Skip to main content Accessibility help

It’s the End of the World and They Know It: How Dystopian Fiction Shapes Political Attitudes

  • Calvert W. Jones and Celia Paris


Given that the fictional narratives found in novels, movies, and television shows enjoy wide public consumption, memorably convey information, minimize counter-arguing, and often emphasize politically-relevant themes, we argue that greater scholarly attention must be paid to theorizing and measuring how fiction affects political attitudes. We argue for a genre-based approach for studying fiction effects, and apply it to the popular dystopian genre. Results across three experiments are striking: we find consistent evidence that dystopian narratives enhance the willingness to justify radical—especially violent—forms of political action. Yet we find no evidence for the conventional wisdom that they reduce political trust and efficacy, illustrating that fiction’s effects may not be what they seem and underscoring the need for political scientists to take fiction seriously.



Hide All

The authors are co-equal contributors to this study and are listed in alphabetical order.

A list of permanent links to Supplemental Materials provided by the authors precedes the References section.


Data replication sets are available in Harvard Dataverse at:



Hide All
Adkins, Todd and Castle, Jeremiah J.. 2014. “Moving Pictures? Experimental Evidence of Cinematic Influence on Political Attitudes.” Social Science Quarterly 95(5): 1230–44.
AbrahamAnna, D. Anna, D., von Cramon, Yves and Schubotz, Ricarda I.. 2008. “Meeting George Bush versus Meeting Cinderella: The Neural Response When Telling Apart What Is Real from What Is Fictional in the Context of Our Reality.” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 20(6): 965–76.
Alter, Alexandra. 2017. “Uneasy about the Future, Readers Turn to Dystopian Classics.” New York Times, January 27.
Anderson, Craig A., et al. 2015. “Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) Research Summary on Media Violence.” Analyses of Social Issues & Public Policy 15(1): 419.
Anderson, Craig A., et al. 2017. “Screen Violence and Youth Behavior.” Pediatrics 140: S142S147.
Anderson, Craig and Bushman, Brad. 1997. “External Validity of ‘Trivial’ Experiments: The Case of Laboratory Aggression.” Review of General Psychology 1(1): 1941.
Anderson, Craig and Bushman, Brad. 2001. “Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behavior, Aggressive Cognition, Aggressive Affect, Physiological Arousal, and Prosocial Behavior: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Scientific Literature.” Psychological Science 12: 353–59.
Appel, Markus and Richter, Tobias. 2007. “Persuasive Effects of Fictional Narratives Increase over Time.” Media Psychology 10(1): 113–34.
Arceneaux, Kevin and Johnson, Martin. 2013. Changing Minds or Changing Channels? Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Barna Group. “The Books Americans Are Reading,” 2013. Available at
Bartsch, Anne and Schneider, Frank M.. 2014. “Entertainment and Politics Revisited: How Non-Escapist Forms of Entertainment Can Stimulate Political Interest and Information Seeking.” Journal of Communication 64: 369–96.
Baum, Matthew A. 2003. Soft News Goes to War. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Bennett, W. Lance and Iyengar, Shanto. 2010. “The Shifting Foundations of Political Communication: Responding to a Defense of the Media Effects Paradigm.” Journal of Communication 60(1): 3539.
Berinsky, Adam J. and Kinder, Donald R.. 2006. “Making Sense of Issues through Media Frames: Understanding the Kosovo Crisis.” Journal of Politics 68(3): 640–56.
Bilandzic, Helena and Busselle, Rick. 2012. “A Narrative Perspective on Genre-Specific Cultivation.” In Living with Television Now, ed. Morgan, Michael, Shanahan, James and Signorielli, Nancy. New York: Peter Lang Publishing Inc.
Blair, Peter. 2013. “Remember Who the Real Enemy Is.” The American Interest. Available at
