Wishing to be like the character on screen: Media exposure and perception of hacking behavior

Sarah Staggs, Samanta L. McMichael, Virginia S.Y. Kwan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


This research addressed whether exposure to media, which increasingly portrays hacker characters across diverse media domains, may predict perceptions of others’ willingness to hack. Specifically, this study assessed how wishful identification with hacker characters may contribute to individuals’ perception of hacking behaviors. One-hundred forty-nine North American participants were recruited using MTurk.com. Participants reported (1) their exposure to general media and perceived identification with a fictional hacker character, and (2) their perceived risks, payoffs, and estimated willingness of others to engage in hacker behaviors regarding a specific call to hack. Additionally, this research examined differences in the effects of media exposure on hacking likelihood between two types of hacks: financial hacking attacks and hacktivism attacks. Results show (1) that perceived payoffs of hacking, but not perceived risks, predict individuals’ estimation of hacker behaviors, (2) a significant and positive indirect effect between media exposure and estimation of others’ willingness to hack passes through wishful identification and perceived payoffs of hacking attacks, and (3) no significant differences in the above relationships between the two types of hacks. Together, these findings highlight that media exposure may increase positive perceptions of hackers and in turn increase the perception of pervasiveness and legitimacy of engaging in hacking behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020


  • Computer crimes
  • Cyber attacks
  • Game theory
  • Hacking
  • Hacktivism
  • Wishful identification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


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