Assessing Entertainment-Education as a Communication Strategy and its Applicability for Children as a Special Audience
One of society’s major focuses and hence one of the evolving research interests in communication studies is the field of health communication. Industrialised countries like the US or Germany are facing growing health hazards, which are posing threats to the individual’s well-being but also to the economies of these countries. The often called ‘obesity epidemic’ is one of these threats. After many (unsuccessful) years of information campaigning and interventions of different kinds, the scholarly focus has shifted to tapping into the potential of entertainment media as a means not only to change knowledge but even more so to change attitudes and behaviour. The Entertainment-Education strategy conceptualises the potential of enhancing knowledge, changing attitudes and behaviour by watching, listening to or reading entertaining narratives which explicitly and intentionally (though not intrusively) convey storylines where characters pursue behavioural change while facing the obstacles and problems that evolve from this task. As a strategy rather than a theory, EE incorporates various theoretical approaches. The basic concept is Social Cognitive Theory (SCT), arguing for the idea of a vicarious learning experience by imitating role models. In addition to real life role models like parents or peers, entertaining media – and especially television – provide their viewers with role models whose behaviour is very likely to be adapted. This likelihood is derived from the concept of the persuasive impact of entertaining narratives. The concept of narratives allows the viewer to indulge into a positive entertained mood while engaging with the twists and turns of a story and identifying with the characters. This perception mode and set-up diminishes the potential of counter-arguing, provides a comprehensive and in-depth examination of complex behaviour and the difficulties that come along with it, and thus raises the possibility of attitude and behaviour change. EntertainmentEducation proved successful regarding various health-related topics with adult or adolescent audiences. Few EE-interventions are known targeting children and even less research is done with this theoretically and methodologically challenging group of media users. This thesis aims at conceptualising Entertainment-Education for children adapting the mechanisms of the strategy to the developmental prerequisites of that age group. Expanding EE research on a methodological level, the thesis furthermore employs a multifaceted prolonged experimental study. The children’s Entertainment-Education format (LazyTown), one of the most successful children’s TV shows worldwide, serves as the basis for this work.