Transportation into a narrative world refers to the feeling of being lost in the world of a narrative, of being completely immersed in a story and leaving the real world behind. This experience is a key mechanism underlying the influence of stories or narratives on individuals’ attitudes and beliefs, and is also associated with media enjoyment. Although transportation has long been used as a metaphor for narrative experience, psychologists have conceptualized transportation into a narrative world as a distinct mental process, an integrative melding of attention, imagery, and emotions (Gerrig 1993; Green & Brock 2000, 701; see also Nell 1988). Transportation is a form of experiential response to narratives. It is psychologically similar to flow (Csikszentmihalyi 1990) or absorption, although both flow and absorption are more general concepts (individuals can experience flow in a variety of activities; absorption is a dispositional tendency to become immersed in experiences). Transportation is also similar to Vorderer’s high involvement.
Transported readers may lose track of time, fail to notice events going on around them, or experience strong emotions. Such readers may experience participatory responses – the desire to communicate with narrative characters or help them toward their goals (Polichak & Gerrig 2002).
The key psychological ingredients of transportation are assumed to take place across different communication media, including text, audio, video, or any means of transmitting a narrative account. Individuals may be transported into both factual and fictional narratives; transportation does not depend on whether a narrative reflects real-world truth. Indeed, fiction can be a cue to engage in more immersive, less critical processing (Green et al. 2004b).
Although individuals may become engaged in non-narrative media (for example, science programs), transportation per se occurs solely or primarily in response to narrative communications. Narratives present a sequence of connected events and characters, typically in a causal chain that moves from beginning to end. In contrast, non-narrative persuasive communications present propositions or evidence in support of a claim. Note that narrative does not necessarily mean fictional. Documentaries, news reports, and other nonfiction media products may have a narrative structure, or they may not. Non-narratives do not create alternative worlds for individuals to enter, and thus they may be less likely to engage emotions or create mental imagery.
Transportation is a pleasant state, yet individuals are frequently transported into narratives that evoke negative emotions (fear, sadness, or anger). The enjoyment of a transportation experience does not necessarily stem from the particular emotions evoked by a narrative, but from the process of temporarily leaving one’s one reality behind (Green et al. 2004a).
The transportation-imagery model (Green & Brock 2002) highlights the role of visual imagery in transportation-based belief change. Images take on meaning from their role in a story. Individuals’ imagery ability and situations that allow for the formation of rich mental images increase the persuasive power of a story. The transportation experience links the vivid images with beliefs implied by the story. Over time, recalling the image may re-evoke large parts of the original communication, thus reinforcing the story-relevant beliefs.
Measurement And Manipulation
Transportation can be measured with a 15-item self-report scale (Green & Brock 2000). Participants answer each item on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 7 (very much). Example items include “I was emotionally involved in the narrative while reading it” and “I could picture myself in the scene of the events described in the narrative.” The scale has shown good internal consistency, as well as discriminant and convergent validity. Transportation can be manipulated by varying story quality or the instructions given to readers. For example, instructions to focus on the surface aspects of the story, such as difficulty and grammar, produce lower transportation (Green & Brock 2000; for a related discussion, see Oatley 1994).
Pre-existing familiarity with an aspect of the narrative world can increase transportation. For example, individuals who reported greater knowledge about the fraternity/sorority system were more transported into a story about a man attending his fraternity reunion (Green 2004). Additional research is needed to determine the boundary conditions of this effect; some types of similarity or familiarity do not seem to consistently increase transportation (e.g., matching reader gender with main character gender).
The quality or craftsmanship of a text also influences transportation. Well-written and well-structured texts are more transporting. Bestsellers or classic texts are rated as more transporting than stories created by psychologists for experiments, for instance (Green & Brock 2000). Although structural elements such as suspense can lead to transportation, mystery or surprise per se are not necessary ingredients of transportation. Individuals can be transported when rereading or rewatching a narrative, especially a high-quality narrative.
Relationships To Other Variables
Transportation has a moderate positive correlation with empathy (as measured by the Interpersonal Reactivity Index [Davis 1983]). Transportation also has a moderate positive correlation with Tellegen’s (1982) “absorption,” a more general tendency to become immersed in a range of experiences. Absorption is associated with susceptibility to hypnosis.
