Media Equation Theory Essay

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The term ‘media equation’ means that media equal real life. It implies that people process technology- mediated experiences in the same way as they would do non-mediated experiences, because an “individual’s interactions with computers, television, and new media are fundamentally social and natural, just like interaction in real life” (Reeves & Nass 1996, 5). More recently, Reeves and his colleagues have usually worked on the first issue, whereas Nass and his lab members have focused on the latter issue under the research paradigm of ‘Computers Are Social Actors (CASA).’

Media equation studies on audience responses to physical features of traditional media can be categorized into two parts: media and emotion; and media and form. With regard to media and emotion, Reeves and his colleagues provide convincing results that the emotional valence (good vs bad) of media stimuli has the same effect on the brain as real-life stimuli in terms of electroencephalogram (EEG) activities.

Studies on media and form have focused on audience responses to five physical characteristics of media forms: size; fidelity; synchrony; motion; and scene changes. With regard to audience responses to image size, the studies found that big objects on the screen yield more arousal, better memory (descriptive, not image recognition), and more positive social responses (e.g., social attraction, credibility) than smaller ones even when the content is identical. These results confirm general human attention to and preference for big objects in real life. In contrast to audience responses to image sizes, the visual fidelity of a scene does not bring significant differences in arousal, attitudes, and memory. These results indicate that both virtual and real-life objects are visually processed in the same way in media events and pseudo-events 355 which objects and environments are mainly processed through the peripheral vision field, rather than the foveal vision field.

In the CASA research paradigm, Nass and his colleagues have studied user responses to social characteristics of computers and software agents. This research paradigm is based on the idea that when confronted with a machine that has anthropomorphic cues related to fundamental human characteristics, individuals automatically respond socially, are swayed by the fake human characteristics, and do not process the fact that the machine is not a human. For instance, users evaluate computers positively when the computers behave politely, flatter them, and criticize themselves (as opposed to blaming others), in the same way that people like other people who are polite, flattering, and/or self-criticizing. The second-generation CASA studies expanded the domain of research to e-commerce, voice user interfaces, and human– robot interaction. For instance, researchers found that even with conscious knowledge of the nature of synthetic voice, humans keep responding to the synthetic voice as if it were a real human voice and apply various social rules and long-term artificial cognitive development (Lee et al. 2006).

The main reason for the media equation phenomenon is that human brains evolved in a world in which all perceived objects were real physical objects and only humans possessed human-like shapes and human-like characteristics such as language, rapid interaction, emotion, personality, and so on. Therefore, to human minds, anything that seemed to be real was real and any object that seemed to possess human characteristics such as language was a real human.


  1. Lee, K. M., Peng, W., Yan, C., & Jin, S. (2006). Can robots manifest personality? An empirical test of personality recognition, social responses, and social presence in human–robot interaction. Journal of Communication, 56, 754–772.
  2. Moon, Y. (2000). Intimate exchanges: Using computers to elicit self-disclosure from consumers. Journal of Consumer Research, 26, 324–340.
  3. Nass, C. & Brave, S. (2005). Wired for speech: How voice activates and advances the human–computer relationship. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  4. Nass, C. & Moon, Y. (2000). Machines and mindlessness: Social responses to computers. Journal of Social Issues, 56, 81–103.
  5. Reeves, B. & Nass, C. (1996). The media equation: How people treat computers, television, and new media like real people and places. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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