Gives you wings or not? Exploring the impact of viewers' responsibility attribution and surprise on their attitude, identification and trust.

Jens Seiffert-Brockmann, Christopher Ruppel, Sabine Einwiller

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review


The purpose of this paper is to explore the impact of critical, journalistic documentaries on viewers. More precisely, it investigates the effects of responsibility attribution and surprise on stakeholder attitude, trust and identification. In a quasi-experimental pre-post setting, 127 participants viewed a documentary about Austrian beverage and marketing company Red Bull. The film inquired into the deaths of six extreme athletes sponsored by the company. As a critical, investigative piece, the documentary was designed to give viewers the impression that Red Bull was, at least partially, responsible for the athletes’ deaths. Results show that responsibility attribution, the feeling of being surprised and being in a state of negative affect, had a significant impact on viewers’ attitude and trust toward, and identification with Red Bull. The study adds insights on surprise as a factor in viewers’ assessment of responsibility. The study is original in terms of methodology by using real-time rating to ascertain which sequences trigger changes in responsibility attribution among viewers. Furthermore, implications of the study’s findings with regard to inoculation theory are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113 - 127
JournalCorporate Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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