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A Case for an Integrative View on Affect Regulation

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A Case for an Integrative View on Affect Regulation
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  A case for an integrative view on affect regulationthrough media usage HOLGER SCHRAMM and WERNER WIRTH AbstractZillmann’s mood-management theory (Zillmann, 1988) has acquired a prominent place in media psychology and makes reliable predictions about people’s hedonistically motivated mood regulation via entertainment offer-ings. However, the full potential for explaining affect regulation throughmedia usage has not been exhausted so far. Therefore, we aim at an inte- grative view of the field based on empirical findings from communicationstudies as well as on the background of contemporary theories of mood (regulation) and emotion (regulation). The purpose of this analysis is toargue towards an integrative theoretical perspective which considers bothunconscious and conscious/reflected processes of affect regulation throughmedia, supplements the hedonistic motive with other non-hedonistic, instru-mental motives of affect regulation, looks at selection behavior as well as at other behavioral and cognitive strategies of affect regulation, and encompasses individual attributes (particularly those with affinity to af- fects).Keywords: communication theory, mood management, emotion, emotionregulation, reception processes, media selection, media use Over the past twenty years, Zillmann’s mood-management theory (1988;abbreviated as “MMT”) has acquired a central and prominent place inmedia psychology (Oliver, 2003). Primarily, it explains why people turnto the media for mood regulation and proposes which media offeringsthey are likely to select depending on their mood state. Essentially,MMT explains the  selection  of media offerings and is empirically well-supported. Both results from laboratory experiments as well as resultsfrom studies with a quasi-experimental or a correlative design have con- Communications 33 (2008), 27  46 03412059/2008/033  0027DOI 10.1515/COMMUN.2008.002   Walter de Gruyter  28  Holger Schramm and Werner Wirth tributed to the empirical validation of its central propositions (for re-views cf. Oliver, 2003; Schramm, 2005).However, not all findings from other studies on mood and emotionregulation through media usage can be explained by MMT. In someinstances, either minimal mood improvement was observed or mediaselection and mood improvement were dependent on specific individualfactors (e.g., Mares and Cantor, 1992; Oliver, 1993; Oliver, Weaver, andSargent, 2000; Schramm, 2005). Even in studies that were conductedunder the MMT paradigm, differences in media selection between experi-mental conditions (e.g., positive vs. negative mood) were often in accor-dance with the theory only on a  relative , but not on an  absolute  basis.For example, in an experiment conducted by Knobloch and Zillmann(2002), subjects in a negative mood selected more happy media offeringsthan sad ones, which was in accordance with the theory. However, sub- jects in a positive mood-state selected more sad music than happy music,which was not predicted by the theory to this extent. Bringing to mindthe variety of results in studies on mood/emotion (regulation) as  effect of media consumption (for reviews cf. Cantor, 2002; Sparks and Sparks,2002; Weaver and Tamborini, 1996; Wirth and Schramm, 2005), it be-comes apparent that MMT can predict certain emotional effects verywell, while other effects need additional theoretical explanations. Toovercome this theoretical shortage and to broaden the theoretical per-spective on this research field, we need to look first at the milestones of MMT, including Zillmann’s additional assumptions and annotations inlater publications (e.g., Zillmann, 1998, 2000). By doing this, we assumeto point up the explanatory power of MMT in a certain area and    atthe same time    to clarify what aspects have to be explained by othertheoretical approaches. Mood-Management Theory MMT, with its various hypotheses, is based on two hedonistic premises.First, individuals tend to avoid or terminate aversive stimulations/moodsof any kind or to reduce their intensity at any time. Secondly, they corre-spondingly tend to maintain gratifying or pleasurable stimulations/moods or to increase their intensity (Zillmann, 1988). Proposition threeof his theory is of central importance for media usage: The more theexternal stimulus arrangement is restricted to entertainment usage, themore the individual takes advantage of these offerings in order to mini-mize unpleasant aversive stimulations/moods and to maximize pleasur-able stimulations/moods; in terms of temporal duration as well as of intensity. As these premises and propositions set the frame for the whole  Affect regulation  29theory, all subsequent hypotheses of MMT are restricted to  hedonisti-cally  motivated regulation processes.In Zillmann’s opinion (2000), the central  paradigm  of his theory is stillthe more or less  automatic  managing of moods through the selectionand usage of media entertainment offerings via operant learning: Peoplenormally turn their attention to those media programs with which theyhave had positive experiences in the past, thus, which had a positiveeffect on their moods. By experiencing this positive effect again andagain, people learn to choose the same media programs in comparablesituations without being aware of it.According to Zillmann (2003), even  emotions  develop more or lessautomatically, mostly without participation of the neocortex, and arerelatively independent of reflective thinking or conscious processing. 