Box Office Mojo. 2016. “Young-Adult Book Adaptations.” Available at
Braddock, Kurt. 2015. “The Utility of Narratives for Promoting Radicalization: The Case of the Animal Liberation Front.” Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict 81(1): 3859.
Braddock, Kurt and Dillard, James Price. 2016. “Meta-Analytic Evidence for the Persuasive Effect of Narratives on Beliefs, Attitudes, Intentions, and Behaviors.” Communication Monographs 83(4): 446–67.
Brock, Timothy C., Strange, Jeffrey J. and Green, Melanie C.. 2002. “Power beyond Reckoning.” In Narrative Impact, ed. Green, M. C., Strange, J. J., and Brock, T. C.. New York: Psychology Press.
Browne, Kevin D. and Hamilton-Giachritsis, Catherine. 2005. “The Influence of Violent Media on Children and Adolescents: A Public-Health Approach.” Lancet 365(9460): 702–10.
Bushman, Brad. 1995. “Moderating Role of Trait Aggressiveness in the Effects of Violent Media on Aggression.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 69(5): 950–60.
Busselle, Rick and Bilandzic, Helena. 2009. “Measuring Narrative Engagement.” Media Psychology 12(4): 321–47.
Butler, Lisa D., Koopman, Cheryl, and Zimbardo, Philip G.. 1995. “The Psychological Impact of Viewing the Film ‘JFK’: Emotions, Beliefs, and Political Behavioral Intentions.” Political Psychology 16(2): 237–57.
Carpenter, Charli. 2016. “Rethinking the Political Science Fiction Nexus: Global Policy Making and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.” Perspectives on Politics 14(1): 5369.
Daniel, J. Furman III and Musgrave, Paul. 2017. “Synthetic Experiences: How Popular Culture Matters for Images of International Relations.” International Studies Quarterly 61(3): 503–16.
Davis, Darren W. and Davenport, Christian. 1997. “The Political and Social Relevancy of Malcolm X: The Stability of African American Political Attitudes.” Journal of Politics 59(2): 550–64.
Delli, Carpini, Michael, X., and Williams, Bruce A.. 1998. “Constructing Public Opinion: The Uses of Fictional and Nonfictional Television in Conversations about the Environment.” In The Psychology of Political Communication, ed. Crigler, A. N.. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Dinas, Elias. 2014. “Why Does the Apple Fall Far from the Tree? How Early Political Socialization Prompts Parent-Child Dissimilarity.” British Journal of Political Science 44(4): 827–52.
Dow, Bonnie J. 1996. Prime-Time Feminism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Druckman, James N. and Kam, Cindy D.. 2011. “Students as Experimental Participants: A Defense of the Narrow Data Base.” In Cambridge Handbook of Experimental Political Science, ed. Druckman, James N., Green, Donald P., Kuklinski, James H. and Lupia, Arthur. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Feldman, Stanley and Sigelman, Lee. 1985. “The Political Impact of Prime-Time Television: ‘The Day After.’” Journal of Politics 47(2): 556–78.
Ferguson, Christopher. 2007. “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: A Meta-Analytic Review of Positive and Negative Effects of Violent Video Games.” Psychiatric Quarterly 78: 309–16.
Ferguson, Christopher. 2015. “Does Media Violence Predict Societal Violence? It Depends on What You Look at and When.” Journal of Communication 65(1): E1E22.
Gerrig, Richard J. and Prentice, Deborah A.. 1991. “The Representation of Fictional Information.” Psychological Science 2(5): 336340.
Gierzynski, Anthony. 2013. Harry Potter and the Millennials: Research Methods and the Politics of the Muggle Generation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Grayson, Kyle, Davies, Matt, and Philpott, Simon. 2009. “Pop Goes IR?” Politics 29(3): 155–63.
Green, Melanie C. and Brock, Timothy C.. 2000. “The Role of Transportation in the Persuasiveness of Public Narratives.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 79(5): 701.
