New research provides evidence that reading “The Hunger Games” books can promote collective action on behalf of disadvantaged groups. The new findings have been published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.
“Our group is interested in prejudice reduction. Previously, we demonstrated that reading fantasy books (Harry Potter) can reduce prejudice,” said study author Loris Vezzali, a professor at The University of Modena and Reggio Emilia.
“But recent research showed that prejudice reduction may be insufficient to achieve social change. Therefore, we focused on books that in our opinion may help foster the intentions to do something to make our society more equal.”
“Given the appeal of ‘The Hunger Games’ saga, and its wide distribution, we believe it can be used for important educational purposes and, more generally, that it serves an useful aim in society,” Vezzali said.
In the study, 162 White adults in the United States and the United Kingdom completed an online questionnaire in which they reported the number of “The Hunger Games” books they had read and the number of “The Hunger Games” films they had watched.
The participants then completed an assessment of social dominance orientation, a measure of one’s endorsement of hierarchy and social inequality. The participants also reported their emotional responses to social inequalities and their intentions to engage in collective action to help disadvantaged groups.
After controlling for the number of “The Hunger Games” movies watch, Vezzali and his colleagues found that reading more “The Hunger Games” books was associated with higher levels of anger against social inequalities, which in turn was positively associated with collective action. But this was only true of those with a low social dominance orientation.
However, the correlational nature of the survey prevented any inferences about causality. It is possible that the “The Hunger Games” books increase anger about inequalities, but it could also be that people who are upset by inequalities tend to be drawn to books such as “The Hunger Games”
So for their next study, the researchers recruited 89 Italian high school students and randomly divided them into two groups. One group read “The Hunger Games” books during the school year as part of their curriculum and had meetings to discuss key passages. The second group served as a control — the children were not instructed to read the books and did not attend the meetings.
In this experiment, Vezzali and his colleagues found that children who read “The Hunger Games” tended to become more angry about social inequality and more willing to take action against it compared to those who had not read the books — particularly among those with a heightened social dominance orientation.
The findings from the two studies highlight that books can help people “reflect on what is around them, giving us lenses to interpret social reality,” Vezzali told PsyPost. “Even books that most would consider as entertainment can teach a lot, can provide a new way to see and approach social reality, and can ultimately help in shaping people’s behavior.”
“Our modern societies are deeply unequal, and we should be more aware of extant disparities and discrimination. I believe that people tend to fight against social inequalities, but first, they have to be able to see them.”
But why were the results found among those with a low social dominance orientation in the first study and a high social dominance orientation in the second? The researchers believe the nature of the intervention in the second study — and the fact that adolescents were examined rather than adults — could explain the divergent results.
“In the first study readers were not guided in reading the narrative, and specifically they were not led to focus their attention on how the unjust hierarchical social structure depicted in the books was reflected (albeit surely less dramatically) in society nowadays,” the researchers explained.
In the second study, on the other hand, the “participants were invited to reflect and collectively comment on whether and how the story related to real intergroup relationships, such as between Italians and immigrants in Italy… individuals with high-SDO (but also low-SDOs) were actively invited to focus on aspects of the story related to the topic under investigation and its potential link with reality.”
According to Vezzali, very few interventions have been conducted “with the specific aim to foster collective action.”
“However, these are the interventions we need if we aim to promote social equality. Understanding not only why and when individuals engage in collective action, but also actively promoting their social involvement, is a challenge that psychologists should accept.”
The study, “May the odds be ever in your favor: The Hunger Games and the fight for a more equal society. (Negative) Media vicarious contact and collective action“, was authored by Loris Vezzali, Shelley McKeown, Patrick McCauley, Sofia Stathi, Gian Antonio Di Bernardo, Alessia Cadamuro, Valeria Cozzolino, and Elena Trifiletti.