Clare-Elizabeth Cannon e-mail(Login required)

Main Article Content


Clare-Elizabeth Cannon e-mail(Login required)



In a climate of increasing social and political polarisation, there is much interest in dialogue and bridging differences. This article investigates the dramatisation of dialogic conflict resolution, examining how the psychological science of bridging differences can be utilised to create realistic and emotionally engaging narratives that highlight the transformative impact of dialogue on character development and relational dynamics. Relational conflicts have long been recognised as possible catalysts for character transformation, and complex narratives (Mittell, 2015) are particularly appropriate for a nuanced representation of characters’ psychological experiences throughout the process. This study draws upon extensive psychological and communication research on bridging differences compiled by Shigeoka et al. (2020) and UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center (2021). It reorganises this research into a horizontal timeline of behaviours, highlighting their practical application during the conflict resolution process. It then makes a cognitive poetics analysis of how these behaviours may be observed in a case study of relational conflict from the complex television series This is Us (NBC, 2016-2022). By observing the impact these behaviours have on the transformation of characters, the study explores how credible dialogic relational conflicts can lead to verisimilar character transformation on screen. In addition, it considers how an artistic interpretation of the science of bridging differences can contribute to our understanding of dialogue in practice.


Diversity, bridging differences, screenwriting, complex tv, conflict, transformation arc


Abbott, H. P. (2008). The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ackerman, A. & Puglisi, B. (2013). The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Flaws. Florida: JADD.

Amaral, C. O. do & Baltar, M. (2021). Antecipação, complexidade narrativa e o melodrama paternal em This is Us. Ilha Do Desterro, 74(1).

Bandura, A. (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. Advances in Consumer Research. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Bennett, R. & Oliver, J. E. (2019). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. London: Routledge.

Blanchet, R. & Vaage, M. B. (2012). Don, Peggy, and Other Fictional Friends? Engaging with Characters in Television Series. Projections, 6(2).

Bloom, P. (2016). Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion. New York: Harper Collins.

Bordwell, D., Thompson, K. & Smith, J. (2017). Film Art: An Introduction (11th Ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Calabrese, G. G. & Manello, A. (2021). Board diversity and performance in a masculine, aged and glocal supply chain: new empirical evidence. Corporate Governance, 21(7), 1440-1459.

Chi, J. (2020). Social Identification of the Pearson Family in This Is Us. ICSSSP2020, 519-523.

Foss, K. A. (2020). Death of the Slow-Cooker or #CROCK-POTISINNOCENT? This Is Us, Parasocial Grief, and the Crock-Pot Crisis. Journal of Communication Inquiry, 44(1), 69-89.

Freedman, P. & Goldstein, K. (1999). Measuring Media Exposure and the Effects of Negative Campaign Ads. American Journal of Political Science, 43(4), 1189.

García, A. N. (2016). Moral Emotions, Antiheroes and the Limits of Allegiance. In A. N. García (Ed.), Emotions in Contemporary TV Series (pp. 52-70). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

García, A. N. (2017). All the happy families... 'This is Us'. Diamantes En Serie. Retrieved from

García Martínez, A. & González, A. M. (2016). Emotional Culture and TV Narratives. In A. N. García (Ed.), Emotions in Contemporary TV Series (pp. 13-25). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gattoni, A. (2021). Family narratives and mental illness in "This is Us". In M. Johnson & C. J. Olson (Eds.), Normalizing Mental Illness and Neurodiversity in Entertainment Media: Quieting the Madness (pp. 37-52). New York: Routledge.

Gelfand, M. J., Leslie, L. M., Keller, K. & de Dreu, C. (2012). Conflict cultures in organizations: How leaders shape conflict cultures and their organizational-level consequences. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(6), 1131-1147.

Greater Good Science Center - UC Berkeley (2021). Bridging Differences. California: edX. Retrieved from

Hoffman, B. L., Sidani, J. E., Wang, Y., Chang, J. & Burke, J. G. (2022). "It Encourages Family Discussion": A Mixed-Methods Examination of the This Is Us Alzheimer's Disease & Caregiving Storyline. Journal of Health Communication, 1-12.

IMDb. (2023). This Is Us (2016-2022) Awards. Retrieved from

Kearney, R. (2017). On Paul Ricœur: The Owl of Minerva. London: Routledge.

Kiken, L. G. & Shook, N. J. (2011). Looking up: Mindfulness increases positive judgments and reduces negativity bias. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2(4), 425-431.

Luisi, M. L. R., Jones, R. & Luisi, T. (2020). Randall Pearson: Framing Black Identity, Masculinity, Adoption and Mental Health in Television. Howard Journal of Communications, 31(1), 71-85.

