Narrator Point of View and Persuasion in Health Narratives: The Role of Protagonist–Reader Similarity, Identification, and Self-Referencing
Narratives are often used in messages about health threats. We posited that a 1st-person point of view (POV) narrative would have a greater effect than a 3rd-person POV on the mediators identification and self-referencing-an effect moderated by protagonist-reader similarity. Higher levels of identification and self-referencing were expected to elevate susceptibility and severity perceptions, leading to persuasion. Participants ages ≤30 years were recruited from a crowdsource website and randomly assigned to read one version of a faux magazine article about caffeine overdose. Article versions were defined by a 2 (1st- or 3rd-person POV) × 2 (similar or dissimilar protagonist) design. To manipulate similarity, we had respondents read an article in which the protagonist was also young (24 years of age) and of the same sex or much older (54 years of age) and of the opposite sex. Participants then completed a questionnaire measuring study variables. Contrary to expectations, POV did not affect identification or self-referencing. However, similarity directly impacted identification, which in turn influenced severity perceptions. Self-referencing was not affected by the experimental manipulations but had a direct effect on susceptibility and also mediated the identification → susceptibility relationship. Susceptibility and severity perceptions were associated with greater levels of persuasion. Implications for message design are discussed.