Broadcasting New Behavioral Norms: Theories Underlying the Entertainment-Education Method

  • Kriss BarkerEmail author
Living reference work entry


The effectiveness of entertainment-education (EE) has been demonstrated time and again in numerous settings to address myriad issues. However, it is still not clear exactly what contributions each of the different theories within the entertainment-education approach make to the achievement of such significant results. The current chapter reviews the theories underlying a specific approach to entertainment-education, referred to as the PMC methodology. The PMC methodology is based on the Sabido methodology, pioneered by Miguel Sabido of Mexico.


Entertainment-education Social and behavioral change communication Behavior change Theories 


Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either. (Marshall McLuhan)

Entertainment-education (EE) is the process of purposely designing and implementing a media message to both entertain and educate, in order to increase audience members’ knowledge about an issue, create favorable attitudes, shift social norms, and change the overt behavior of individuals and communities (Singhal and Rogers 2003, p. 289). The EE strategy in development communication bridges the gratuitous dichotomy that mass media programs must be either entertaining or educational but cannot possibly be both (Singhal and Rogers 1999; Televisa’s Institute for Communication Research 1981).

Results show that entertainment-education using mass media channels is able to produce population-wide changes in social norms and individual behavior (Bertrand and Anhang 2006; Figueroa et al. 2001; Khalid and Ahmed 2014; Myers 2002; Nariman 1993; Piotrow et al. 1997; Rogers et al. 1999; Ryerson 2010; Shen and Han 2014; Singhal and Rogers 1999; Singhal et al. 2004; Vaughan et al. 2000a, b; Westoff and Bankole 1997). However, as Singhal and Rogers (2002) suggest: “Theoretical investigations of EE need to move past scholarly research on what effect EE programs have, to better understand how and why EE has these effects” (Singhal and Rogers 2002, p. 120). Papa et al. (2000) echo this observation: “…most studies of EE programs, with a few exceptions (Brown and Cody 1991; Lozano and Singhal 1993; Svenkerud et al. 1995; Storey et al. 1999; and perhaps some others) have not provided an adequate theoretical explanation of how audience members’ change as a result of exposure to EE programs” (Papa et al. 2000, p. 33).

How does Entertainment-Education work as a Mechanism for Social Change?

This chapter will examine the theories underlying a specific form of EE, applied by Population Media Center (PMC). PMC’s methodology is based on the Sabido methodology of behavior change communication via mass media, pioneered by Miguel Sabido of Mexico. To date, PMC has used our specific form of EE to design over 50 dramas in 54 countries worldwide, reaching over 500 million people over a 20-year history.

In order to understand how EE produces such significant behavior change results, we must explore how the different theories underlying EE programming contribute to attitudinal and behavior change. And, more broadly, how does EE work as a mechanism for social change?

We can best understand this question through the use of the following graphics, which show potential trajectories for results when the various theories are differentially applied. If the constellation is all of the theories, what happens when we apply only some of the theories, or apply all of the theories, but to a greater or lesser degree? (Fig. 1)
Fig. 1

All theories are equal

In the first graphic, all theories are equal. Thus, each incremental addition in application of any of the theories will result in an equal incremental addition in behavior change. The fewer the theories utilized, the poorer the results. In the same vein, the more theories that are applied will generate a proportional increase in impact. In this construct, when all of the principles are ideally applied, this is the purest form of the EE methodology. Of course, this utopian ideal could never be achieved in the real world (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2

Some theories have more impact than others

In the second figure, some theories have more effect than others. We could say that some theories are thus more “important” to achieving attitudinal or behavior change impact than are others. Without these key theories, the EE program will almost certainly fail. However, additional (although proportionally lesser) impact can be achieved through the addition of other, “less important” theories. That is, you can get some effect with the most basic theories, but the best effect is achieved through application of all of the theories.

For example, Bandura’s social learning theory (Bandura 1977) of vicarious role modeling has often been identified as the key theory underlying the EE methodology. But, does that mean that an EE program can achieve equal impact by only applying the principles of vicarious role modeling while ignoring Bentley’s dramatic theory (Bentley 1967)?

The third and final graphic contends that application of the theories is an “all or nothing” equation. Thus, in order to achieve any behavior change effect, most or all of the different theories must be rigorously employed in a format that is conducive to their synergistic application (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3

“All or nothing”

The value of this knowledge lies in its potential to create a working model for “best practices” in the application of EE for creating behavior change at the individual and societal levels. Armed with a more complete understanding of the different roles that each of the foundational theories contributes to the effectiveness of EE, we can better design EE programs for the greatest prosocial impact.

