Fish Tales: How Narrative Modality, Emotion, and Transportation Influence Support for Sustainable Aquaculture

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During the last decade, sustainability has become an important issue in the seafood sector. Considerable research suggests narrative persuasion’s attitudinal and behavioral effects in health and environmental contexts. An online experiment was running among U.S. residents to evaluate how exposure to narrative influences transportation, emotions, and risk-benefit perceptions and, in turn, how such perceptions affect attitudes and behavioral intentions toward sustainable aquaculture.

We tell stories for many reasons: to convey information, to build relationships, to persuade others—or sometimes, a combination of all three. Whatever the motivation, our innate sensitivity to narrative presents a question that social scientists have long considered: (How) Can stories be harnessed to achieve attitudinal and behavioral change? (Dahlstrom et al., 2017).

To date, much narrative persuasion research has focused on human health, showcasing stories functioning as persuasive tools to encourage support for policy or prosocial behavior. Similarly, emerging research examines how narrative may influence attitudes, perceptions, and behavioral intentions with respect to environmental issues, such as climate change (e.g., Cooper & Nisbet, 2016).

Fish Tales

Whereas much research concludes that narrative works by “transporting” audiences through cognitive and emotional pathways (Green & Brock, 2000, 2002), how narrative medium (i.e., text or video) influences message effectiveness is less clear (Braddock & Dillard, 2016; Zebregs et al., 2015).

The present study addresses the impact of narrative persuasion by considering a contemporary science communication issue in which both human health and environmental risks are salient—namely, sustainable aquaculture production in the United States.

In specific, through an experiment among U.S. residents, it was ex-amining how a narrative emphasizing the benefits of sustainable aquaculture may persuade individuals to support aquaculture development, how emotion and transportation may mediate these effects, and whether communication medium makes a difference.

Research Questions and Hypotheses

The experiment considers how exposure to a narrative emphasizing the advantages of sustainable aquaculture may influence risk-benefit perceptions and, in turn, how such perceptions affect subsequent attitude and behavioral intentions.

Given inconsistent findings in the literature regarding the effect of narrative medium on transportation, the first Research Question was (RQ1): Does a narrative video lead to higher level of transportation than a narrative text?

Further, because the study will employ stimuli with a positive valence, compared to the no-message control, and because the process of transportation has been linked to emotional response, authors predict:

Hypothesis 1 (H1):

Exposure to the experimental conditions (narrative video and narrative text) will decrease negative emotions (H1a) and increase positive emotions (H1b).

Hypothesis 2 (H2):

Transportation will be positively related to both negative (H2a) and positive emotions (H2b).

Hypothesis 3 (H3):

Exposure to the experimental conditions (narrative video and narrative text) will decrease risk perception (H3a) and increase benefit perception (H4b) related to sustainable aquaculture, as compared to the control condition.

Hypothesis 4 (H4):

Participants in the experimental groups will report higher support for sustainable aquaculture than those in the control group.

Finally, to assess direct and indirect effects on aquaculture policy support, and following Cooper and Nisbet (2016), it was tested a serial mediation model as illustrated in Figure 1 to examine the indirect effect of the experimental condition on support for aquaculture, as mediated through narrative transportation, positive (and/ or negative) emotion, risk perception, and benefit perception.

Fish Tales


The online survey was running between October 11 and November 7, Survey firm Qualtrics provided a sample of U.S. residents recruited through a “proprietary blend” of online channels. The sample matched U.S. census data on three “quota variables” (i.e., age, income, and political ideology).

In addition, the study sample included an approximately even split of individuals residing in urban/ suburban metropolitan areas and rural areas. The resulting sample size was 2,225.

The narrative video, was produced in collaboration with celebrity seafood chef and author Barton Seaver (Liu, 2019), featured the chef in his home kitchen where he discusses gathering seafood as a child growing up in the Chesapeake Bay to sourcing sustainable aquaculture products in his restaurants.

Fish Tales

Throughout the video, he discusses changing sentiments about the aquaculture industry, prompted in large part by a “watershed moment” he experiences as a young chef.

Seaver describes a transformation from viewing aquaculture as “farmed and dangerous” (in his early career) to his present status as an aquaculture supporter. In his words: “[Aquaculture] is no longer an impediment to environmental sustainability—rather, I see it as a gateway to it” (Liu, 2019).

The narrative text condition featured a transcript of the video, introduced to participants as a segment from a documentary about marine aquaculture in the United States.

Key definitions

Narrative transportation: narrative: “a representation of connected events and characters that has an identifiable structure, is bounded in space and time, and contains implicit or explicit messages about the topic being addressed” (Kreuter et al., 2007, p. 222).

Proposed by Green and Brock (2002), the transportation-imagery model seeks to analyze the sensation of being “lost in a book,” or so engulfed in a story that the surrounding physical world seems to fade away.

Fish Tales

This experience is referred to as being “transported,” a process that brings about high cognitive and emotional involvement and, in turn, helps achieve persuasive effects by either augmenting story-consistent beliefs (Green & Brock, 2000, 2002) or reducing counterarguing.

Mediums: are the contexts in which narratives appear, from streaming video to print novel, and are increasingly delivered in a variety of formats.


A series of ANOVA (analysis of variance) and chi-square tests indicated that random assignment was successful based on all individual characteristics except for race. White participants were overly represented in the control group.

