Acting to Be or Not to Be

I intended to read an “interesting” paper on the influence story length and pace has on channel changing, but what I discovered was so much more. I’m looking at such research to help with my understanding of cross-media navigation. Since there are not many studies in this area I’m looking at anything that relates: intra-medium navigation included. The study gives lots of interesting findings about news stories that were long and short, fast and slow, but I’m not covering these in this post. Of interest to me is the results about motivation to act (channel change).
* Heart rate increases just prior to channel change and decreases after (for both young and older viewers);
* Arousal (emotional experience and physiological response) declines up to the channel change and increases after (more for younger viewers too);
* During infrequent changing viewers had a significantly lower heart rate (therefore expended greater cognitive effort);
* Both ages had better recognition (recall of stories) during periods of infrequent changing?
And the clincher:

Viewers change channels as a result of declining interest and arousal, not because they are highly active and involved. (18)

Now this is obviously known to those researching channel changing behaviour, but for those working in interactive entertainment, the idea is a bit of a revelation. Agency or the empowering of a user to participate and affect a story or game is predicated on the idea that action equates to engagement. For a user to act they must be engaged and want to continue that engagement. This may well be the case, and designing works to facilitate this is still a good idea; however, the habit of equating action with dissatisfaction is obviously entrenched in audiences’ neural pathways. Are we asking viewers, or viewsers, to not only interactive with entertainment when before they were passive, but also to reprogramme themselves everytime? Or is this not an issue? If not, why? What changes? How does interactivity within a creative work differ to interactivity between creative works? This is an important question in the cross-media paradigm where creative works are distributed over lots of works. I don’t have the answers for you right now (…a teaser). Feel free to suggest any though, and I’ll get back to you when I do.


Lang, A., M. Shin, S.D. Bradley, Z. Wang, S. Lee and D. Potter (2005) ‘Wait! Don’t Turn That Dial! More Excitement to Come! The Effects of Story Length and Production Pacing in Local Television News on Channel Changing Behavior and Information Processing in a Free Choice Environment’ in Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Vol. 49, 1, pp:3-22

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