As stated above, the current chapter reviews the theories underlying a specific approach to EE, referred to as the PMC methodology. The PMC methodology is based on the Sabido methodology, pioneered by Miguel Sabido of Mexico. Sabido was looking for a theoretical basis for the educational and behavioral effects he created by his telenovelas. As Vice President for Research at Televisa, he was in a unique position to explore the impact of application of different communication theories to entertainment-education television.

The Sabido methodology draws from the following theories of communication and behavior change (Nariman 1993):
  • Shannon and Weaver’s communication model (Shannon and Weaver 1949)

  • Rovigatti’s circular adaptation of Shannon and Weaver’s communication model and additional circuit for a social content serial drama (Rovigatti 1981)

  • Lazarsfeld’s two-step flow of communication (Lazarsfeld et al. 1968)

  • Bentley’s dramatic theory (Bentley 1967)

  • Jung’s theory of archetypes and stereotypes and the collective unconscious (Jung 1970)

  • The social learning theory of Albert Bandura (1977)

  • Bandura’s social cognitive theory (Bandura 1986)

  • MacLean’s concept of the triune brain (Note: MacLean’s concept of the triune brain has been the subject of much recent debate. However, it is included in this list as it was an important concept in Sabido’s original methodology.) (MacLean 1973), supplemented by Sabido’s own Theory of the tone (Sabido 2002)

The PMC methodology adds to this list Horton and Wohl’s concept of parasocial interaction (Horton and Wohl 1956) and the related concept of audience involvement (Sood 2002).

Shannon and Weaver (1949): Communication Model

Shannon and Weaver’s communication model (1949) has five basic factors, arranged in a linear format. The basic model sets up a communicator, a message, a medium (channel), a receiver, and a response. These theories, which stem from Aristotle, were initially made explicit in the mathematical model proposed by Shannon and Weaver and later adopted by different authors.

The components in this model are (Shannon and Weaver 1949):
  • The information source selects a desired message out of a set of possible messages.

  • The transmitter changes the message into a signal that is sent over the communication channel to the receiver.

  • The receiver is a sort of inverse transmitter, changing the transmitted signal back into a message and interpreting this message.

  • This message is then sent to the destination. The destination may be another receiver (i.e., the message is passed on to someone else), or the message may rest with the initial receiver, and the transmission is achieved.

This model dates back to the Second World War. In the Second World War, communication was of critical importance – battles were won or lost depending on how effectively information was communicated and understood by armed forces on the ground. Shannon and Weaver were engineers, not communication scholars (Barker and Njogu 2010). They were working on communication systems to use on battle lines – thus, they used technical/engineering terms such as “source,” “transmitter,” “receiver,” and “destination” (Shannon and Weaver 1949).

One of the key contributions of Shannon and Weaver’s model was the concept of “noise” (Sabido, 10 May 2010, personal communication). Shannon and Weaver posit that, in the process of transmitting a message, certain information that was not intended by the information source is unavoidably added to the signal (or message). This “noise” can be internal (i.e., coming from the receiver’s own knowledge, attitudes, or beliefs) or external (i.e., coming from other sources). Such internal or external “noise” can either strengthen the intended effect of a message (if the information confirms the message) or weaken the intended effect (if the information in the “noise” contradicts the original message) (Sabido, 10 May 2010, personal communication).

“Noise” can also be structural – thus, we also have to know if our target audience has access to the channel and medium that we have chosen to use. For example, if we are going to transmit our message via print media, then we need to know that our audience can read. If we are going to use mass media channels like radio or television, we need to know if our audience has radio sets or television sets and whether they listen or watch at the time when our program is being broadcast (Barker and Njogu 2010).

The idea of “noise” suggests that even if there is nothing wrong with the information, it may be that the information does not result in the intended effect because there is something in-between. This can be the lack of our audience’s ability to capture the transmission (such as lack of a receiver such as a radio or television or the inability to read a printed/textual message) or lack of the ability to understand the message even if the information is physically received (e.g., if the program is in a language that our audience does not understand) (Barker and Njogu 2010).

Noise can also be cultural. For example, if a person believes that God or Allah or destiny has predetermined the number of children she will have, she is not going to be receptive to messages about family planning. In her view, she doesn’t determine the number of children she is going to have – this has already been determined since long before she was born. Or, if a woman is not in control of the decision to use contraceptives (or doesn’t perceive that she is in control) because this decision rests with her spouse or extended family, then transmitting information to her about family planning methods will not be effective – she simply does not feel that she controls that decision (Barker and Njogu 2010).

