Time for a new story: Circulating alternative narratives of parasport participation

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Tennant, Emily
parasport , messaging , narrative , health promotion , disability , supercrip , behaviour , health action process approach , message processing , extended elaboration likelihood model , health communication
Narrative messages are effective health promotion tools when the plot evokes positive feelings and when viewers identify with the characters; however, the dominant narrative of parasport participation currently circulated in the media (i.e., the performance narrative) likely perpetuates psychosocial barriers to parasport participation (e.g., low self-efficacy). The performance narrative is defined by its focus on athletic ability and overcoming disability. Alternative parasport narratives (i.e., relational, discovery) exist but are seldom used in parasport media. Guided by the Extended Elaboration Likelihood Model and the Health Action Process Approach as theoretical bases, this thesis aimed to explore whether (a) the type of parasport narrative and (b) identification with characters influence parasport participation. This online, longitudinal randomized controlled trial was completed by 194 Canadian adults with a physical disability who currently do not participate in parasport. Participation entailed completing quantitative surveys pre, post, and two weeks following three consecutive days of viewing a set of media messages capturing one of the three parasport narratives or control messages and completing thought listing tasks. The findings suggest that the discovery narrative may have an advantage in promoting parasport participation. Most participants (45%) preferred the discovery narrative, and chi-square analyses and repeated-measures ANOVAs revealed that the discovery narrative encouraged more positive thinking about the self (X2=6.32, p=.042) and about parasport (X2=5.95, p=.05), and led to increased barrier self-efficacy (F=6.89, p=.002). Intentions, risk perceptions, and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity increased regardless of narrative viewed (p<.05). Identification with characters was revealed as an important component of parasport behaviour change with task self-efficacy (R2=0.17) and outcome expectancies (R2=0.19) mediating the relationship between identification with characters and intentions to participate in parasport. Despite the importance of identification with characters, participants in all intervention groups expressed feeling dissimilar to the characters in the messages in terms of their competitiveness, elite status, and body types. This finding emphasizes the importance of including characters who persons with physical disabilities can identify with in parasport media. This work presents important considerations for researchers and parasport communicators who aim to develop inclusive messaging that facilitates parasport participation among persons with physical disabilities.
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