Apparently, consumers watch more negativity on entertainment TV when the news is saturated with stories of mass murders, police misconduct, and “me too” courtroom antics, according to a recent University of California, Davis study.
The use of media by people to control their emotions has long been recognized by researchers. The study’s corresponding author, questioned why some people choose to see a Disney animated film and others a biography about the Holocaust.
Researchers found that the majority of the hundreds of participants in their survey consistently preferred negative media over positive media across a three-year period from 2020 to 2023, which encompassed both pandemic closures and nonpandemic months. All adults under the age of 50 saw this outcome. It seems that those 50 and older prefer less depressing, more escapist media entertainment.
The research was published in the Journal of Communication on June 12 and consisted of three distinct computational decision-making trials.
Huskey, who is also the director of the Cognitive Communication Science Lab and a collaborator with the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain, described how researchers used to think about how people utilize media to manage their emotions as follows: “The’reason’ someone chose to watch a sitcom last night instead of a crime drama may have been that they had a bad day at work and needed something to lift their spirits.”
However, since it was originally investigated in the 1980s, this explanation has drawn varying degrees of support. Why would anyone want to see movies like Schindler’s List if what I just said is accurate? Therefore, UC Davis and Michigan State researchers set out to discover the causes of that behavior.
They discovered that the majority of viewers chose negative and highly arousing material in research with college students and a nationally representative adult population by age, gender, and race totaling more than 500 persons. In addition, it appears that placing people in a bad mood increases their preference for even worse material.
“Sometimes, people are in a bad mood, and they use the media to amplify that mood,” Huskey added. He claimed the discovery was unexpected.
It demonstrates that people utilize media for emotional regulation, but in a way that is really dissimilar from what we’d anticipate, he added.
This discovery may astound entertainment apps as well. The researchers looked at people’s choices in media as well as how they choose what to watch. “That is what makes computational models so powerful,” said Xuanjun (Jason) Gong, a PhD candidate and the study’s primary author. “They offer fresh perspectives on the psychological mechanisms influencing our choices.”
Using a computational model, the researchers investigated whether people make more careful or careless decisions and discovered that people are far more cautious when two options that are almost identical are presented.
The researchers noted that Netflix, for instance, presents quite similar options side-by-side, such as a series of spy films, a plethora of period costume dramas, or comedies, which might cause viewer hesitation. The viewer can select from a variety of media kinds when they channel surf or look at other apps that offer movies or fun shows. A spectator might become less picky as a result. People are more likely to select the option for unfavorable media in those situation, the study found.