Definition of Entertainment-Education

Entertainment-Education (E-E) is an innovative approach used to change knowledge, attitudes and behavior.  The issue of inspiring people to change their behavior has been a serious concern for medical professionals, civic leaders, educators and community organizers. How are constituencies moved to take action? Videos have commonly been used in this effort, but the overwhelming majority has been in documentary form and often the productions have been pedantic and preachy and boring to their target audiences. In contrast E-E has proven a successful media strategy that quantifiably changes attitudes and behavior of the audience it is addressing.

Initially developed by communication theorist Miguel Sabido (1981), E-E has been applied over the last 30 years in many international communities faced with serious social issues and has contributed to significant social changes.

By presenting the issues in of suspenseful dramatic narratives, ( often in a serial format ), E-E combines communication and education theory with the appeal of popular entertainment. E-E involves audiences in story and characters that generates conversation and action. Historically this has been true since humans started telling stories. Consider the power that a narrative like Uncle Tom’s Cabin had on the slavery issue in the US. It is parables and fables that leave lasting impressions and influence behavior. E-E is a contemporary evolution of this method of effecting change. There is a body of research now on successful E-E campaigns (Singhal, Cody, Rogers, and Sabido). One notable example is the television series “Soul City” in South Africa, which was found to influence its audience into a quantifiable reduction in domestic violence. This show that has run for decades is one of the most popular series in that country. A variety of E-E social soap operas in Latin America, Africa and India have had substantial impact on audiences with themes such as family planning, literacy, female equality, HIV prevention where evidence shows an increase health related behaviors like condom use and a reduction of the number of sexual partners (Rogers et al). There are many peer-reviewed articles on the effectiveness of these E-E media campaigns. (Entertainment-Education and Social Change – History, Research and Practice, Lawrence Erlbaum Ass, Publishers). The theoretical fundamentals of E-E are derived from diverse disciplinary fields including social learning theory of famed cognitive psychologist Albert Bandura, as well as other communication theories such as 1) the elaboration likelihood model (Slater & Rouner,), 2) audience involvement(Sood), 3) uses and gratifications, 4) diffusion of innovations (Sherry) and 5) Paul MacLean’s psycho neurological theory of the triune brain examining the reptilian complex, the limbic or emotional and neo-cortex interplay in decision making. In addition, DiClemete and Prochaska’s stages of change from precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance are applicable to this work. Concepts of empowering the viewers both in self efficacy and collective efficacy are also basic to the interpersonal communication effects of E-E messaging. Innovative educator Paulo Freire’s principles of dialogue, interaction, problem-posing, reflection, conscientization are used in E-E to activate audiences to be spectators (“spect-actors”) rather than be passive.

Essential to this process is modeling. E-E often presents three types of characters in the stories – one positive, one negative and one transitional. The transitional models are shown transforming their lives from uncertainty by discarding adverse behaviors in favor of beneficial ones. The viewer sees how he/she can potentially take control of situations, and be rewarded by constructive outcomes. This is learning from the successes and mistakes of others. Audiences see how to manage failures through role models who are both competent and inspiring. On the one hand the observer fears what frightens or injures the model character and dislikes what repulses them; and on the other hand, likes what gratifies them. Seeing people similar to oneself persevere, raises the observers’ belief in their own abilities. Posing problems people encounter in their own lives for which they have not yet found solutions, and presenting alternatives in these dramas, moves the viewer to new possibilities.

By pre-production formative research with the community involved, the dramas produced have authentic plots, characters and dialogue that reflect the life of the
audience. These serial dramas can then capture the attention of the audience, allowing time for identification with the fictional characters, and through this connection, moving the viewers emotionally. They witness those whose life is on an adverse course and others who resiliently improve their situation. Seeing others gain desired outcomes creates motivation to action. Such televised portrayals shape social norms. (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, Signorelli, & Shanaham). When people believe they can produce desired effects, they have incentive to act. (Bandura). By powerfully dramatizing the possible options and consequence, those who see these presentations are enabled to make informed choices to improve their lives.

Phyllis Piotrow who established the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, presented a nine point analysis of E-E: 1) it promotes healthy behavior by its being pervasive, in that entertainment always has a message; 2) it is popular as people seek it out; 3) it inspires passion and it stimulates emotions that people remember, inclining them toward action; 4) it is personal in that audiences identify with fictional characters as if they know them; 5) it is participatory in that viewers talk to others about the stories and characters; 6) it is persuasive in that viewers see the consequences of sensible and foolish behaviors in the stories, stimulating a desire to imitate what works; 7) it is practical in that the infrastructures for producing these dramas exist; 8) it is profitable in that these productions can become self sustaining with sponsorship;, 9) and as already mentioned, E-E has been proven effective. E-E as an ongoing series has not been used in the United States to date as the production of such television series have been in the hands of private companies whose mandate is profit rather than intervention.

Through fictionalized dramatic stories based on real-life situations, E-E is able to communicate several distinct but related messages in a culturally and linguistically meaningful and appropriate way. Contextualizing messages in social and economic conditions of a target population, enables them to identify with the characters and the situations, and to see in the dramatic stories people who “could be me.”

Dramatic or comic narratives in interconnected episodic using the emotional and visual techniques of current successful dramatic fictional television shows involves the audiences through identification with characters depicting the emotional and situational conflicts that are derived from the daily lives of this audience. The episodic presentations allow for repetition of the issues, which is an important factor in this media methodology.