Roll 'Em!: The Effects of Picture Motion on Emotional Responses

Article excerpt

The distinction between form and content has always been central to media studies. While the bulk of media effects research indicates that particular message content can and does influence cognitive and emotional responses, evidence indicates that non-content, or structural, attributes of film and television messages also affect Psychological responses. For example, recent studies have shown that screen size, viewing distance, and whether the messages are seen in black and white or in color all can influence message processing and evaluation of the messages as well as the viewing experience (Detenber & Reeves, 1996; Lombard, 1995; Sherman & Dominick, 1988). The role these attributes of presentation play in modifying individual responses to media messages may be small compared to content-driven effects, but they are nonetheless important to understanding how media effects occur.

As media technologies advance, new opportunities to experience pictorial presentations in a variety of contexts and forms arise. Home theaters are introducing larger and larger screens into people's living rooms (Reeves, Detenber, & Steuer, 1993). High definition television (HDTV) will change both the resolution and aspect ratio of our current television system. in addition to traditional cinema, movie screens now appear in such specialized venues as amusement park rides and IMAX theaters. The world wide web makes a vast number of images, both still and moving, available to anyone with a computer, an Internet connection, and web browsing software. These technologies offer not only new ways to present images and experience them, but the possibility for fundamentally altering the effects they engender.

One attribute of media presentations that seems to have a significant impact on individual responses is whether images are moving or still. Motion constitutes a fundamental attribute of the physical world, and our brains have adapted to this fact with specialized nerve cells that detect and process motion (Goldstein, 1989; Movshon, 1990). Research on neonates indicates that motion perception is an innate ability and essential to understanding the physical world (Ball & Tronick, 1971; Barten, Birns, & Ronch, 1971). Motion also figures prominently in the world of media, for it is a defining characteristic of film, video, and new communication technologies such as multimedia. Film and television theorists contend that motion is highly expressive and can evoke strong emotional responses in viewers (Arnheim, 1958/1983; Giannetti, 1976). Zettl (1990) suggests that motion is "one of the strongest forces operating within the screen" (p. 119). Therefore, it is not surprising that instruction in film and video production emphasizes the importance of incorporating appropriate motion into messages. In the world of new media, motion is considered highly desirable, and substantial computational resources are allocated to make images move.

Despite the widespread assumption that motion is important to media messages, relatively few empirical studies have investigated the psychological effects of motion in media presentations. In general, these studies show that motion affects cognitive processing and viewer responses in a variety of ways. For example, Kipper (1986) demonstrated that memory for the physical properties of a filmed scene (i.e., the layout) improves when the scene is shot by a moving rather than a fixed camera. Another study has shown that motion on screen is associated with higher levels of cortical arousal in viewers, as measured by the alpha frequency of the electroencephalogram (EEG; Reeves, Thorson, Rothschild, McDonald, Hirsch, & Goldstein, 1985). Reeves et al. (1985) propose that the increase in cortical arousal, or attention, is an automatic response people have to certain types of motion in general and to similar types of motion in television presentations. In terms of emotional responses, a study by Detenber and Reeves (1996) suggests that image motion influences self-reports of emotional arousal but not hedonic valence. …