Green, Melanie C., Garst, Jennifer, and Brock, Timothy C.. 2004. “The Power of Fiction: Determinants and Boundaries.” In The Psychology of Entertainment Media, ed. Shrum, L. J.. London: Routledge.
Hintz, Carrie and Ostry, Elaine. 2009. “Introduction.” In Utopian and Dystopian Writing for Children and Young Adults, ed. Hintz, Carrie and Ostry, Elaine. London: Routledge.
Holbert, R. Lance. 2005. “A Typology for the Study of Entertainment Television and Politics.” American Behavioral Scientist 49(3): 436–53.
Holbert, R. Lance, Pillion, Owen, Tschida, David A., Armfield, Greg G., Kinder, Kelly, Cherry, Kristin L., and Daulton, Amy R.. 2003. “The West Wing as Endorsement of the U.S. Presidency: Expanding the Bounds of Priming in Political Communication.” Journal of Communication 53(3): 427–43.
Holbert, R. Lance, Shah, Dhavan V., and Kwak, Nojin. 2003. “Political Implications of Prime-Time Drama and Sitcom Use: Genres of Representation and Opinions Concerning Women’s Rights.” Journal of Communication 53(1): 4560.
Holbrook, R. Andrew and Hill, Timothy G.. 2005. “Agenda-Setting and Priming in Prime Time Television: Crime Dramas as Political Cues.” Political Communication 22(3): 277–95.
Holub, Christian. 2017. “Thanks to President Trump, Dystopian Novels Are Popular Again.” Entertainment Weekly, August 22.
Hopf, Ted. 2002. Social Construction of International Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Huesmann, L. Rowell and Taylor, Laramie D.. 2006. “The Role of Media Violence in Violent Behavior.” Annual Review of Public Health 27: 393415.
Jackson, Sally and Jacobs, Scott. 1983. “Generalizing About Messages: Suggestions for Design and Analysis of Experiments.” Human Communications Research 9(2): 169–91.
Jackson, Sally, O’Keefe, Daniel J. and Jacobs, Scott. 1988. “The Search for Reliable Generalizations about Messages: A Comparison of Research Strategies.” Human Communications Research 15(1): 127–42.
Jones, Michael D. and McBeth, Mark K.. 2010. “A Narrative Policy Framework: Clear Enough to Be Wrong?” Policy Studies Journal 38(2): 329–53.
Kalmoe, Nathan P. 2014. “Fueling the Fire: Violent Metaphors, Trait Aggression, and Support for Political Violence.” Political Communication 31(4): 545–63.
Kiersey, Ben and Neumann, Iver, eds. 2013. Battlestar Galactica and International Relations. London: Routledge.
Knobloch-Westerwick, Silvia, Gong, Yuan, Hagner, Holly and Kerbeykian, Laura. 2013. “Tragedy Viewers Count Their Blessings: Feeling Low on Fiction Leads to Feeling High on Life.” Communication Research 40(6): 747–66.
Krupnikov, Yanna and Levine, Adam Seth. 2014. “Cross-Sample Comparisons and External Validity.” Journal of Experimental Political Science 1(1): 5980.
Lacey, Nick. 2000. Narrative and Genre. New York: Macmillan.
Lefevre, Amy Sawitta. 2013 “Thai Capital Hit by Biggest Protests since Deadly 2010 Unrest.” Reuters, November 24. Available at
Lenart, Silvo and McGraw, Kathleen M.. 1989. “America Watches ‘Amerika:’ Television Docudrama and Political Attitudes.” Journal of Politics 51(3): 697712.
Levendusky, Matthew S. 2013. How Partisan Media Polarize America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
MacDonald, Brady. 2017. “Experience ‘The Hunger Games’ for Yourself at This Theme Park Land.” The LA Times, October 17.
Marsh, Elizabeth J., Meade, Michelle L. and Roediger, Henry L. III. 2003. “Learning Facts from Fiction.” Journal of Memory and Language 49(4): 519–36.
Mayer, Frederick W. 2014. Narrative Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
McCombs, Maxwell. 2005. “A Look at Agenda-Setting: Past, Present and Future.” Journalism Studies 6(4): 543–57.
Miller, Greg and Mekhennet, Souad. 2015. “Inside the Surreal World of the Islamic State’s Propaganda Machine.” The Washington Post, November 20.
Mindich, David T. Z. 2004. Tuned Out. New York: Oxford University Press.
Morgan, Michael, Shanahan, James and Signorielli, Nancy, eds. 2012. Living with Television Now. New York: Peter Lang Publishing Inc.