For Sabido, the biggest shortfall in the Shannon and Weaver model is the lack of feedback – there is no way for the transmitter to know if the message has been received and whether the information has been understood. In interpersonal (face-to-face) communication, there is feedback all of the time (nodding of the head, questioning facial expressions) (Sabido, 10 May 2010, personal communication).

In mass media programs (such as radio and television), we use audience feedback (focus groups, randomized telephone surveys, viewers’/listeners’ groups, and/or calls and letters from audience members) to get feedback about the program – to see if our messages are being understood by the audience as we intended. To reflect this critical element of feedback, Sabido took Shannon and Weaver’s linear model and formed it into a circle (Barker and Njogu 2010).

“Rovigatti” (1981): A Circular Adaptation of Shannon and Weaver and Additional Circuit for a Social Content Serial Drama

Sabido (inspired by the Italian “Rovigatti”) (When Miguel Sabido was asked to present his methodology at an international conference on communication in Strasburg, France, in 1981, he was hesitant to use his own name for several of the key components of the nascent approach – so he invented an Italian scholar, Rovigatti, to whom he attributed these ideas, in case they would be shunned by the international academic community.) took the five basic factors in Shannon and Weaver’s (1949) communication model (the communicator, message, medium, receiver, and noise) and arranged these factors in a circular model in which factors could interact directly with each another. He then applied this circuit to a commercial serial drama.

In the case of a commercial serial drama on television, the communicator is the manufacturer of a product, the message is “buy this product,” the medium is the serial drama, the receiver is the consumer, and the response is the purchase of the product and television ratings (Televisa’s Institute for Communication Research 1981). See Fig. 4, below.
Fig. 4

Circular adaptation of Shannon and Weaver’s model of communication. (Source: Nariman 1993)

In the design of a social content serial drama, Sabido left the communication circuit of a commercial serial drama intact; however, he added a second communicator, a second message, a second receiver, and a second response (Fig. 5). These additions to the communication circuit did not impede the function of the first communicator, which is still the product manufacturer, as shown in the figure below (Televisa’s Institute for Communication Research 1981).
Fig. 5

Additional circuit for a social content serial drama. (Source: Nariman 1993)

The serial drama continues to be the medium, and in the same way, the audience continues to be its customary receiver. The response, on the other hand, is no longer the sale of the product but also the change and/or reinforcement of opinions and attitudes and actual behavior related to the promoted value, in each individual person and, if possible, in the society (Televisa’s Institute for Communication Research 1981).

Social problems can be detected where mass media can contribute to a solution by changing or reinforcing the knowledge, attitudes, or behavior of certain audiences. These solutions can be translated into television language so that, through handling specific theories of commercial television formats, prosocial content may be transmitted while keeping the audience’s interest and the entertainment value of the program (Televisa’s Institute for Communication Research 1981).

The two circles together are the “70/30” model to which Sabido refers to as a model for a social content serial drama. The 70% should be the commercial serial drama (the entertainment component), and the other 30% should be the educational component (the social component) (Sabido, 10 May 2010, personal communication).

With these modifications, the general process of social use of serial dramas on mass media was established. However, this model did not explain how values flow through society.

Lazarsfeld (1968): Two-Step Flow of Communication

The communication circuit for social content serial dramas established their general communication process, but Sabido still needed to explain how this process actually has an impact upon the society as a whole.

To describe how the social content serial drama works on changing behaviors within a society, Sabido turned to the two-step flow theory of communication described by the sociologist Paul F. Lazarsfeld, which states that values or messages communicated through mass media have the most impact upon a minority of receivers. These people will then communicate the value or message to others, hence a two-step flow. Therefore, although the direct effect of most mass media messages on behavior change is often modest, the indirect effects of the media in encouraging peer communication can be substantial (Lazarsfeld et al. 1968). This process of communication flow has been substantiated by more recent communication theories, most notably Rogers’ diffusion of innovations (Rogers 1995).

Sabido distinguishes two types of audience and two types of effects (Televisa’s Institute for Communication Research 1981):
  1. 1.

    First, there is the entire audience in which the value is reinforced. Examples of values to be reinforced in the general audience might be: “it is good that adults keep on studying,” or “it is good to practice safer sex.”

  2. 2.