Participants also evaluated the narrative video more positively than the narrative text. With regard to RQ1, the narrative text generated a higher level of transportation than the narrative video. Message evaluation, seafood consumption, environmental attitude, frequency of visits to coastal areas, and political ideology were significantly correlated with transportation.

Participants who rented or owned property near the ocean were more transported than those who did not. Negative emotion did not differ across the conditions, but the narrative video generated higher positive emotion than the control group. Thus, H1a was not supported, but H1b was partially supported.

Message evaluation was positively related to both negative emotion and positive emotion. Environmental attitude was also significantly related to both negative emotion and positive emotion. Participants who consumed more seafood reported more negative emotion and more positive emotion.

“In contrast, participants who visited coastal areas more frequently reported less negative emotion and less positive emotion. Coastal homeowners/ renters also reported more negative emotion and more positive emotion.”

Interestingly, non-White participants reported more positive emotion than White participants. Male participants also reported more positive emotion than females. Older participants reported lower negative emotion, but higher positive emotion.

Transportation was positively related to both negative emotion and positive emotion, supporting H2.
Compared to the control condition, both experimental groups reported lower risk perception and higher benefit perception.

Thus, H3 was supported. Specifically, the narrative video led to lower risk perception than the narrative text, but the two groups did not differ in benefit perception.

Fish Tales

Environmental attitude was positively related to both risk perception and benefit perception. Participants who consumed more seafood reported more risk perception and more benefit perception, while those who visited coastal areas more frequently reported less risk perception and more benefit perception.

Coastal homeowners/ renters also reported more risk perception and more benefit perception. Participants with higher education reported more risk perception and more benefit perception. Income was positively related to benefit perception, but it was not significantly related to risk perception.

“Political ideology was negatively related to risk perception, but it was not significantly related to benefit perception. Minorities also reported significantly higher risk perception than White participants. Males reported higher benefit perception than females.”

Message evaluation was also positively related to benefit perception, but it was not significantly related to risk perception. In terms of support, the narrative video led to higher support than both the control condition and the narrative text, but there was no significant difference between the two latter groups.

Thus, H4 was partially supported. All control variables were significantly related to support for aquaculture. In particular, message evaluation, seafood consumption, environmental attitude, education, income, and age were positively related to support; frequency of visitation to coastal areas and political ideology were negatively correlated with support. Coastal homeowners/ renters also reported more support.

Using Model 6 with the PROCESS macro (Hayes, 2013) in SPSS, which tested the serial mediation model using sequential regression analyses, controlling for all covariates, there was found several significant indirect effects based on 5,000 bootstrap samples, which are shown in Figures 2 and 3.

Fish Tales

Fish Tales

It was also employed PROCESS Model 8 to test whether political ideology or environmental attitude moderated the serial mediation (Figures 2 and 3). Results indicated that there were no significant moderation effects.


Results indicate that the narrative text was more transporting than the narrative video conveying the same content, which is consistent with previous research (Green et al., 2008). This result suggests that reading, as opposed to watching, a narrative may leave more room for imagination, which allows participants to be more absorbed into the story.

Results also support the effectiveness of narrative as a communication strategy to facilitate public understanding of sustainable aquaculture. In particular, the narrative video, which featured a chef describing his evolving opinion about selecting aquaculture ingredients, reduced risk perception, increased benefit perception, and elicited more positive emotion.

“As has recently been demonstrated in the context of other complex environmental issues, such as GMOs (Dinsmore et al., 2017), the results suggest the potential to use narrative persuasion strategically to influence perceived risks and benefits of sustainable aquaculture.”

To this end, the results suggest that negative emotions prompt people to more carefully evaluate the potential risk of sustainable aquaculture, whereas positive emotions are more likely to readily elicit support for sustainable aquaculture, perhaps because of the general good feelings people experience when thinking about this issue.

While the narrative stimuli developed for this study emphasized the positive attributes of aquaculture, future research might also explore how providing negatively valenced narratives (e.g., emphasizing the possible environmental risks of cultivating seafood, or alternatively, the possible losses associated with not cultivating seafood) might influence support for aquaculture.

Finally, future research should consider how repeated exposure to a single narrative via multiple forms (e.g., reading a text, and then viewing a video) might influence message effectiveness over time.

As Green et al. (2008) conclude, the combination of providing a narrative text, followed by a subsequent narrative video, may allow participants “the best of both worlds” in that they can “pace themselves and create an imagined narrative world, but on the second exposure . . . see that narrative world created for them on the screen” (p. 530).

Whether this approach provokes transportation and attitudinal and behavioral effects for nonfiction content remains an important empirical question.

This is a summarized version developed by the editorial team of Aquaculture Magazine based on the review article titled “FISH TALES: HOW NARRATIVE MODALITY, EMOTION, AND TRANSPORTATION INFLUENCE SUPPORT FOR SUSTAINABLE AQUACULTURE” developed by: LAURA N. RICKARD – University of Maine; JANET Z. YANG – University at Buffalo; SIXIAO LIU – University at Buffalo and TABITHA BOZE – University of Maine.
The original article was published on JANUARY, 2021, through SCIENCE COMMUNICATION.
The full version, including tables and figures, can be accessed online through this link: DOI:10.1177/1075547020987555

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