. E. (2004). "Imagine yourself in the product: Mental simulation, narrative transportation, and persuasion". Journal of Advertising, (33) (2), 37-48.</ref> The commercial was filmed from the driver side to give an appearance that consumers were in the driver seat and potential consumers were asked to imagine the "first impression" they would make. These types of ads are becoming common, as advertisers have taken note of the effectiveness of narrative communication. In Escala's research, she examined the effects of transportation as a mediator for favorable mental stimulation. The results from the experiment supported transportation producing a more favorable evaluation of the product.

Narrative communication is also used heavily within health communication contexts. Recently, investigators have begun using transportation theory as a model to increase awareness and increase the persuasive power of their health communication messages. Chang conducted a study, which utilized two forms of mental health awareness advertisements. This study involved a transportation theory use to attempt to induce "experiential involvement". In this study, one advertisement was created with an argument heavy approach, while the stimuli material relied on the use of narratives. In this study, Chang's findings supported use of narratives and transportation theory to affect change in health attitudes, in this case, mental illness.<ref>Chang, C. (2008). "Increasing mental health literacy via narrative advertising". Journal of Health Communication, 13, 37-55</ref>

The scope of transportation theory is quite large; lawyers use narratives in courtrooms to help the jury become mentally and emotionally involved, hoping to sway the jury towards their client's point of view. Politicians also use narratives to garner votes during election cycles by involving their voters with brief narrative descriptions about how their policies will affect individual's (their) lives. Law and politics are only a few situations, however, these illustrate the scope of situations can be studied empirically with transportation theory. Transportation theory has a variety of use in various areas of the field of communication. In addition to the various areas which transportation can be useful there are many applications across other modalities. Research conducted in many areas of communication support this theory as possessing substantial amount of scope.

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