Need for cognition is an individual difference variable frequently used in persuasion studies (Cacioppo et al. 1984). It measures dispositional tendencies to engage in and enjoy effortful cognitive activity. Correlations between transportation and need for cognition vary across studies, but range from no correlation to a low positive one.
Transportation And Belief Change
Individuals who are transported into a narrative are likely to change their beliefs in response to events or claims in a story. For example, transported readers of a story about a child being attacked in a shopping mall by a psychiatric patient were more likely than lesstransported readers to believe that psychiatric patient freedoms should be restricted and that the world was unjust (Green & Brock 2000). Theoretically, attitudes formed or changed via transportation should be strong (persistent over time and resistant to counterpersuasion).
Transportation may aid in belief change in three ways. First, transportation reduces counterarguing about the issues raised in the story. Next, transportation may affect beliefs by making narrative events seem more like personal experience (Green 2004). If a reader or viewer feels as if she or he has been part of narrative events, the lessons implied by those events may seem more powerful. Finally, attachment to characters may play a critical role in narrative-based belief change. If a viewer likes or identifies with a character, statements made by the character or implications of events experienced by that character may carry special weight.
Transported readers identify fewer “false notes” in a narrative, indicating greater acceptance of story content (Green & Brock 2000). Research on mental correction suggests that individuals need both motivation and ability to reject information that they do not wish to believe (e.g., Gilbert 1991). Transportation may reduce individuals’ ability to counterargue assertions or events in the story because the reader’s cognitive capacity is committed to imagining story events. Transportation may also reduce motivation to counterargue. Transportation is typically a pleasurable experience, and interrupting this experience to critique the narrative or dispute the author’s claims would detract from story enjoyment. Even when individuals have finished a story, they may be unlikely to go back and critically evaluate story events, especially if they do not believe that the story has influenced them.
It may also be more difficult to discount narratives because stories tend to be concrete, presenting the experience of particular (real or fictional) others, rather than abstractions. Indeed, people tend to generalize from a narrative exemplar even when the presented case is not typical (Strange & Leung 1999), especially if they are engaged in the narrative.
Feelings Of Real Experience
Direct experience with attitude objects can result in strong and enduring attitudes. Through vivid imagery and emotional involvement, transporting narratives approach direct experience more than other forms of persuasive messages.
Beyond their impressions of the realism of the content of the story, individuals who are immersed in a story may also fail to recall whether a story was fact or fiction. If a fictional story is misremembered as fact, it may be even more likely to influence real-world beliefs.
Attachment To Characters
Attachment to a protagonist may be an important determinant of the persuasiveness of a story. Individuals may develop deep affection for protagonists (liking, sympathy, or empathy), and hatred for story villains. They may develop parasocial relationships with the characters, such that characters come to seem like friends. An additional dimension of connectedness may occur if individuals identify with a character. Identification is “a process that consists of increasing loss of self-awareness and its temporary replacement with heightened emotional and cognitive connections with a character” (Cohen 2001, 251). Identification may entail adopting a character’s goals as one’s own, and may make the character a model for desired behavior (as in social learning theory). Thus, attachment to characters may make the story more personally relevant to the recipient, and more powerful in changing real-world beliefs. (This process is in contrast to traditional forms of persuasion, where personal relevance of a message typically implies that the message has implications for an individual’s own outcomes; see Slater & Rouner 2002.)
“Transportability,” the extent to which individuals readily become deeply transported into stories, can be measured as an individual difference (Dal Cin et al. 2004). This individual difference measure predicts transportation into later texts and films. Across studies, there is no gender difference in transportation, although men may be more transported into some kinds of stories, and women into others.
Applications And Extensions
Transportation theory has been applied to consumer settings. Individuals who mentally simulate experience with products (imagining themselves wearing a pair of running shoes) are transported, and thus show reduced critical thinking and a more positive attitude toward the advertisement and the product (Escalas 2004). Transportation is also relevant to health communications, and may underlie some of the effects observed in entertainment education, a technique that embeds health messages in stories (radio programs, telenovelas; see Singhal et al. 2003).
One aspect of transportation is that individuals may generate counterfactual alternatives to an unhappy ending of a story. This counterfactual thinking can enhance the persuasive power of the narrative (Tal-Or et al. 2004).
