Emotions are commonly understood as a complex of interactive entities encompassing subjective and objective factors and consisting of affective, cognitive, conative, and physiological components. The affective component includes the subjective experience of situations, which is connected to feelings of arousal, pleasure, or dissatisfaction. The cognitive component refers to how situations relevant to emotions are perceived and evaluated. The conative component is related to expressive behavior, including facial and vocal expression and gestures. Also, emotions embed action tendencies such as approach (e.g., anger) or avoidance (e.g., anxiety). Finally, the physiological component encompasses peripheral reactions of the body that are mediated by the autonomous nervous system (physiological arousal).
Studies on media and emotion usually follow one of two research logics. They focus either on effects on arousal and valence of emotions (dimensional view) or they explore the effects on discrete emotions such as anxiety, fear, anger, or aggressiveness (discrete emotion approach). There is no doubt that media are capable of inducing emotions during the communicative phase – and there is a growing body of research dealing with the conditions and effects of emotional responses (Wirth & Schramm 2005). Here, television is viewed as more emotionally arousing as compared to print, partly due to technological features and the emotional storytelling of television. In addition, media-induced emotions play a crucial role for media effects, for example for learning, perceived risk, persuasion, and decision-making. It is mainly this intermediary role that makes emotion so essential for media effects research.
Emotions As Intervening And Dependent Variables
This article focuses on short-term and long-term media effects on emotions after the communicative phase. There are at least two major and four minor research areas with a special emphasis on emotional media effects: (1) effects of media violence on hostile feelings and aggressiveness, (2) effects of media on the cultivation of fear, (3) effects of political media content on emotion, (4) fear and frustration as effect of terrorism reports, (5) dissatisfaction with one’s body as effect of thin model images, and (6) positive feelings and parasocial relationships as effect of repeatedly viewing favored serials and soaps.
Effects Of Media Violence On Aggressiveness
Within the media and violence research, effects on aggressiveness are discussed as emotional effects. Experimental research finds consistently that youths who heavily watch violent television scenes or movies subsequently display more aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts, and aggressive emotions than those who do not (Anderson et al. 2003). In a prolonged exposure experiment, Zillmann and Weaver (1999) demonstrated that after watching violent films on four consecutive days, male and female respondents showed increased hostile feelings and hostile behavior, independently of whether they had been provoked or not. Experimental studies explored as well the impact of violent computer games on state hostility, state anxiety, and arousal. Participants reported significantly higher state hostility, but not higher state anxiety. Playing a violent video game for as little as 10 minutes increases the player’s automatic association of “self ” with aggressive actions and traits, thus making aggressive thoughts and feelings salient. Past history of exposure to violent video games might fortify this process (Uhlmann & Swanson 2004). Moreover, evidence from correlational studies suggests that exposure to violent video games results in lower empathy.
The theoretical framework for many of the more recent studies on the effects of violence is the General Affective Aggression Model (GAAM). It suggests that violent media contents may increase aggression by increasing hostile feelings and the accessibility of aggressive thoughts. Furthermore, it provides a link between short-term and long-term effects of media violence. According to this model, viewing violent media content primes related aggressive thoughts in semantic memory. In turn, priming effects increase the probability of an aggressive response to provocations, real or imaged, by increasing hostile affect, by promoting hostile interpretations of the provocation, by instigating use of aggressive behavioral scripts, or by using learnt role models. Metaanalyses allow the conclusion that high levels of violent TV programs in childhood can promote aggression in later childhood, adolescence, and even young adulthood (Anderson et al. 2003).
Another emotional effect of exposure to violence is desensitization. Emotional desensitization occurs when people who heavily watch media violence no longer respond with as much unpleasant physiological arousal or feelings as they did initially. Because unpleasant physiological arousal and empathy normally have an inhibitory influence on thinking about violence or on behaving violently, emotional desensitization can result in a heightened likelihood of violent thoughts and behaviors (Huesmann et al. 2003).
Effects Of Media On The Cultivation Of Fear
Media programs are able to evoke fear that is comparable with fear experienced in other situations than media use. In their cultivation studies, George Gerbner and colleagues have shown that the reception of media programs can have the effect of fear and anxiety. Frequent TV viewers have exaggerated ideas about how many persons are involved in cases of violence per week, and correspondingly have inappropriately high levels of fear. In other studies only small cultivation effects or only effects of high exposure to dramatic programming like crime-saturated local television news could be found. Especially for children, anxiety-evoking media programs can have long-term negative effects (Cantor 2002). However, children gradually develop a set of regulation strategies to deal with anxiety-evoking media content. Blunting is applied most frequently – followed by monitoring, and seeking support. Several researchers found that long-lasting states of anxiety after early childhood media reception are not rare among juveniles or college students.
Effects Of Political Media Content On Emotion
Emotional responses to politicians or to political events are often determined by an interaction of predispositions (e.g., conservative versus liberal) with media characteristics. Gross and D’Ambrosio (2004) experimentally explored possible framing effects on emotions, using news reports about the 1992 Los Angeles riots. They found interaction effects between different frames (social conditions versus criminality as cause for the riot) and predispositions like ideology and resentment. Similarly, research demonstrated that emotional responses to politicians are generated by an interaction of predispositions and nonverbal displays.
Fear And Frustration As Effect Of Terrorism Reports
News of catastrophes or terror attacks can induce lasting emotional effects. In the context of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, a couple of studies explored emotional reactions of the media users. Results from a panel study suggested that heavier television news use sustained a higher level of negative emotional reactions (fear, frustration, anger) to the terrorist attacks than heavier newspaper use (Cho et al. 2003). Simultaneously, it was found that respondents’ emotional responses to the attacks had a significant positive effect on the following television news viewing, thus indicating a reciprocal process.
The media have been criticized for depicting the thin woman as ideal, because these images could cause body dissatisfaction. These studies are based on Leon Festinger’s social comparison theory, on Gerbner’s cultivation theory, or on Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory. Two recent meta-analyses revealed mixed empirical results, maybe because of inconsistently used concepts, media measures, design types, and comparison stimuli. At least for some groups (participants under 19 years and those who are vulnerable to activation of a thinness schema), effects of thin model images on body dissatisfaction seem to be likely (Holmstrom 2004).
Parasocial Interactions And Relationships
Parasocial interactions and relationships are those between television viewers and the characters they watch, involving mainly positive, warm feelings like intimateness. Contrary to parasocial interactions, parasocial relationships continue beyond the viewing period. Viewers experience characters as close friends or at least as good neighbors. According to Cohen (2003), women develop stronger parasocial relationships than men. In a hypothetic situation, when the favored character would be taken off the air (parasocial breakup), viewers tend to fear breakup from fictional characters more than from real characters. Furthermore, parasocial interactions and parasocial relationships seem to reinforce reciprocally.
The Focus Of Media Effects Research
Taken together, it can be stated that there are considerable short-term and long-term, positive and negative media effects on emotions beyond the reception situation, regarding different media, different programs, and different parts of the audience (age and sex). However, media effects on emotion beyond the reception situation seldom constitute the basic interest of communication researchers. More often, research deals with mediainduced emotions during the reception phase or with the intermediary role of emotions for further effects.
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