    Then, there are those members of the audience who have to learn how to use a given service to help them solve a certain problem. For example, adult literacy classes will not be needed by university graduates; the family planning infrastructure will not be used by people who are not sexually active – but the value is reinforced even among these audience members, who in turn might advise others to access the services that are relevant to their needs.


Lazarsfeld’s “two-step flow” theory explains the audience effects that Sabido intrinsically recognized. Michael J. Papa and colleagues summarized this effect: “…mass media alone seldom effect individual change, but they can stimulate conversations among listeners, which create opportunities for social learning as people, individually and collectively, consider new patterns of thought and behaviour” (Papa et al. 2000, p. 33).

Thus, conversations about the educational content of a media program can create a socially constructed learning environment in which people evaluate previously held ideas, consider options, and identify steps to initiate social change (Papa et al. 2000).

Rogers’ diffusion of innovations further explains this phenomenon: Ideas and information conveyed through the mass media, instead of having a direct impact on the individuals within the audience, often have an impact first upon an “especially receptive” segment of the audience (Rogers 1995). This receptive segment – who Rogers termed “early adopters” – spread ideas and information through interpersonal channels to other individuals who were less interested and less receptive (Rogers 1995).

These secondary discussions are very important in explaining how Sabido-style serial dramas affect behavior change within a community. Based on his experience as a writer, producer, and director of telenovelas since 1963, Sabido states that “every telenovela is a discussion – both on and off the screen – about what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad.’ Audience members often conduct discussions regarding important social issues with their peers that are similar to those of the characters’ ‘on the air.’ This happens because the characters provide a model on how to discuss issues that are sensitive, or even taboo, and discussions between characters indicate a certain social acceptance of these issues” (Sabido, 10 May 2010, personal communication).

Bentley (1967): Dramatic Theory

Sabido’s theoretical work was inspired by Aristotle’s Poetics (Aristotle 1960) and by Bentley’s (1967) theory of five theater genres: tragedy, comedy, tragicomedy, farce, and melodrama (Sabido 2004).

Among these genres, melodrama presents reality in a slightly exaggerated sense in which the moral universes of good and evil are in discord. Melodrama is an emotive genre that confronts (moral) behaviors in discord, emphasizing the anecdote and producing identification between the audience and certain characters (Bentley 1967).

Sabido, originally a dramatic theoretician himself, employed Bentley’s structure of the melodrama genre as a basis from which to design characters and plots (Sabido, 10 May 2010, personal communication). “Good” characters in Sabido-style serial dramas accept the proposed social behavior, and “evil” characters reject it. Plots are then constructed around the relationships between good and evil characters as they move closer to or farther away from the proposed social behavior. Their actions encourage the audience to either champion or reject these characters accordingly (Televisa’s Institute for Communication Research 1981).

Serial dramas can be defined as a “dramatized account, which confronts the universes of good and evil, through the characters and situation making up an anecdote” (Televisa’s Institute for Communication Research 1981, p. 19). The anecdote is divided into several episodes, following the sequence of a story. In the anecdote, the “good” guys are rewarded and the “bad” guys are punished. In the end, the message is conveyed that “goodness” succeeds and “badness” perishes (Televisa’s Institute for Communication Research 1981, p. 19).

Thus, melodrama is a moral reflection on what is good and bad for the individual and for society. One melodramatic experience will not change behavior, but it verified existence of certain values. Constant repetition of melodramatic experiences can lead to the reaffirmation of a specific value and/or to the modification of behavior within the social contract. For this reason, a serial drama, that is an iterative melodrama, is an appropriate vehicle to reaffirm the positive values of the social contract within the audience (Televisa’s Institute for Communication Research 1981).

The tension between the good and evil characters evoked by the melodrama places the audience between the forces of good and evil. But, in a twist of the typical audience role in melodrama, where audience members simply watch or listen to the battle between good and evil, Sabido inserted the audience into the heart of the action – by representing audience members through a third group, one that is uncertain about the social behavior in question. These “uncertain” characters are intended to be those with whom the target audience most closely identifies. It is also these “transitional” characters who will guide the audience members through their own evolution toward adoption of desired behavior changes.

Although the three groups of characters in Sabido-style serial dramas are exaggerated as is the case in melodrama, they are modeled on real people within the target audience and the perceptions these people might have regarding the social value and behavior being presented. It is critical that the transitional characters, who are the role models for the audience with regard to the attitudinal or behavioral changes in question, be as similar to the target audience as possible, to allow for identification and parasocial interaction with these characters (Barker and Njogu 2010).

