The promises and pitfalls of personalization in narratives to promote social change

Shuo ZHOU*, Jeff Niederdeppe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


This study tests the effects of personalized and depersonalized narratives on cognitive responses, narrative engagement, and support for obesity prevention policies. We first explicate three dimensions of personalization: (1) identifiability, (2) individualization, and (3) inner states description. We then report on a randomized experiment (N = 368) showing that depersonalized narratives were more effective than personalized stories and a no-exposure control group in promoting targeted social policies. Revealing a character’s inner states was most detrimental to the audience’s narrative engagement, reducing levels of transportation, identification, and empathy. Empathy, in turn, fully mediated the impact of inner states description on policy support. Results indicate that personalized narratives have the potential to weaken public support for health policies aimed at changing social factors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-342
Number of pages24
JournalCommunication Monographs
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2017

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics

User-Defined Keywords

  • (de)personalization
  • Health communication
  • narrative persuasion
  • obesity
  • policy support


Dive into the research topics of 'The promises and pitfalls of personalization in narratives to promote social change'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this