Date of Award

Summer 2010

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Joseph N. Cappella, PhD

Second Advisor

Robert Hornik, PhD

Third Advisor

Paul Messaris, PhD


The utility of narrative as a powerful communication tool is undisputed. However, within both narrative and media effects literature, there is a general lack of attention afforded to the process through which narrative influences audiences. This dissertation investigates the distinct cognitive and emotional dimensions that comprise one’s narrative flow and comprehension through the development and validation of a process model. In addition to continuous response measurement and stimulated recall interviews, validation efforts included the use of a scaling technique designed to investigate the conditional nature of narrative flow. These efforts provided evidence for the model’s successful characterization of the psychological processes involved in narrative processing.

Insofar as remembering narrative information is a necessary first step toward behavior change, the relationship between narrative flow and memory was explored. A sample of young women (n=115) viewed two excerpts from the primetime medical drama, ER, each addressing a relevant health topic – HPV and BRCA1. Segments of these excerpts, previously found to elicit/inhibit narrative flow, served as a basis for comparison. High engagement produced significantly more recall than low engagement periods. Accurate recognition of key health information was greater when information was presented during low engagement periods.