Affect, Mood, and Emotion as Determinants of Selective Exposure
Dolf Zillmann Indiana University
Jennings Bryant University of Houston
Upon cursory reflection, most people seem to agree that when it comes to consuming entertainment, individuals have distinctive tastes. These tastes tend to be thought of as comparatively stable, lasting preferences for certain kinds of music, comedy, drama, sports, and the like. The formation of these tastes is usually deemed a mystery, however. Regarding good taste or bad taste, people are said to have it or not. Attributions such as these certainly give the impression that taste is mainly a hereditary trait and minimally, if at all, affected by experience.
The suggestion that entertainment preferences might vary with affects, moods, and emotions generally evokes considerable skepticism. It seems to be counterintuitive because people tend to believe that, if they are free to choose, they usually select whatever best meets their seemingly never changing taste. And if, on occasion, they watch or listen to something above or below their taste, they believe that they would be aware of it. Such beliefs further support the conviction that taste manifests itself in a stable set of choice criteria that tell the respondent which selections are good, right, or appropriate and which are not.
In this chapter, we challenge the colloquial wisdom on taste and reverse the presumed sequence of events. Instead of accepting the idea that taste, as a trait of unknown origin, governs entertainment choices throughout all conceivable emotions, we attempt to show that the choice behavior in question grows from a situational context and that affective and emotional states and reactions play a key role in the formation of rather stable content preferences. We first present our theoretical proposals concerning the formation of these preferences and then discuss the research evidence that pertains to them.