Is Watching Others Self-Disclose Enjoyable? An Examination of the Effects of Depth and Mode of Information Delivery in Entertainment Media
 
Student researcher

Mina Tsay (PhD Student)

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. Mary Beth Oliver

Introduction

One of the ways in which relationships develop and become more intimate is through the exchange of personal feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and desires. If self-disclosure is conceptualized as a means by which closeness or familiarity is produced between partners (under the premise that the disclosure is not negative), can such a response be attributable to mediated forms of self-disclosure between a viewer and character on television? This study empirically tests the effects of two dimensions of self-disclosure?depth and mode of information delivery in the context of media entertainment. This research extends the self-disclosure construct’s role beyond interpersonal relationships, providing a richer understanding of how information exchange can heighten audience involvement with mediated texts.

Hypotheses

H1: The effect of depth of information on identification is mediated by perceptions of the character’s vulnerability.
H2: Character identification is positively related to a viewer’s enjoyment.
H3: Depth of information disclosed is positively related to uncertainty reduction.
H4: The effect of uncertainty reduction on enjoyment is mediated by transportation.
H5: Identification is greatest when a character self-discloses to a viewer, followed by when a character self-discloses to a character, and least when a narrator discloses to a viewer.
H6: The difference in identification between character-to-viewer and character-to-character self-disclosure is greater for private than for public information, with private character-to-viewer self-disclosure having the greatest identification effect.

Method

Participants (N = 185) were randomly assigned to one of six conditions in a 2 (Depth of Information: Public, Private) X 3 (Mode of Information Delivery: Character-to-Viewer, Character-to-Character, Narrator-to-Viewer) between-subjects post-test only experiment. In each condition, subjects were randomly exposed to either a female or a male character. Participants were informed that they would be watching a segment from MTV’s The Real World about a target person. After viewing the clip, they reported their thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of the video.

Results

Findings indicate that perceived vulnerability partially mediated the relationship between depth of information and identification

Figure 1: Perceptions of character’s vulnerability mediating the effect of depth of information on identification

Note 1. * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001
Note 2. Depth of information was dummy coded (0: Public, 1: Private).
Note 3. Number inside parenthesis is the standardized ß coefficient when the dependent variable is regressed on the independent variable alone, without including the mediating variable in the equation.

A character difference was found in the relationship between perceived vulnerability and identification, with perceived vulnerability significantly predicting identification for the male character. In addition, uncertainty reduction proved to be a function of both depth of information and character. For the male character, a viewer’s uncertainty was significantly more reduced with private information than with public information. Further, transportation was revealed as a potent mediator in the effect of uncertainty reduction on overall enjoyment

Figure 2: Transportation mediating the effect of uncertainty reduction on enjoyment

Note 1. * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001
Note 2. Depth of information was dummy coded (0: Public, 1: Private).
Note 3. Number inside parenthesis is the standardized ß coefficient when the dependent variable is regressed on the independent variable alone, without including the mediating variable in the equation.

However, a character effect was found in the relationship between uncertainty reduction and transportation, with uncertainty reduction being a stronger predictor of transportation for the male character. Moreover, character identification was a function of mode of information delivery, in that identification was greater when self-disclosure occurred than when it did not. Identification also served as a strong predictor of a viewer’s enjoyment. Lastly, an interactive effect of depth and mode of information delivery on identification was found, with viewers reporting the greatest identification when exposed to private character-to-character self-disclosures.

Conclusions

This study theoretically contributes to our understanding of the contexts in which interpersonal relationships may be functionally equivalent to mediated relationships. Findings support the mediated processes of identification and transportation as pathways through which depth and mode predict viewer enjoyment. Results provide substantial evidence for the distinctive effect of self-disclosure by a character, as compared to a third party. More specifically, the level of intimate disclosure positively influences viewer involvement (e.g., identification and transportation) with entertainment content. Although mediated relationships have received considerable attention in PSI literature, it is critical to acknowledge the efficacy of “character address” through not only visual cues, but also personal information exchange. Increased audience engagement and enjoyment through heightened intimacy is indicative of the similarity between face-to-face and character-to-viewer relationships, suggesting implications for the development of interpersonal and mediated interactions, societal expectations of privacy, effective entertainment formats, and the nature of online self-disclosure.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. Mary Beth Oliver by e-mail at mbo@psu.edu or by telephone at (814) 863-5552

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Media Effects Research Lab at College of Communications, Penn State University