Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Gender Differences in Selective Media Use for Mood Management and Mood Adjustment

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Gender Differences in Selective Media Use for Mood Management and Mood Adjustment

Article excerpt

Media consumers' moods play an important role in selections of media messages, as ample empirical evidence has shown. Based on mood management theory (Zillmann, 1988), many investigators have found affective states to influence which media content individuals attend to and which they avoid (for overviews, see Knobloch-Westerwick, 2006; Oliver, 2003; Zillmann, 2000). Experiments, quasi-experiments, field studies, and surveys have demonstrated in the United States and abroad that selections of electronic and broadcasting media such as TV entertainment genres, popular music, and Internet content in part result from the current feeling state of media consumers (e.g., Bryant & Zillmann, 1984; Knobloch, 2002; Knobloch & Zillmann, 2002; Zillmann, Hezel, & Medoff, 1980). Mood management considerations have been supported by amassed evidence but were also challenged by some observations. More specifically, both gender differences in hedonically motivated media selections and the exposure to upsetting, negative content cannot be explained with mood management theory. This study aims to address these challenges by building (a) on response style theory (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1987, 1990), which conceptualizes gender differences in responses to dysphoric affects, and (b) on the mood adjustment approach (Knobloch, 2003), which offers explanations on why media users might sometimes be drawn to upsetting content. Hypotheses derived from these theoretical grounds will be tested with two data sets--a secondary data analysis of a mood management experiment and original data from a new mood adjustment study. The empirical investigation looks at selective music listening, although the same patterns are likely to apply to selections of other electronic and broadcasting media as well.

Mood Management Theory

Mood management theory (Zillmann, 1988) conceptualizes selections of media messages as motivated by affect optimization goals. Originally called the theory of affect-dependent stimulus arrangement (Zillmann & Bryant, 1985), its theoretical claims pertain to enhancement of both emotions and moods (see Zillmann, 2003, for the differentiation), although it became better known as mood management theory. This hedonistic objective is served by arousal regulation via media consumption to avoid boredom and stress, exposure to positively valenced content, and avoidance of messages that are associated with sources of negative affects. Thus, in states of stress, calming messages are preferred over stimulating messages to obtain agreeable arousal levels. On the other hand, bored individuals favor arousing messages according to the theory. Generally, messages with a tone that is more positive than the current affective state will be sought out, whereas any content with connections to origins of disagreeable feelings will be avoided.

As Zillmann (2000) noted, gender differences have emerged repeatedly in mood management investigations. In these cases, men failed to comply with mood management predictions, whereas women selected messages in line with the theory (see Biswas, Riffe, & Zillmann, 1994; Masters, Ford, & Arend, 1983; Medoff, 1982). For instance, Anderson, Collins, Schmitt, and Jacobvitz (1996) found in a field study that men and women differed in their TV choices when under stress: Stressed women watched more game shows and variety programs, whereas stressed men preferred violent action programs.

In light of psychological research on responses to one's own affects, gender-split patterns of media-based mood regulation are not surprising at all. In fact, gender has been referred to as the most important interindividual characteristic when it comes to mood regulation (Thayer, Newman, & McClain, 1994). Although the genders do not differ in terms of emotional experiences (e.g., Johnson & Schulman, 1988), ways in which men and women cope with stress (Tamres, Janicki, & Helgeson, 2002) or try to change bad moods (Thayer et al. …

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