Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

The Effects of Production Pacing and Arousing Content on the Information Processing of Television Messages

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

The Effects of Production Pacing and Arousing Content on the Information Processing of Television Messages

Article excerpt

Recent research on how television viewers process television messages has used the limited capacity model of television viewing to investigate the effects of emotion (Lang, Dhillon, & Dong, 1995), narrative structure (Lang, Sias, Chantrell, & Burek, 1995), negative video images (Lang, Newhagen, & Reeves, 1997), and audio video redundancy (Lang, 1995). The study reported here employs this theory to investigate how pacing and arousing content affect viewers' attention, allocation of cognitive resources, encoding, and storage of television messages. Pacing is defined as the number of cuts in a message; arousing content is manipulated through the emotional arousal level of the message content.

The Limited Capacity Model

The Limited Capacity model of television viewing defines the viewer as an information processor, the television medium as a variably redundant ongoing stream of audio and video information, and the message content as the topic, genre, and information contained in a message. Television viewing is the continuous allocation of a limited pool of processing resources to the cognitive processes required for viewers to make sense of a message. Processing a message includes (but is not limited to) the parallel cognitive subprocesses (or tasks) of encoding, storage, and retrieval.

Comprehension of a television message involves the continuous and simultaneous operation of these subprocesses. New information from the message is continuously attended to, encoded into short term or working memory, processed, and stored. Previously held information (required to understand the message) is concurrently retrieved, associated with the new information, and stored again. Information encoded earlier in the message is being stored as later information is being encoded.

Since it is not possible for the viewer to encode and store all the information in the message, the viewer continuously selects which information in the message to encode, process, and store. The amount of information that can be attended to, encoded, and stored has an upper bound created by the availability of the viewer's processing resources, which are limited. Viewed in this way, television viewing, although it "feels" simple, is, in fact, a complex and difficult cognitive task. How large a portion of a television message is successfully encoded, stored, and eventually retrieved is determined by the level of resources required by and allocated to the various subprocesses involved in viewing. The viewer, the medium, and the content all affect how resources are allocated to processing the message.

The viewer controls some aspects of the allocation of processing resources by making decisions about whether to watch, how carefully to watch, and how hard to try, based on how interesting the subject is, how relevant the information is, or simply whether the viewer wants to remember it (Gantz, 1978). This voluntary or controlled allocation of processing resources is a relatively long term process occurring over minutes or hours. Similarly, characteristics of the viewer (like familiarity with the topic, emotional response to a topic, etc.) partly determine the level of resources required to make sense of and store the message.

The medium itself controls the automatic allocation of processing resources through the elicitation of orienting responses (ORs) in viewers. These ORs are automatic, reflexive attentional responses to changes in the environment or to stimuli that people have learned signal important information. In television, ORs are elicited by structural features like cuts, edits, movement, flashes of light, and sound (Lang, 1990; Lang, Geiger, Strickwerda, & Sumner, 1993; Reeves et al., 1985; Thorson & Lang, 1992). This automatic allocation of resources is a relatively short-term response, occurring over seconds.

The content of the message can also invoke both automatic and controlled allocation of processing resources. …

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