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Research Project: Preventing the Development of Childhood Obesity

Location: Children's Nutrition Research Center

Title: Designing stories to make children move: Some psycho-behavioral theoretical insights

item LU, AMY - Northeastern University
item GREEN, MELANIE - University At Buffalo
item BARANOWSKI, TOM - Children'S Nutrition Research Center (CNRC)
item Thompson, Deborah - Debbe

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/17/2024
Publication Date: 4/4/2024
Citation: Lu, A.S., Green, M.C., Baranowski, T., Thompson, D.J. 2024. Designing stories to make children move: Some psycho-behavioral theoretical insights [abstract]. Kentucky Conference on Health Communication. April 4-6, 2024; Lexington, KY. Poster Presentation.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: While recent decades have witnessed a surge in narrative health communication, studies often overlook narrative design aspects, especially for children from diverse backgrounds. As avid media consumers with malleable minds and heightened emphatic response, children have unique developmental needs, calling for appropriately designed media tailored for their growing body and mind. Yet, developmental theory-supported strategies and practices to guide narrative designs are scarce. Using a recent animation series developed by a professional production company targeting exercising behaviors among 8-12-year-old children as an example, we explore design perspectives shaping effective narrative messages. By incorporating psycho-behavioral theories within a developmental context, we have found this narrative consistently improves children's physical activity levels. This project underscores the convergence of theoretical guidance for optimizing narrative impact. To elucidate ways in which theory can be applied in creating intervention narratives for children, we spotlight four aspects of narrative creative practice, each of which underscoring the importance of synchronizing theory-driven directives with children's own preferences. One: Recognition of character traits that help with identification. The characters are a major structural property and driving force of a narrative. Rooted in social cognitive theory and social learning theory, characters act as role models. Protagonists should ideally be portrayed in a positive light intertwined with extraordinary actions for children to look up to and emulate. The characters' visual presentation could appear gender neutral (or subject to customization) to enhance audience-character interaction. Two: Selection of plot characteristics that align with children's cognitive development and behavioral motivation. The plot, or the "narrative discourse," is how the story is conveyed. The plot plays a pivotal role in story delivery. By studying the dynamic of narrative unfolding and comparing various plot presentation strategies under the guidance of suspense and cognitive completion theories, we craft plots constantly cognitively engaging to sustain health behaviors. Three: Incorporation of cultural awareness and inclusivity in narrative element design. Narratives introduce children to diverse cultures, characters, and social situations, influencing perceptions. Based on the common ingroup identity model, an extension of the social identity model through self-categorization theory, intergroup bias can be reduced if members of different groups can be made to perceive themselves to be part of the same group through salient features shared by all groups. Our empirical investigations suggest that racially ambiguous characters, possessing salient yet not overtly distinguishable phenotypical features of marginalized racial groups, enable children to project their identities, promoting diversity. Four: Integration of emotional resilience and a growth mindset to make a lasting behavioral impact. Narratives are instrumental in how children process information, make sense of their surroundings, and create mental structures. Merging empathy with a growth mindset creates a catalyst for personal growth. Effective narrative design introduces children to various emotions and experiences, nurturing empathy, resilience, and emotional regulation. Through challenges and dilemmas presented to protagonists, narratives offer children models for coping, problem-solving, and understanding diverse perspectives. With the help of interdisciplinary theoretical guidance and informed co-creation approaches, we believe this line of exploration will help us identify additional effective creative strategies.