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Call for papers: Journal of Media Psychology

A Special Issue of the Journal of Media Psychology on media and moral understanding

Guest Editors: Carl Plantinga, Allison Eden, Dan Levin, Murray Smith

The invention of motion pictures in the late 19th century produced one of the most

visible and powerful modern art forms. Mediated screen stories have become

ubiquitous in contemporary culture, and content creators have discovered powerful

ways to direct the viewer’s attention and elicit impactful responses. Thus it is important

to understand this great artform and its relationship to viewer knowledge and

understanding. Can these mediated stories on screens have the salutary effect of

increasing viewers’ moral understanding? Which media, what sorts of media, and what

techniques and forms used in media, are most effective in encouraging moral learning

and understanding? This special issue is designed to feature theoretical and empirical

work investigating the role media plays in the development of viewers’ moral


Media and Moral Understanding

At a time when the art of narrative film and media streaming services occupy a

central place in contemporary culture, it is vital to ask questions about the role mediated

narratives play in the development of viewers’ moral lives. To do so, we ask how media is

related to viewer moral understanding. We define moral understanding as a deep set of

normative inferences. These inferences support viewers’ ability to ask pertinent moral

questions, they help viewers understand why in addition to knowing that, they assist in

categorization of situations and behaviors, and they help viewers make connections

among morally-charged situations that have common underlying meaning. Moral

understanding begins with our personal responsibilities and integrity, but extends

outward with implications for all of the key social and political issues of the day. Moral

understanding is not limited to matters of personal morality such as kindness, loyalty,

and betrayal, important as those are. It also extends to concerns for justice, fairness,

liberty, and oppression in the broader cultural context.

● Can Dead Man Walking (1995) further our understanding of the moral

implications of the death penalty? If so, does it do so in relation to the viewer’s

engagement with convicted murderer Mathew Poncelet and/or his benefactor

Sister Helen Prejean?

● Can Do the Right Thing (1989) or The Help (2011) increase our understanding of

racism and its implications—and how do the prior experiences with this issue

impact how different viewers read these texts and reflect upon them?

● Do post-viewing discussions or reflections on the films deepen our


● Can Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind teach us something about the nature

of romantic relationships and our obligations to our partners?

● Can Saving Private Ryan (1998) increase our understanding of the nature of

loyalty, sacrifice, and courage in a wartime context?

● By extension, are viewers most influenced by characters they admire, such as

Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) in Saving Private Ryan, or can moral learning

occur through oppositional stances to antagonists, for example, the oppositional

stance viewers are meant toward David Duke (Topher Grace) in BlacKkKlansman?

● Do characters that engage in morally ambiguous behavior, elicit more post-film

reflection than conventionally “good” characters?

● Do narratives reflecting moral issues such as Just Mercy and The Hate U Give

impact moral understanding in similar ways as evocative documentaries like 13th,

or do the forms and structures of these films impact their effects?

Although these research questions can be fundamental to understanding the

relationship between media and moral understanding, conceptual confusion and lack of

clear definition and measurement has obfuscated results and understanding across

disciplinary subfields. Thus, parallel and often isolated lines of work on media and moral

understanding are occurring in multiple subfields bounded by disciplinary silos.

Therefore, this special issue solicits papers addressing these questions from multiple

disciplinary perspectives and approaches. We are interested in the interaction between

media and moral understanding from a wide variety of perspectives, and hope authors

will be up to the challenge of explaining their perspective for readers outside their own

academic domain. We realize interdisciplinary work can be difficult to assess, which is

why our editorial team draws from scholars in communication, philosophy of film, film

theory, media psychology and cognitive psychology.

Example topics that would be of interest to the editor team:

● What is the role of the viewer’s engagement with fictional characters in generating

moral understanding? What behaviors, traits, and content cues impact how characters

are perceived as moral/immoral and morally ambiguous? Broadly, what sorts of

engagement with characters generate moral understanding?

● Can we construct a critical framework for engaging with media that shapes our moral

experience? What moral value is there in understanding viewer responses? Should

creators take viewer or fan response into account when incorporating moral dilemmas in

narrative or other art? How do creative approaches to screenwriting shape moral

dilemmas produced in television and film?

● What do the disciplines of media psychology, film and media studies, literary studies,

cognitive neuroscience, and philosophical aesthetics have to teach each other about

these issues? How can we foster interdisciplinary cooperation in research about the

relationship between character engagement, post-viewing reflection, and moral


● What tools and methods can we use to examine morally-laden content to examine

patterns in morality on screen and its subsequent effects on audiences? How do

immersive and interactive media encourage moral thinking and moral decision making

among users? What can database approaches, experimental work, artificial intelligence,

or computational modeling contribute to the study of morality and media?

● What cognitions and judgements contribute to moral evaluations of media content?

How does theory of mind relate to moral understanding? Where do perspective taking

and identification fit in our frameworks of morality and media? What role do emotions

and affective states play in media appraisals of morality/immorality (e.g., disgust, humor

& satire, etc)?

● How do the social ties and networks of characters and users impact their thinking on

moral topics? What are shifting norms in media and how does the portrayal of norms in

media content affect viewers? How does the culture in which media are created affect

the presentation of moral issues in text or on screen, and how can we interpret

culturally-bound texts intended for disparate audiences?

Criteria for Selecting Manuscripts

Papers are welcome from all countries and cultures and with diverse methods, from large

surveys to small qualitative studies and ethnographies

Timeline and Criteria for Sending Proposals

Preliminary proposals are due November 15 for priority consideration, although proposals can

be submitted on a rolling basis. Proposals should include a tentative title and a 300–500 word

description of the proposed paper.

All abstracts must be sent to the Guest Editors via email. Please send to both Allison Eden

( and Carl Plantinga ( when submitting.

Decisions about consideration in the special issue will be made by December 15 with full papers

due 6 months afterwards on 15 May 2023, for a target publication date in late 2023. Please note

that approval of a proposal will not guarantee publication. All submitted full papers will be

anonymously peer-reviewed and will follow the Journal of Media Psychology’s editorial process.

Authors may be asked to review other papers for the special issue.

Manuscript Preparation and Submission

To submit a manuscript, please follow the manuscript submission guidelines as detailed under

“Instructions to Authors” on the journal’s website ( jmp) and select the name

of this special issue when submitting through JMP’s editorial management system at http://

Address your cover letter to the special issue’s Editor, and note in your cover letter that your

manuscript is being submitted for consideration for publication in the special issue on “Screen

Stories and Moral Understanding”.

Any questions about proposals should be directed to the special issue Guest Editors:

Questions regarding editorial process should be sent to the Editor-in-Chief (

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