Institute of Art Design + Technology
Dún Laoghaire

Cormac Lalor 

BSc [Hons] Applied Psychology

My name is Cormac Lalor. I am 22 years old from County Carlow. I have recently completed my BSc Applied Psychology degree in IADT Dun Laoghaire. Over the course of my degree, I chose to pursue the technology path modules. My specialities include user experience (UX) research and design, and filmmaking. I am passionate about using these skill sets to promote empathy through the power of storytelling. This goal has been reflected in the design of my major research project, which examined the relationship between narrative, empathy, and engagement. For further information on my thesis project, please do not hesitate to contact me using the links below.

Thesis Title

The Effect of Interactive Film on State Empathy and User Engagement

Project Description

The narrative-based learning model remains an overlooked pedagogical approach in academic practice. Studies exploring narrative pedagogy in both workplace and classroom-based environments have demonstrated the significant effect of storytelling on learner interest and empathy. Additionally, educational psychology research has reviewed the potency of video and game-based learning tools in e-learning environments. However, the e-learning system has been criticised for a lack of scenario-based intervention Barth (2020).

The present study contributes to this field of research by identifying a gap in the literature bridging these learning approaches together. The project examined how scenario-based interactive videos could be employed as an effective educational resource. A quantitative, experimental research design was conducted to investigate effects of interactivity, positive/negative reinforcement, and gender-related parasocial interaction on levels of state empathy and user engagement when viewing an educational film vignette.

Project Objectives

The objectives of the present study were to investigate if empathy and engagement were significantly affected by video interactivity, positive narrative reinforcement, and gender-related parasocial interaction when viewing an educational film vignette. Additionally, the study investigated whether there was a significant relationship between state empathy and user engagement when viewing an educational film intervention.

A total of 120 participants were recruited for the research study on the IADT campus in a computer lab environment and online using Reddit forum links. The sample consisted of participants aged 18-65 years. To ensure an equal gender distribution, 60 male and 60 female participants were recruited. A quantitative experimental design was employed, consisting of four group conditions: two experimental groups and two control groups. An even gender distribution was present for each group sample.

For the film intervention apparatus, an educational interactive short film, “Cat and the Phish”, was produced by the researcher. The short film was designed as an accessible narrative to promote cyber safety on social media, featuring a character choosing how to respond to a catfish (fraudulent) user on Instagram. The experimental groups viewed the interactive film vignette, and the control groups viewed a linear (non-interactive) version of the film. Positive and negative reinforcement was also measured using alternative film endings. The participant responses were recorded using the State Empathy Scale and the User Engagement Scale.

Project Outcomes

The results of the present study were consistent with four of the seven total research hypotheses. Video interactivity resulted in a significant increase in levels of state empathy, user engagement, and a significant relationship between both variables was also observed. Furthermore, participant gender also featured a significant difference in user engagement levels, but not in state empathy. There was no significant difference observed based on ending type (positive and negative).

The anticipated findings align with research studies such as Lackmann et al. (2021) and Gu et al. (2023) and suggest that the interactive film medium can be effectively utilised as an educational resource. In consideration of the film's female protagonist, a significant increase in user engagement for the female participants indicated that character affiliation had a notable influence on the participants’ narrative experience. These research findings suggest the potential for interactive film as an e-learning resource and demonstrate the role of learner agency, positive reinforcement, and parasocial interaction in narrative-based learning engagements.

For more information on the film apparatus used, please follow the link below to view the interactive version of the short film: