Are You Genuine or Acting to Appear Moral? An Experiment Applying Attribution Theory to Investigate the Impact of Inspiring UGC Media on Viewers

Open Access
Kim, Keun Yeong
Graduate Program:
Mass Communications
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
July 07, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Mary Beth Oliver, Dissertation Advisor
  • Mary Beth Oliver, Committee Chair
  • Michael Grant Schmierbach, Committee Chair
  • S. Shyam Sundar, Committee Member
  • Matthew Paul Mcallister, Committee Member
  • Perceived authenticity
  • elevation
  • UGC
  • Sponsored content
  • Behavioral intentions to share media
This study is designed to examine positive outcomes of morally inspiring media in comparison to enjoyment-focused media and to explore the effects of perceived authenticity of user-generated content (UGC) on media effectiveness (i.e., evaluation of media and behavioral intentions to promote the media) by applying Weiner’s (1985, 1986) attribution theory. Further, the study is particularly interested in discovering the potential of using UGC to stimulate the positive effects of prosocial messages on viewers. A 2 (Media Theme: Moral Beauty vs. Enjoyment) X 2 (Media Type: User-Generated Content vs. Sponsored Content) between-subjects factorial experiment was employed to test viewers’ psychological responses to morally inspiring media and UGC. In terms of media themes, two video clips were used per condition (moral beauty vs. enjoyment). These media messages were presented with or without company sponsorship information to manipulate the type of media (user generated vs. sponsored). A total of 389 participants were recruited from online crowdsourcing service Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk). The findings revealed that participants viewing portrayals of someone’s moral excellence showed greater levels of the moral emotion elevation than those viewing others enjoying themselves. Those elevated viewers reported high levels of prosocial motivations, and the motivations were positively related to behavioral intentions to promote the inspiring media such as recommending it to others to watch and sharing it with others. Additionally, the findings regarding UGC consumption support the idea that the psychological outcomes resulting from UGC can stimulate media effectiveness. The participants exposed to UGC reported greater levels of perceived authenticity—that media characters’ behaviors and interactions are motivated by their own values and reasons rather than by profit motives—than those viewing company-sponsored media. The perceived authenticity of UGC was positively associated with feelings elicited by the media creator and the perceived message influence. These affective and cognitive responses to media were positively associated with viewers’ evaluation of media. Finally, viewers’ media evaluation was positively associated with their intentions to promote the media. Additional findings highlighted the importance of perceived media authenticity in enhancing affective responses to elevating media. The study found that one’s positive feelings evoked by a media creator through perceiving media authenticity had a positive association with feelings of elevation. Although the findings of the study failed to obtain the interaction effect of perceived authenticity in the relationship between perceived moral beauty and feelings of elevation, the results approached conventional levels of statistical significance.