Affects and Media Exposure Essay

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Affect covers various concepts, such as moods, feelings, and emotions and indicates either a positive or negative feeling state. Mood relates to an enduring affective state, no felt urgency, and not clearly elicited by an external event. Moods may also have a biochemical source, such as experimentally induced epinephrine effects. Emotion is clearly defined by a specific event, with a beginning  and  ending,  has an  object and  relates to meaningful events. Emotions  comprise the  felt need to (not) act to serve one’s goals or concerns. Experiencing (or felt) emotions should be differentiated from the expression of emotions (depicted). Mood management theory states that  people select particular media programming in order to avoid negative and restore pleasant feeling states. Through empathy with the sufferings of others, we feel empathic distress and fear for the fate of the sympathetic protagonist, whereas we hope for the devastation of his/ her  rivals. Numerous related concepts have evolved such as parasocial interactions and relationships or presence. Scholars proposed using an umbrella concept (e.g., emotional involvement; appreciation) to be defined in terms of a tradeoff of parallel positive (e.g., empathy)  and  negative (e.g., detachment) affects (Konijn & Hoorn 2005).

Furthermore,  uses and  gratifications  theory states that we seek media exposure for affective, informative, social, or dispersion-seeking motivations. Social Comparison  Theory adds that looking at others’ sufferings may make us feel better. Aggressiveness from violent media exposure has largely been studied from a social cognitive theory perspective. Emotion psychology further explains why we seek affective gratifications  by media  exposure just for the  sake of being moved and the social sharing of emotions following basic human needs (Konijn 2012).

In the context of persuasion, ads, and commercials, the study of affect, mood, and emotions has evolved as a field on its own, because (even negative) “emotions sell” (Williams & Aaker 2002). Mostly studied are fear appeals,  humor,  and attaching sexual affect to commercial content in creating a positive association with the product. The results of such affect-laden    advertisements    are    mixed    because consumers  may  remember  the  affect-arousing image (e.g., the joke) but  not  the message, the affect-laden images may not match with the advertised product, or be considered irrelevant by the consumer. In addition, social factors like watching with friends and relatives may further increase the affective response and the program’s effectiveness. Through the world-wide-web, much traditional media fare is readily available alongside interactive digital  offerings,  such  as  online  gaming  and social media. As in real life, social and virtual lives are filled with affect and emotions. For example, boys play violent games to vent their anger, while others are engaged in cyberbullying, reviving the moral panic debate. Affective computing (Picard  1997)  is  an  emerging  research  field focused on adding emotion to technology to make the  interaction   more  human-like.  Importantly, increased interaction with ‘virtual others’, such as virtual tutors,  synthetic health coaches, and care robots is foreseen due to aging and limited resources.

Affect, moods, and emotions influence how the information  derived from media exposure is processed. Emotional processing limits the capacity to cognitively process and store  the  information.  Systematic (experimental) studies are scarce, especially on the role of emotions in acquiring real-world knowledge from fictional content. Research shows that emotionalized viewers are more inclined to take fiction for real than are non-emotional  viewers. Based on neurobiological and  developmental  neuroscience,  these  scholars argued that because emotions are our ‘life-vests,’ they tell us what information to take seriously – mediated or not (Konijn 2012). Future research is warranted in detailing how affective processing of media  fare impacts our knowledge structures, especially given our current ‘mediated society’ and the hybrid ‘reality status’ of many media messages, where affect and emotions may take the lead.


  1. Döveling, K., Von Scheve, C., & Konijn, E. A. (eds.) (2010). The Routledge handbook of emotions and mass media. London: Routledge.
  2. Frijda, N. H. (1986). The emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  3. Konijn, E. A. (2012). The role of emotion in media use and effects. In: Dill, K. (ed.). The Oxford handbook of media psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 186–211.
  4. Konijn, E. A. & Hoorn, J. F. (2005). Some like it bad. Media Psychology, 7(2), 107–144.
  5. Picard, R. W. (1997). Affective computing. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  6. Williams, P. & Aaker, J. L. (2002). Can mixed emotions peacefully coexist? Journal of Consumer Research, 28, 636–649.

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