Date of Award

2000

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Joseph N. Cappella

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to assess how emotions elicited by television programs influence the way in which subsequently viewed persuasive messages are cognitively processed. Research on the influence of discrete emotions on information processing has shown that happiness elicits greater peripheral processing, while sadness leads people to engage in greater central processing. It was hypothesized that messages which were placed in a happy program context would be more likely to be processed peripherally, while those that were embedded in a sad program context would be processed centrally. It was also hypothesized that the emotion of the messages themselves would interact with the emotion of the programs, such that a happy message would be more persuasive when placed in a happy program, while a sad message would be rated as more persuasive when placed in a sad program. Two theories were proposed to explain the mechanism through which these effects might work. An experiment was conducted using 148 college undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania. Participants were assigned to one of four experimental conditions, and were shown either a happy or sad program clip, followed by either a happy or sad anti-drug public service announcements. As was predicted, PSAs which were embedded in a happy program were more likely to be processed peripherally, while those that were embedded in a sad program were more likely to be processed centrally. Little evidence was found to suggest that the emotion from the PSAs interacted with the emotion of the programs. However, some evidence was found to suggest that the content of the PSAs interacted with the emotion of the programs. The results suggest that advertisers should consider the emotion that is elicited by the television programming contexts in which their messages appear in order to fully understand the way in which viewers are processing them.

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