Marks, D. (2007). Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc. Studio City, CA: Three Mountain Press.

Marsh, J., Mendoza-Denton, R. & Smith, J. A. (2010). Are We Born Racist? New Insights from Neuroscience and Positive Psychology. Boston: Beacon Press.

McKee, R. (1997). Story Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting. New York: Harper Collins.

Mittell, J. (2015). Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling. NY: NYU Press.

Murrar, S. & Brauer, M. (2018). Entertainment-education effectively reduces prejudice. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 21(7), 1053-1077.

Myers, S. (2022). The Protagonist's Journey. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

Neal, J. (2018a). An Overview of the Field of Transformation. In J. Neal (Ed.), Handbook of Personal and Organizational Transformation (pp. 3-46). Cham: Springer.

Neal, J. (Ed.). (2018b). Handbook of Personal and Organizational Transformation. Cham: Springer.

Nelson, R. (2016). The Emergence of 'Affect' in Contemporary TV Fictions. In A. N. García (Ed.), Emotions in Contemporary TV Series (pp. 26-51). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Nickels, B. M., Tenzek, K. E. & Lattimer, T. A. (2021). This Is Us: An Analysis of Mediated Family Communication at End-of-Life. Omega Journal of Death and Dying, 1-21.

Pearson, R. (2007). Anatomising Gilbert Grissom: The Structure and Function of the Televisual Character. In M. Allen (Ed.), Reading CSI: Crime TV Under the Microscope (pp. 55-56). New York: I.B. Tauris.

Pettigrew, T. F. & Tropp, L. R. (2006). A meta-analytic test of intergroup contact theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(5), 751-783.

Ripley, A. (2021). High conflict: why we get trapped and how we get out. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Rosenberg, M. (2003). Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Puddledancer Press.

Ross, L. J. (2016). Calling In the Calling Out Culture: A Continuum of Accountability. Northampton: Smith College. Retrieved from

Sánchez-Escalonilla, A. (2006). Conflicto y guion cinematográfico. In M. A. Huerta Floriano & P. Sangro Colón (Eds.), Guion de ficción en cine: planteamiento, nudo y desenlace (Vol. 16, p. 200). Salamanca: Universidad Pontificia.

Sánchez-Escalonilla, A. (2013). Verisimilitude and Film Story: The Links between Screenwriter, Character and Spectator. Communication & Society, 26(2), 79-94.

Schiappa, E., Gregg, P. B. & Hewes, D. E. (2005). The parasocial contact hypothesis. Communication Monographs, 72(1), 92-115.

Sclavi, M. (2008). The role of play and humor in creative conflict management. Negotiation Journal, 24(2), 157-180.

Shigeoka, S., Marsh, J., Smith, J., Jilani, Z. & Proulx, E. (2020). Bridging Differences Playbook. Berkeley: Greater Good Science Center. Retrieved from

SimanTov-Nachlieli, I., Shnabel, N., Aydin, A. L. & Ullrich, J. (2018). Agents of Prosociality: Agency Affirmation Promotes Mutual Prosocial Tendencies and Behavior Among Conflicting Groups. Political Psychology, 39(2), 445-463.

Smith, M. S. (1995). Engaging Characters: Fiction, Emotion, and the Cinema. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Stahl, G. K. & Maznevski, M. L. (2021). Unraveling the effects of cultural diversity in teams: A retrospective of research on multicultural work groups and an agenda for future research. Journal of International Business Studies, 52(1), 4-22.

Stanford, C. & Stanford, G. (2018). The Neurobiology of Personal Transformation. In J. Neal (Ed.), Handbook of Personal and Organizational Transformation (pp. 123-146). Cham: Springer.

Subirana Vilanova, M. (2018). Creativity to Flourish: Pathways Toward Appreciative Leadership. In J. Neal (Ed.), Handbook of Personal and Organizational Transformation (pp. 465-497). Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Tingle, E. L. (2021). Glimpses of acceptance through problem frames: An analysis of the lessons on fatness in the television series "This is Us". Fat Studies.

Truby, J. (2008). The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. New York: Faber & Faber.

Weiland, K. M. (2016). Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author's Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development. Scottsbluff: PenForASword.

Williams, L. (2012). Mega-Melodrama! Vertical and Horizontal Suspensions of the "Classical". Modern Drama, 55(4), 523-543.

Zeki, S. (2004). The neurology of ambiguity. Consciousness and Cognition, 13(1), 173-196.

Zuberbuehler, K. (2018). Role of Flashbacks in Relationship Depiction in This is Us. Communication Studies, (85). Retrieved from


Search GoogleScholar


Article Details