Jung (1970): Theory of the Collective Unconscious

The positive and negative characters in Sabido-style dramas are the poles representing the positive and negative values to be addressed in the drama. Jung’s representations of archetypes and stereotypes, as described in his theory of the collective unconscious, are extremely useful in developing these positive and negative characters.

Jung’s theory states that there are certain scripts or stories with familiar patterns and characters that people play out throughout history. These universal scripts or stories appear in myths, legends, and folktales around the world. Jung posited that these universal scripts or stories are the “archetypes of a collective unconscious” and share common characters such as “the wise old man,” “the mother,” and “the warrior.” Jung further suggests that these archetypes are expressions of a primordial, collective unconscious shared by diverse cultures (Jung 1970).

Probably the most commonly known universal script is the “Cinderella” story. This story describes the rags-to-riches evolution of the archetypical “good” and “pure” Cinderella, abused at the hands of an “evil” stepmother and stepsisters. Aided by her fairy godmother, Cinderella finds her prince and ultimately lives “happily ever after.” This is the basic storyline employed by the popular Peruvian telenovela, Simplemente Maria, which greatly influenced Sabido’s work in Mexico (Singhal et al. 1994).

Serial drama characters that imitate a myth represent archetypes, while characters that imitate life represent stereotypes (Sabido 2004). Sabido used the archetypes described in Jung’s theory as a basis for developing characters that embody universal psychological and physiological characteristics to address themes within the serial drama. Through these characters, the viewer finds an archetypical essence of himself or herself that interacts with the social message. Sabido portrayed these archetypes as positive or negative stereotypes, representing the societal norms of the target audience (Televisa’s Institute for Communication Research 1981).

Sabido-style serial dramas rely on extensive formative research to identify the culture- or country-specific versions of these archetypes and to identify local archetypes that represent the prosocial values (or the antithesis of these values) that will be addressed in the serial drama. If the formative research upon which the serial drama is based is done properly, the scriptwriters will be able to develop archetypical characters with whom audience members will be able to identify. The formative research is used to develop a grid of positive and negative social values that these positive and negative characters will embody (Barker and Sabido 2005).

Bandura (1977): Social Learning Theory

In searching for a theoretical foundation on which to base his first prosocial serial drama, Sabido discovered the research of Stanford University psychologist Alfred Bandura. Bandura’s social learning theory (Bandura 1977) reigns as one of the most influential theories in the development of the Sabido methodology (Sabido, 10 May 2010, personal communication). (Bandura’s work on the effects of violence in mass media was key to the development of parental content advisories in television and film.) Sabido experimented with the application of social learning theory in developing his social content serial dramas while Vice President of Research at Television in the 1970s and 1980s. As Bandura stated, “My theories have been proven in a laboratory of 80 million people called Mexico” (Poindexter 2009, p. 120).

The major tenets of Sabido’s methodology were finally beginning to coalesce. Shannon and Weaver’s communication model (Shannon and Weaver 1949) (and Sabido’s subsequent restructuring of the model) (Televisa’s Institute for Communication Research 1981) outlines how the parts of communication systems are related. Sabido’s additional circuit for a social content serial drama shows how serial drama can be used to achieve prosocial impacts (Televisa’s Institute for Communication Research 1981). Lazarsfeld’s two-step flow theory (Lazarsfeld 1968) describes how information flows through an audience. Bentley’s dramatic theory (Bentley 1967) points out how to use melodrama in order to achieve specific effects upon the audience. Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious (Jung 1970) directs development of the positive and negative characters. Lastly, Bandura’s social learning theory (Bandura 1977) addresses the issue of how the viewers learn from TV serial dramas the models of behavior (values) portrayed in them.

Bandura’s social learning theory has tended to dominate most theoretical writing and research about EE. A natural fit exists between Bandura’s theory and EE interventions, which often seek to influence audience behavior change by providing positive and negative role models to the audience (Singhal 2004). Sabido often states that social learning theory is the cornerstone theory of his approach (Sabido, 10 May 2010, personal communication).

Sabido determined that three types of characters are fundamental to successful modeling by audience members (Barker and Sabido 2005). The first two types of characters are positive and negative role models, and they will not change during the course of the serial drama but are repeatedly rewarded or punished for their behaviors. As mentioned above, the consequences of these positive or negative behaviors must be directly linked to the behavior in question: for example, a truck driver character that is practicing at-risk sexual behavior should suffer from a sexually transmitted infection or even contract HIV, but should not be the victim of a traffic accident (Barker and Sabido 2005).