Over time, transportation may contribute to cultivation effects, in which individuals’ beliefs come to reflect the world as reflected in television portrayals, rather than the real world (e.g., higher crime rates). Transported individuals may be especially likely to integrate televised portrayals into their real lives.
Transportation requires some action on the part of the individual. At a minimum, the recipient must pay attention to the narrative. However, the extent to which transportation is under conscious control remains to be determined. (Individuals may not be able to force themselves to become involved in a text that they find boring, but perhaps can take themselves out of a narrative world through the use of distraction strategies.)
Future research should also explore the effect of interactivity on experiences of transportation. Being able to act in a narrative world may create an even deeper experience of immersion. However, virtual reality researchers studying presence, the feeling of being in a virtual world, have noted two obstacles to transportation/presence: the technology itself may be distracting, and the narrative structure may need to be looser to accommodate user input (Biocca 2002; see also Klimmt & Vorderer 2003).
- Biocca, F. (2002). The evolution of interactive media: Toward “being there” in nonlinear narrative worlds. In M. C. Green, J. J. Strange, & T. C. Brock (eds.), Narrative impact: Social and cognitive foundations. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 97–130.
- Bruner, J. (1986). Actual minds, possible worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Cacioppo, J. T., Petty, R. E., & Kao, C. F. (1984). The efficient assessment of need for cognition. Journal of Personality Assessment, 48, 306–307.
- Cohen, J. (2001). Defining identification: A theoretical look at the identification of audiences with media characters. Mass Communication and Society, 4(3), 245–264.
- Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper and Row.
- Dal Cin, S., Zanna, M. P., & Fong, G. T. (2004). Narrative persuasion and overcoming resistance. In E. S. Knowles & J. Linn (eds.) Resistance and persuasion. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 175–191.
- Davis, M. H. (1983). Measuring individual differences in empathy: Evidence for a multidimensional approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 113–126.
- Escalas, J. E. (2004). Imagine yourself in the product: Mental simulation, narrative transportation, and persuasion. Journal of Advertising, 33(2), 37–48.
- Gerrig, R. J. (1993). Experiencing narrative worlds: On the psychological activities of reading. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- Gilbert, D. T. (1991). How mental systems believe. American Psychologist, 46, 107–119.
- Green, M. C. (2004). Transportation into narrative worlds: The role of prior knowledge and perceived realism. Discourse Processes, 38(2), 247–266.
- 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.
- 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, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 315–341.
- Green, M. C., Strange, J. J., & Brock, T. C. (eds.) (2002). Narrative impact: Social and cognitive foundations. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
- Green, M. C., Brock, T. C., & Kaufman, G. F. (2004a). Understanding media enjoyment: The role of transportation into narrative worlds. Communication Theory, 14(4), 311–327.
- Green, M. C., Garst, J., & Brock, T. C. (2004b). The power of fiction: Persuasion via imagination and narrative. In L. J. Shrum (ed.), The psychology of entertainment media: Blurring the lines between entertainment and persuasion. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 161–176.
- Klimmt, C., & Vorderer, P. (2003). Media psychology “is not yet there”: Introducing theories on media entertainment to the presence debate. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 12(4), 346–359.
- Marsh, E. J., Meade, M. L., & Roediger, H. L. (2003). Learning facts from fiction. Journal of Memory and Language, 49(4), 519–536.
- Nell, V. (1988). Lost in a book: The psychology of reading for pleasure. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- Oatley, K. (1994). A taxonomy of the emotions of literary response and a theory of identification in fictional narrative. Poetics, 23, 53–74.
- 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, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 71–95.
- Singhal, A., Cody, M. J., Rogers, E. M., & Sabido, M. (eds.) (2003). Entertainment-education and social change: History, research, and practice. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
- Slater, M. D., & Rouner, D. (2002). Entertainment-education and elaboration likelihood: Understanding the processing of narrative persuasion. Communication Theory, 12(2), 173–191.
- Strange, J. J., & Leung, C. C. (1999). How anecdotal accounts in news and in fiction can influence judgments of a social problem’s urgency, causes, and cures. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 436–449.
- Tal-Or, N., Boninger, D. S., Poran, A., & Gleicher, F. (2004). Counterfactual thinking as a mechanism in narrative persuasion. Human Communication Research, 30(3), 301–328.
- Tellegen, A. (1982). Brief manual for the Differential Personality Questionnaire. Unpublished manuscript. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.