The Impacts of Character Identification on Attainment of HIV Prevention Goals: An Entertainment Education Programme in Botswana

By Peirce, Meghan L.; Bates, Benjamin | Journal of Development Communication, June 2012 | Go to article overview

The Impacts of Character Identification on Attainment of HIV Prevention Goals: An Entertainment Education Programme in Botswana


Peirce, Meghan L., Bates, Benjamin, Journal of Development Communication


Makgabaneng is a radio serial drama in Botswana. This drama aims to help change risky behaviours associated with HIV/AIDS through modeling and reinforcement, a strategy they call MARCH. Pappas-DeLuca, Kraft, Galavotti, et al. (2008) clarify that the key elements of MARCH include progression of change over time, the use of entertainment-education (EE) as a vehicle, the use of modeling in programme content, and the creation of character models similar to the target audience. Consistent with Bandura's (2004) Social Learning Theory, Makgabenang's creators believe that behaviour change will not take place simply by including a desired message into EE narratives. Audiences must strongly identify with the storylines and the characters that they engage in those narratives.

One central strategy in Makgabenang's modeling is the use of positive, negative, and transitional character development in the programme's storylines (Pappas -DeLuca, Kraft, Galavotti, et al, and 2008). Narratives include positive role models who consistently make responsible health decisions and negative characters that consistently engage in risky and irresponsible behaviour. Transitional characters are also included; they may start out a storyline by making risky decisions, but evolve over time into empowered, knowledgeable, and positive characters. These dynamic transitional characters are designed to serve as the most identifiable role models for audience members (Galavotti, Pappas-DeLuca and Lansky, 2001). Moreover, Makganbenangs's producers believe that individuals struggling with decision-making may identify with transitional characters because they are also making decisions about how to live their lives. Little research, though, has attempted to see if this strategy of promoting identification with transitional characters is effective in attaining Makganbenangs's goals. The purpose of this paper, then, is to assess the effectiveness of Makganbenangs's strategy in promoting pro-social knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours among the target audience of Batswana aged between 10 and 49 years of age in the greater Gabarone region of Botswana.

Identification and Makgabenang 1s Strategy

The MARCH strategy suggests that audiences will most likely identify with the dynamic and transitional characters in E-E storylines. Character identification in MARCH is comprised of feelings of affinity, friendship, similarity and liking of media characters (Kuhlmann, Kraft, Galavotti, et al., 2008). This identification with characters is strongly linked to the way media influences behavior in audiences (Basil, 1996), consistent with the founding principles of Bandura's Social Learning Theory (2004).

Some support for this strategy exists. Lovell et al. (2007) examined Makgabaneng to see how audiences identify with characters in the drama. This study found that transitional storylines were most influential in the behaviour change process. They suggested that producers begin to use more than one transitional character for each behavioural change objective to improve audience identification with agents of behaviour change and provide several models to which the audience can relate. Following this suggestion, Kuhlmann et al. (2008) were interested in how character identification influenced Makgabaneng's objective of preventing mother-to-child-transmission. Their research found that audience members who reported having a favourite Makgabaneng character were more likely to get tested than those who did not have a favourite character. This finding reaffirms the notion that entertainment-education provides audiences a model for individual self-efficacy by showing individuals how to deal effectively with a situation (Singhal, Cody, Rogers and Sabido, 2004). The more identification audiences feel towards characters, the more influential the storyline may prove. However, this research does not illustrate how alternative character identification may influence audience actions; indeed Kuhlmann and her research team did not examine whether the favourite character was a positive, negative, or transitional role model. …

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