I was totally there! : understanding engagement in entertainment-ducation narratives

L. van Leeuwen

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU



I was totally there!: Understanding engagement in entertainment-education narratives

By Lonneke van Leeuwen

Narratives have the power to influence their recipients’ health behaviors. With the entertainment-education  (E-E)  strategy,  health  organizations  turn  this  narrative power  to  good  account  by  employing  narratives  in  their  health  promoting  campaigns. E-E programs, mostly in the form of televised narratives, have been shown to effectively encourage a variety of health-related behaviors. Because of these positive results, the E-E strategy is considered a promising communication strategy to encourage healthy behaviors. One quality of E-E narratives that has been shown to be crucial for narrative impact is the ability of E-E narratives to engage target recipients.  Engaged recipients may experience four dimensions of narrative engagement (NE): narrative understanding,  attentional  focus,  emotional  engagement,  and  narrative  presence.  Although evidence is growing that NE plays a role in E-E narratives’ impact (hereafter: E-E impact), little is known about how NE leads to E-E impact and about how NE emerges in recipients of narratives. 

The objective of this dissertation is to provide a better understanding of NE in E-E narratives, by investigating how NE is associated with E-E narratives’ impact, and by investigating the processes that contribute to experiencing NE.

The studies described in this dissertation are conducted within the context of NE in E-E narratives aiming to discourage  alcohol  (binge)  drinking  among  adolescents  and  young  adults.  In 2008, the televised E-E drama series Roes (High in English) was broadcast on national television. Roes consists of 11 case stories (25 minutes each) portraying negative experiences  and  outcomes  of  adolescent  protagonist(s)  drinking  alcohol  and/or using other drugs.

Research questions
Three  research  questions  are  addressed  in  this  dissertation:
RQ1: Does Roes discourage alcohol (binge) drinking in E-E narrative recipients?
RQ2a: Are NE dimensions associated with E-E impact on alcohol (binge) drinking?
And, if so:
RQ2b: Do negative and positive thoughts about alcohol (binge) drinking mediate associations between NE dimensions and E-E impact on alcohol (binge) drinking?
RQ3: Which psychological processes experienced during narrative reception contribute to experiencing NE dimensions?

Main findings
This dissertation has shown that Roes discouraged alcohol (binge) drinking. Viewing multiple episodes of Roes positively predicted a decrease in alcoholic drinks consumed per occasion, an increase in the intention to decrease alcohol use, and an increase in perceived normative pressure. One year after exposure, the impact on the intention to decrease alcohol use was still present. One of the Roes episodes, Verliefd (In love in English), was further examined. After the participants had viewed this episode, their beliefs relating to the negative outcomes of alcohol binge drinking (BD) were more contra-BD as compared to their beliefs prior to viewing the episode. Attitudes towards BD and willingness to engage in BD also became more contra-BD.

Then, the roles of the NE dimensions attentional focus, narrative understanding, emotional  engagement,  and  narrative  presence  in  E-E  impact  were  investigated.  It  was  shown  that  the  NE  dimensions  attentional  focus,  emotional engagement, and narrative presence were positively associated with E-E impact. Attentional focus was associated both with stronger beliefs about the severity of the negative outcomes of BD and with a lowered intention to engage in BD. Emotional engagement and narrative presence were associated with stronger beliefs that BD leads to negative outcomes (negative outcome beliefs), and with stronger beliefs about being vulnerable to these negative outcomes (vulnerability beliefs). Surprisingly,  the  NE  dimension  narrative  understanding  was  associated  with  increased willingness to engage in BD.

No  evidence  was  found  that  negative  thoughts  about  BD  mediated  associations between NE dimensions and E-E impact. Relations between NE dimensions, positive thoughts about BD, and E-E impact could not be investigated: only one participant reported a positive thought about BD in response to Verliefd. Based  on  these  findings  we  conclude  that  attentional  focus,  emotional  engagement,  and  narrative  presence  are  important  for  E-E  impact,  and  that  thoughts about BD do not play a role therein.

Because NE dimensions were found to be associated with E-E impact, it was investigated which psychological processes contribute to NE dimensions. Negative thoughts about the perceptual persuasiveness of Verliefd negatively associated with emotional  engagement  and  narrative  presence.  Furthermore,  it  was shown that enjoyment of Verliefd was a strong contributor to NE, mainly through contributing to attentional focus. Another strong contributor to NE was narrative realism, mainly through contributing to narrative understanding. Finally, personal relevance, character involvement, and perceived severity contributed mainly through emotional engagement.

This dissertation shows that E-E narratives can be an effective health communication  strategy  to  discourage  alcohol  (binge)  drinking  in  young  people. Furthermore, this dissertation provides health communication researchers and media psychologists with insights into the role of NE in E-E impact, and offers E-E developers practical recommendations about how to create engaging and impactful E-E narratives.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Leeuwis, Cees, Promotor
  • Putte, S.J.H.M., Promotor, External person
  • Renes, Reint-Jan, Co-promotor
Award date29 Jun 2015
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789462573369
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • communication
  • communication theory
  • public health
  • alcoholism
  • entertainment
  • education
  • drinking
  • behaviour
  • psychology
  • adolescents
  • educational television

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