Moskalenko, Sophia and McCauley, Clark. 2009. “Measuring Political Mobilization: The Distinction between Activism and Radicalism.” Terrorism and Political Violence 21(2): 239–60.
Moy, Patricia and Pfau, Michael. 2000. With Malice Toward All? Westport: Praeger.
Mulligan, Kenneth and Habel, Philip. 2011. “An Experimental Test of the Effects of Fictional Framing on Attitudes.” Social Science Quarterly 92(1): 7999.
Mulligan, Kenneth and Habel, Philip. 2013. “The Implications of Fictional Media for Political Beliefs.” American Politics Research 41(1): 122–46.
Mutz, Diana C. 2016. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Donald.” PS: Political Science and Politics 49(4): 722–29.
Mutz, Diana C. and Nir, Lilach. 2010. “Not Necessarily the News: Does Fictional Television Influence Real-World Policy Preferences?” Mass Communication & Society 13(2): 196217.
Mydans, Seth. 2014. “Thai Protesters Are Detained After Using ‘Hunger Games’ Salute.” The New York Times, November 20.
Nexon, Daniel H. and Neumann, Iver B., eds. 2006. Harry Potter and International Relations. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Nielsen Media Research, Inc. 2014. An Era of Growth: The Cross-Platform Report. Q4 2013. Available at
Paris, Celia and Jones, Calvert W.. 2017. “When, How, and Why Do Portrayals of Dark Times Deactivate the Public?” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA), San Francisco, CA, August 31.
Patterson, Molly and Monroe, Kristen Renwick. 1998. “Narrative in Political Science.” Annual Review of Political Science 1(1): 315–31.
Pennington, Nancy and Hastie, Reid. 1992. “Explaining the Evidence: Tests of the Story Model for Juror Decision Making.” Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 62(2): 189206.
Penny, Laurie. 2014. “No Wonder ‘Generation K’ Loves The Hunger Games—They Can’t Rely on Grown-Ups Either.” New Statesman, April 3.
Pfau, Michael, Moy, Patricia and Szabo, Erin Alison. 2001. “Influence of Prime-Time Television Programming on Perceptions of the Federal Government.” Mass Communication & Society 4(4): 437–53.
Prior, Markus. 2007. Post-Broadcast Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Raynor, Madeline. 2017. “Classic Dystopian Novels’ Popularity Surges in Trump’s America.”, January 31. Available at
Roback, Diane. 2014. “Facts & Figures 2013: For Children’s Books, Divergent Led the Pack.”, March 14. Available at
Savage, Joanne and Yancey, Christina. 2008. “The Effects of Media Violence Exposure on Criminal Aggression: A Meta-Analysis.” Criminal Justice and Behavior 35(6): 772–91.
Schutte, Annie. 2012. “The Hunger Games by the Numbers.” The Hub, March 19. Available at
Slater, Michael D., Rouner, Donna and Long, Marilee. 2006. “Television Dramas and Support for Controversial Public Policies: Effects and Mechanisms.” Journal of Communication 56(2): 235–52.
Strange, Jeffrey J. and Leung, Cynthia C.. 1999. “How Anecdotal Accounts in News and in Fiction Can Influence Judgments of a Social Problem’s Urgency, Causes, and Cures.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 25(4): 436–49.
Svriuga, Susan. 2016. “A Historic Number of College Freshmen Expect to Protest This Year.” Washington Post. February 11. Available at
Wedeen, Lisa. 1999. Ambiguities of Domination. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Weldes, Jutta, ed. 2003. To Seek out New Worlds: Science Fiction and World Politics. London: Palgrave.
Wilkinson, Amy. 2012. “Why Is ‘Hunger Games’ on Banned Book List?” MTV News, October 4.
Zeitchik, Stephen. 2015. “The Katniss Factor: What the ‘Hunger Games’ Movies Say about Feminism, and War.” The LA Times, November 20.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Jones and Paris Dataset

Supplementary materials

Jones and Paris supplementary material
Online Appendix

 PDF (1.4 MB)
1.4 MB

It’s the End of the World and They Know It: How Dystopian Fiction Shapes Political Attitudes

  • Calvert W. Jones and Celia Paris


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.