Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

The Effects of Audience Reaction Shots on Attitudes towards Controversial Issues

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

The Effects of Audience Reaction Shots on Attitudes towards Controversial Issues

Article excerpt

Producers and directors continuously make editing decisions which affect not only the aesthetics of a television or film production, but also how audiences interpret the events depicted. The various editing devices used in the production process help "shape" media messages so that viewers will respond to them in predictable ways (Zettl, 1990, p. 11). For instance, the number or sequence of shots that are selected may influence the pace of the program, or increase the intensity of a scene. By using a series of rapid cuts, the pace of a show may be intentionally manipulated to heighten audience tension or excitement, while close-up shots may be used to increase the intimacy or dramatic impact of a scene (Whittaker, 1993).

One area where editing decisions play an important role is in televised depictions of the nonverbal behavior of speakers or third party observers. Audiences are influenced by a host of verbal and nonverbal cues when interpreting a speaker's message. We respond not only to the content of a speaker's message, but also to more subtle cues that are conveyed to the observer through a number of nonverbal signals including facial expressions, gestures, and body movements. When a message is communicated through television, the impact of those nonverbal cues takes on another dimension because viewers' attitudes towards the speaker or message may vary depending on how those cues are manipulated during the editing process.

For instance, Sullivan and Masters (1994) found that viewers' attitudes towards President Reagan were influenced by the type of facial display he exhibited in brief videotaped clips that were inserted into televised news stories. Viewers who originally had neutral attitudes towards Reagan were more likely to report feeling positive emotion, and had more positive post-newscast attitudes towards him after seeing newscasts which included clips of Reagan displaying happy/reassuring facial displays, than viewers who saw stories with clips containing angry/threatening facial displays (this effect did not hold for females). The authors argued that for viewers with neutral prior attitudes, attitude change would be based on simple conditioning responses, so that nonverbal cues would elicit positive or negative emotional responses which would then be incorporated into the affective component of viewers' attitudes towards a leader.

Similarly, Aust and Zillmann (1996) found that the nonverbal reactions of interviewees in television newscasts can shape viewers' perceptions of social issues. Viewers who saw a newscast about a national problem which included highly emotional victim testimonials rated the severity of the problem higher, and expressed greater perceived risk of personal victimization than viewers who saw the same report with unemotional, or no victim testimonials. The authors argued that emotional testimonials act as vivid exemplars which viewers rely on when making judgments because they are a readily accessible source of information. Because victim testimonials are often emotional, they are more likely to be salient in memory and disproportionately influence viewers' perceptions of the issue discussed. Thus viewers are more likely to overestimate the frequency with which problems occur, and the probability that they will fall victim to the problem after seeing a newscast with emotional testimonials.

Reaction shots are one of the most commonly used editing devices used to capture and manipulate non-verbal cues in film and television (Messaris, 1994). Producers and directors commonly use close-up reaction shots to convey intimacy, provide clues to a person's character, and intensify the events depicted (Whittaker, 1993; Zettl, 1990). In fictional films, the non-verbal reactions of others are often interspersed during a dialogue in order to convey the thoughts or feelings of other characters in response to a speaker's message. Reaction shots are also frequently used during television interviews and debates. …

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