Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Choosing and Reading Online News: How Available Choice Affects Cognitive Processing

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Choosing and Reading Online News: How Available Choice Affects Cognitive Processing

Article excerpt

Giving people the ability to choose from a wide variety of content when they want to see it is a hallmark of today's interactive media landscape. News/information portals, blogs, video-on-demand, and file-sharing galleries all give computer users the freedom to choose content from vast arrays of options, then acquire and view that content with the click of a mouse. To date, researchers have not thoroughly examined the mental processes that occur when people choose and receive information from Web sites that offer varying amounts of options.

The ritual of scanning, choosing, and receiving hyperlinked content can be repeated multiple times during a person's visit to a Web site. This ritual and the underlying mental processes involved fundamentally shape the experience of receiving news online. Therefore, it is important to understand how various features involved in presenting online news affect cognitive processes involved in selecting, reading, and remembering an online news story. This study serves as an initial investigation of how one feature, the number of hyperlinked stories presented, affects cognitive processing of a selected story. Results obtained can advance theoretical understanding of information processing of mediated content in an unexplored area of news consumption. Findings may also provide news producers with some insight into Web site design that will maximize the ability of their audience to be informed by attending to and remembering content of online news stories.

It is proposed here that the mental work a person does in scanning and choosing a hyperlinked news story has consequences for cognitive and emotional processing of information contained in the story. Thus, any feature of a news Web site that could affect mental effort invested in selecting stories, such as the number of hyperlinks from which an individual chooses stories to read, could significantly affect how the content of a story is attended to and remembered.

There is precedence for theorizing that the number of hyperlinked news stories on a Web site could influence responses to received information. Scholars studying decision-making have demonstrated that the number of options available for an individual to choose from affects responses to their choice (Iyengar & Lepper, 2000; Wise & Pepple, in press). This finding has been obtained in the context of choosing among different brands of a product as well as selecting pictures to view from varying arrays of photographs. Receiving news from online sources provides another interesting decision-making context in which individuals are presented with numerous options. Google News, for example, links Web surfers with every available story on a particular event. For prominent events, the number of stories from which a person can choose may reach into the hundreds. Scholars studying the effects of available options on responses to an individual's choice have not yet examined it in the context of choosing stories from an online news interface.

This study is designed to fill a gap in media processes and effects research by examining cognitive processing in the unexplored context of choosing, reading, and remembering online news. Such research is necessary because the mental processes used in selecting and processing online news could be somewhat different from processes engaged by previously studied decision-making tasks. This research may also advance theoretical understanding of the relationship between choosing media content and cognitively processing the selected content. Media processes and effects scholars have not thoroughly explored how media features presented to an individual in the act of selecting content influences cognitive processes engaged during exposure to the received content.

Studying the relationship between choosing and processing selected online news stories requires analysis of two mental tasks: (1) scanning pictures and headlines in order to choose a story, and (2) reading the text of the story once it has been chosen. …

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