The third type of character, the “transitional character,” is neither positive nor negative but somewhere in the middle. These transitional characters play the pivotal role in a Sabido-style serial drama and are designed to represent members of the target audience. The transitional characters’ evolution toward the desired behavior is what the audience members will use to model their own behavior change (Barker and Sabido 2005).

It should be noted that the positive and negative characters are not intended to be direct role models for the audience – the positive and negative characters are role models for the transitional character. Although audience members are certainly influenced by observing the positive or negative consequences of the behaviors of the positive or negative characters, in a Sabido-style drama, these positive and negative behaviors are generally exaggerated examples of extreme behaviors and are thus more stereotypical than would be found in reality. In a Sabido-style drama, the positive and negative characters are role models for the transitional character within the drama itself – and the transitional character represents the role model for the audience. As such, during the course of the drama, the transitional character will exhibit positive or negative behaviors (following the influence of the positive or negative characters) and will be rewarded or punished accordingly (Barker and Njogu 2010).

For example, in Sabido’s first social content serial drama, Ven Conmigo (“Come with Me”) which addressed adult literacy, transitional characters were specifically chosen from specific subgroups (e.g., the elderly, young adults, homemakers) who represented the key target audiences for the national literacy campaign in Mexico. One of the main transitional characters was a grandfather who struggled to read the many letters he received from his favorite granddaughter. In a cathartic episode, he graduates from literacy training and is finally able to read his granddaughter’s letters, albeit with teary eyes. In the year preceding the broadcast of Ven Conmigo, the national literacy campaign had registered 99,000 students. Following the broadcast of this episode (and the epilogue which provided information about registration in the literacy campaign), 250,000 people registered for literacy training. By the end of the serial drama, 840,000 people had registered for the literacy program – an increase of almost 750% from the preceding year (Ryerson 2010).

To motivate changes in behavior among the target audience, it is imperative that audience members not only identify with these transitional characters but empathize with these characters as they first experience the suffering that compels them to change negative behaviors and then struggle during the process of change. Thus, the grandfather in Ven Conmigo struggles against naysayers who disparage his efforts to learn to read by reasoning that the elderly cannot possibly learn to read and that his efforts to become literate are futile. The grandfather eventually surmounts this wall of cynicism and proves that, in fact, “old dogs can learn new tricks” (Barker and Sabido 2005).

As was demonstrated by this example, the evolution of the transitional characters must be gradual, or the audience will reject the change process as being unrealistic. If the characters’ evolution is not gradual and fraught with obstacles, the audience will expect that their own progress toward positive change will be unrealistically rapid and facile (Ryerson 2010).

Sabido (2002): Theory of the Tone

The Sabido methodology is based on conveying a holistic message that is perceived by audience members on several levels of awareness. Sabido, who began his career as a theater director and dramatic theoretician, realized that acting means changing energy within the body to portray convincingly a symbol depicted by an actor/actress (Sabido 2004). Actors change their energies from one place to another in their bodies – that is, they change the locus of their energies. The producer/director uses various nonverbal theories of communication, including facial expressions, body language, lighting, music, sound effects, and tone of voice, to evoke different responses from the audience (Sabido 2004).

Sabido’s theory of the tone describes how the various tones that are perceived by humans can be used in drama. In this theory, the producer/director serves almost the same function as an orchestra conductor, who can evoke different tones from each instrument in order to create various harmonies or tones within the body of the music and thereby inspire different moods among the audience. Although the theory is quite complex, it can be summarized by saying that for Sabido, the “tone” is the human communication form to which the receiver gives a tone according to his/her own genetic and acquired repertoire, thus making the “tone” the foundation of human communication. The theory has one main hypothesis: it is possible to change the tone of communication by hierarchically ordering its flow theories in a specific manner. According to Sabido, every human communication has a tone, similar to the one generated by actors on the stage (Sabido 2002).

As EE practitioners, we try to channel this energy: sometimes, we want to talk to people’s brains, sometimes we want to talk to their hearts, and sometimes we want to elicit a very visceral reaction. Even with the same information, we might want to channel energy in different areas, to communicate in different ways to the audience (Barker and Njogu 2010).