1 Zillmann denies the  necessity  of cognitive thinking for emotional reac-tions, but assumes that all activities are at least under the control of continuous cognitive monitoring. On the other hand, he conceptualizes mood   as an experience “characterized by the absence of targeted, con-summatory behavior” (Zillmann, 2003, p. 551). That is why MMT isrestricted to mostly  automatic  and  unconscious  mood regulation pro-cesses.Apart from that, MMT is based on assumptions of the two-factormodel of emotion by Schachter and Singer (1962). The fundamental ideais that affect (mood and emotion) is merely the product of attributionof arousal that is produced by  external   stimuli. All these considerationsunderestimate the importance of ‘internally produced’ cognitions andthe person’s own deliberative strategies concerning the formation andregulation of mood, and it becomes evident why MMT is focused on the configuration  of   externally  available stimuli as the fundamental strategyfor changing mood states.As a last milestone, Zillmann differs between entertainment and infor-mation/education offerings with respect to their mood managing power:According to Zillmann, the  well-considered   usage of entertainment offer-ings motivated by their informative/instrumental benefit is of secondaryimportance. As for the usage of informational and educational offerings,however, Zillmann regards  instrumental   goals of primary importance.Here, short-run hedonistic motives like immediate mood improvementcan recede to the background because recipients consciously focus on acontent of high educational value, which will hopefully help them dealwith life more effectively in the future. Thus, the usage of ‘negative’stressful media offerings can also be explained (see also Zillmann, 1998).In summary, according to Zillmann, mood regulation is hedonisticallymotivated and results in a spontaneous, unreflected selection of primaryentertainment offerings, whereas in non-hedonistic media usage, the ben-  30  Holger Schramm and Werner Wirth efit associated with information for one’s own life is of utmost impor-tance. This results in the conscious and reflective selection of specializededucational and informational offerings. MMT, however, does not claimto explain these usage aspects either. According to Zillmann (2000), thefuture goal would be to formulate multiple theories of focus on specificmedia genres within the framework of the selective exposure approach.In contrast, we think that stimuli specific theories should not be themain focus of theory development in this field as media genres changegradually over decades and viewers differ in reacting emotionally to me-dia content. Therefore, we see the solution in an  integrative  theoreticalview on the formation of affects as well as on the motives and abilitiesto regulate them. Dimensions of an integrative view on affect regulationthrough media usage As a whole, MMT is a consistent theory with clear distinctions. It coversthe hedonistic, unconscious, and unreflective selection of entertainmentofferings in externally restricted stimulus arrangements. However, wefeel a need to complement this perspective with other aspects of affectregulation deriving from contemporary theories of emotion (regulation)and mood (regulation) as well as from findings of communication stud-ies. In all, we will discuss four aspects. First, we refer to MMT’s uncon-scious, automatic selection behavior as regulation strategy and the neces-sity of considering conscious, reflected strategies and processes as well.In the second section, we discuss if there are, apart from hedonism,other motives instigating affect regulation. Thirdly, we present regulationstrategies other than selection behavior that are examined and debatedin publications on psychology of emotion, many of which have alreadybeen applied in media-related studies. Finally, we discuss the possibilitiesof how considering individual attributes can enrich an extended view onaffect regulation through media usage. Unconscious, automatic regulation behavior and conscious,reflective regulation behavior In MMT, moods arise automatically, without the participation of cogni-tive or conscious processes. MMT also assumes learnt operant mecha-nisms, which the individual is not necessarily aware of. Even the hedo-nistic motives underlying mood regulation processes generally are notconscious (Zillmann, 1988, 2000). Emotion psychologists differentiatebetween unconscious and conscious processes, too (e.g., Frijda, 1993;Oehman, 1999). However, according to them, not only emotions and
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