A new study of popular media found that even though the cinemascape is filled with villains we can sympathize with and heroes full of flaws we can’t forgive we like characters most when they are moral.
The study noted that participants liked heroes they rated as “most moral” and most disliked villains they rated as “most immoral.”
Characters like Walter White from the popular television show Breaking Bad who are morally ambiguous were more complicated for people to rate, however across all character types morality and likability were more than noticeably linked.
While media experts have long intuited that morally upstanding heroes are more likeable, the rise of the antihero in our culture’s media and the gusto with which we cheer for them brought this into question.
Researchers wanted to ask, does morality matter anymore?
Given lots of examples to rate on scales of likeability and morality some two hundred college students demonstrated that the simple fact is despite character type likeability is linked, inexorably, to morality.
Researchers discussed the fact that morally ambiguous characters are the hardest to predict outcome-wise and that relativity comes into play. If plot and perspective cast a Walter White type character as the villain, he would mostly like be disliked by most viewers. Whereas in Breaking Bad he is still more moral than many of the other main characters cast as villains.
The Journal of Media Psychology will publish these findings in print.