For example, let us suppose you are watching television, and there is an advertisement for Coca-Cola. All of a sudden you are really thirsty. You weren’t thirsty a few minutes ago, but all of a sudden you want something to drink. You don’t even realize it, but that advertisement was talking to you in a very visceral way. A good advertisement will follow up with cognitive information about where you can buy a Coke. So, the advertisers have created a desire (thirst) – and they subsequently provide you with a means (intellectual information) that allows you to act on this desire. In a Sabido program, this cognitive information is provided through epilogues, which provide information about where to obtain services (Barker and Njogu 2010).

MacLean (1973): Theory of the Triune Brain and Sabido’s Theory of the Tone (2002)

MacLean, in his theory of the triune brain (MacLean 1973), describes these zones physiologically and in terms of their function in the evolution of the human species:
  1. 1.

    The first zone is the reptilian zone of the brain and is common to all animal life – its purpose is self-preservation. It has four functions: feeding, fighting, fleeing, and fornicating.

  2. 2.

    The second zone of the brain is the paleo-mammalian brain. This zone is common to all mammals and is the source of most of memory. It is also the seat of emotions. As such, it is the primary residence of human values.

  3. 3.

    The third zone of the brain is the neo-mammalian brain (neocortex). MacLean posits that this zone is exclusive to the human race and is the center of human cognition.


When energy goes to the reptilian brain, we are blind victims of our drivers, our instincts. Through the area of innate behavior, we can reinforce archetypes and form stereotypes that can be acceptable and beneficial to the social body (Sabido 2002).

When energy goes to the emotional circuits of the mammalian brain, we are moved to identify with a figure (like a telenovela character) that we believe is similar to us, and we react emotionally. The emotional area, where emotional processes are located, is linked with communication strategies as well. Those who receive a primarily emotional message in content are more persuaded by it than those who receive a primarily logical message (Sabido 2002).

When energy goes to our third brain (neocortex), we process reality in an intellectual, calculating way (Sabido 2002).

The theory of the triune brain suggests that individuals process messages cognitively (thinking), affectively (emotional), and animalistically (physical) via three separate brain centers (the neocortex, visceral, and reptilian, respectively). MacLean suggested that the type of processing evoked by a message has a great deal to do with the outcome, such that messages processed via the reptilian portion of our brain trigger basic instinctual urges like hunger, need for sex, or aggressiveness. Messages processed viscerally produce intellectual and thoughtful responses (MacLean 1973).

Sabido adopted MacLean’s theory and suggested that conventional health education programs failed because they focused on the cognitive process brain centers only (information dissemination). Therefore, Sabido developed serial dramas that prompted intellectual, emotional, and physical responses (Sabido 2002).

To the list of theories underlying the Sabido methodology of EE, PMC’s method adds two additional theories: Horton and Wohl’s (1956) notion of parasocial interaction and Sood’s (2002) concept of audience involvement.

Horton and Wohl (1956): Parasocial Interaction

One of the key concepts in the PMC methodology is identification. It is important to form a relationship with the characters – this is possible in serial drama because the characters are created to be similar to audience members. This was one thing that Sabido learned from Simplemente Maria: “Viewers thought that Maria was real – they felt as if they had a relationship with her” (Sabido, 10 May 2010, personal communication).

This “relationship” with fictional characters in film, television, and radio is termed parasocial interaction. An example is when someone is watching a horror movie, and upon seeing that the heroine is about to be terrorized by a monster or villain behind her, the viewer yells out, “Watch out behind you!” The character in the movie obviously cannot hear this sage advice, but as a concerned viewer (and concerned “friend” of the person in the movie), you feel compelled to warn them anyway (Barker and Njogu 2010). Parasocial interaction is also evident in sporting matches – when spectators “advise” the players or coaches (or referees) about what to do to ensure successful play (Barker and Njogu 2010).

Horton and Wohl defined parasocial interaction as a quasi-interpersonal relationship between an audience member and a media personality (Horton and Wohl 1956). The audience member forms a relationship with a character that is analogous to real interpersonal relationships. Some audience members even talk to their favorite characters (i.e., to their TV or radio set) as if the characters were real people (Papa et al. 2000).

Katz et al. (1992) argued that parasocial interaction can prompt referential involvement on the part of audience members. Referential involvement is the degree to which an individual relates a media message to his or her personal experiences. Before audience members consider behavior change as a result of exposure to a media character, they must be able to relate the experiences of the character to their own lives. If such a connection cannot be made, behavior change is less likely (Katz et al. 1992).

