Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Manship School of Mass Communication

Document Type



Entertainment psychology is moving toward an area of study where being entertained means experiencing pleasure and/or satisfying fundamental, meaningful needs as human beings (Vorderer, 2011). Now, scholars are examining meaningful media experiences and a recent subset known as transcendent media experiences. Transcendent media experiences are defined as experiences that elicit mixed affective states that can heighten feelings of elevation, compassion, and connectedness that lead to more prosocial motivations. These subjective experiences of meaningfulness can inspire universality by cultivating desires to overcome intergroup hostility (Oliver et al., 2018).

Much is known about the cognitive processes that contribute to lessening social distance toward outgroups and combatting stereotyped perceptions. What is less known, are the effects of emotional mechanisms involved in more positive intergroup interactions. It is possible that, through narratives designed to emphasize transcendence, self-reflectiveness, and connectedness, individuals may come to feel more strongly connected to outgroups that have historically been marginalized. The purpose of the study was to examine if transcendent media experiences have the ability to reduce stigma surrounding mental illness and engender more prosocial attitudes toward people with mental illness. This study also assessed how different elicitors of transcendent media representations may promote social inclusion toward people with mental illness.

A 2 (Type of Elicitor) X 2 (Message Repetition) mixed experimental design was used (N=147). Results indicate that self-transcendent emotions elicited by transcendent media experiences do not act alone. Feelings of connectedness and compassionate love for others, that are predicted by transcendent emotions, play a substantial role in the destigmatization of mental illness. Self-transcendent experiences may be heightened depending on the type of transcendent elicitor present, but also the characteristics within the entertainment narrative. Witnessing characters’ reactions of self-transcendence may cause a shift in perspective that encourages reflection of one’s own behaviors and beliefs about their connectedness with humanity. Nonetheless, self-transcendent media experiences engender motivations to initiate compassion and companionship toward others that are a part of a traditionally stigmatized group, thus initiating the destigmatization process.

This is the first study to examine attitudinal outcomes associated with self-transcendent media experiences and the destigmatization process specific to mental illness. These findings might stimulate future investigation within the specific elicitors of transcendent media and the momentary affective mechanisms that lead to more positive attitudes toward stigmatized groups.



Committee Chair

Sanders, Meghan