Affective Disposition Theories Essay

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Affective disposition theory (ADT) explains the process by which we enjoy different entertainment narratives. The theory conceptualizes media enjoyment  –  primarily  thought  of in  hedonic terms – as the product of a viewer’s emotional affiliations (i.e., affective dispositions) with characters and the outcomes experienced by those characters in the narrative.

ADT contends that we form dispositions toward  media  characters  in  much  the  same way we do with people in the real world. First, we tend to like those whom we perceive to be similar to ourselves, with those perceptions being filtered through a moral lens. Thus, moral considerations govern the valence of the dispositions  we form, with characters  whose actions and motivations are judged to be morally correct liked more. Second, the intensity of those dispositions  vary on  a  continuum  from  extremely positive through indifference to extremely negative, and may fluctuate as the narrative unfolds. Third,  affective dispositions  trigger  empathy-based reactions  toward  things  experienced by characters. As a result, with beloved protagonists, we hope for their success and fear for their failure; with hated villains, we desire the opposite. Finally, if the outcomes wished for by viewers are depicted in the narrative, then enjoyment increases in proportion  to the strength  of the affective dispositions  held. If  those  hoped-for outcomes are not portrayed, then enjoyment suffers in proportion  to the strength of the dispositions.

Despite subtle operational variations, the basic ADT formula  has been demonstrated  as stable across various genres, including humor,  drama, frightening fare, reality TV, sports, and digital games. Current ADT research further explores these cross-genre differences, as well as  issues related  to  viewer and  character morality, discrete emotional reactions toward characters, how expectations impact enjoyment, and non-hedonic/meaningful media experiences.


  1. Raney, A. A. (2004). Expanding disposition theory: Reconsidering character  liking, moral evaluations, and      Communication   Theory,  14(4), 348–369.
  2. Zillmann, D. (2000). Basal morality in drama appreciation. In I. Bondebjerg (ed.), Moving images, culture, and the    Luton:  University  of Luton  Press, pp. 53–63.
  3. Zillmann, D. & Cantor, J. (1976). A disposition theory of humor and    in  T. Chapman  & H. Foot (eds.), Humor  and laughter:  Theory, research, and application. London: Wiley, pp. 93–115.

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