Horton and Wohl summarize the important role of parasocial interaction in coping with social interactions on a daily basis: “The function of the mass media is the exemplification of the patterns of conduct one needs to understand and cope with in others as well as of those patterns which one must apply to one’s self. Thus the spectator is instructed in the behaviors of the opposite sex, of people of higher and lower status, of people in particular occupations and professions. In a quantitative sense, by reason of the sheer volume of such instruction, this may be the most important aspect of the parasocial experience, if only because an individual’s personal experiences are relatively few, while those of the others in his social worlds are very numerous. In this culture, it is evident that to be prepared to meet all the exigencies of a changing social situation, no matter how limited it may be, could – and often does – require a great stream of plays and stories, advice columns, and social how-to-do-it books. What, after all, is serial drama but an interminable exploration of the contingencies to be met with in ‘home life’?” (Horton and Wohl 1956, p. 226).

Papa and colleagues (2000) contend that parasocial interaction with characters in EE programs may initiate a process of behavior change for certain audience members by influencing their thinking. Parasocial relationships can prompt role modeling as audience members carefully consider the behavioral choices made by media performers (Papa et al. 2000).

Parasocial interaction can also lead audience members to talk to one another about the media message to which they have been exposed (Rubin and Perse 1987). These conversations can create a social learning environment in which media consumers test new ideas that can spark behavior change. More specifically, a social learning environment exists when a group of people talk about a new behavior, persuade one another of the value of the new behavior, or articulate plans to execute it (Papa et al. 2000; Sood and Rogers 2000).

Sood (2002): Audience Involvement

Audience involvement is the degree to which audience members engage in reflection upon, and parasocial interaction with, certain media programs, thus resulting in overt behavior change. Sood (2002) characterizes audience involvement as being comprised of two dimensions: (1) affective-referential involvement and (2) cognitive-critical involvement. Sood thus describes audience involvement as a multidimensional phenomenon that serves as a mediator motivating behavior change, through increasing self-efficacy and collective efficacy and in promoting interpersonal communication among individuals in the audience. Sood states that audience involvement is a “key factor in the effectiveness of EE interventions” (Sood 2002, p. 154).

Conclusions and Implications for Future Work

This chapter seeks to explore what contribution each of the different theories that underlie the PMC EE method (i.e., the different theories described above) makes to the overall result.

Bandura’s social learning theory (Bandura 1977) has often been touted as the foundational theory for all EE. Certainly, numerous findings confirm this premise. However, my work in developing over 50 social content serial dramas using the PMC method over almost 20 years shows that while effective use of social learning theory is necessary, it is not sufficient to achievement of behavior change. Another critical element is audience identification with the characters, specifically the transitional character (as described by Sood 2002 and Horton and Wohl 1956).

In writing this chapter, and reflecting on the question of the relative contribution of different theories to the success of EE in achieving behavior change, the concepts of “necessary” and “sufficient” often arose. In the introduction to this chapter, I propose three possible scenarios:
  1. 1.

    All of the theories have equal effect.

  2. 2.

    Some of the theories have more effect than others.

  3. 3.

    “All or nothing” – that is, all of the various theories must be used in order to achieve any effect.


So, what is the verdict? Overall, my findings show that, although some theories clearly have more impact than others, the best impact is achieved when the creative team brings an understanding of a multitude of behavioral theories and communication strategies to the design “table.”

Thus, it appears that the response to the question “What contribution does each of the different theories make to the overall result?” is best represented by Fig. 2 from the introduction to this chapter.

In this depiction, some theories have more effect than others – without these key theories (such as Bandura’s social learning theory), the EE program will most certainly fail. The inclusion of additional theories enhances the likelihood of success – with incrementally lesser impact for each added element.

The flaw within this diagram is that it assumes that there is a well-defined constellation of “all” of the theories that can possibly be applied in designing an EE program. Scholars and practitioners do not agree on a definitive list of the various theories that contribute to the success of EE programs, although various lists have been put forward. It seems that the number of theories is longer than earlier scholars may have assumed and will most certainly continue to grow as we learn more about how EE produces its effects.

So, the figure above is a misrepresentation of what is most likely: while the figure levels off and eventually terminates when application of the “entire” constellation of possible theories has been achieved, this would never be possible. In fact, the more theories that can be applied, the better the result (with diminishing – but additional – positive effects). To be completely accurate, the figure would show the number of theories going to infinity. While this concept may seem daunting to communication scholars and practitioners looking for a “magic bullet” to ensure the success of communication campaigns, I contend that this is actually a happy result. As we continue to learn more about what works, our communication programs will achieve even better effects.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International ProgramsPopulation Media CenterSouth BurlingtonUSA

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