Are Graphics Helpful in Comprehension of Online News?
James Berry, Kristy McCarville, Michael Wilson, & Sandra Wirth (BA
This paper is based on a project from an undergraduate Media Effects course.
Dr. S. Shyam Sundar
Online news sites are becoming increasingly popular and familiar since
they benefit the reader by having no subscription costs, ease of access
and indexing, among other advantages. It is also possible to use different
technological features such as animated graphics to secure the attention
of the reader. Since traditional newspapers do not have this advantage,
it is felt that if animation does increase the comprehension and interest
in news stories, then online news will increasingly gain audiences over
traditional newspapers. This study examines the effects of animated graphics
in online news stories on memory.
Findings from previous studies led to the following hypotheses:
H1: Animated graphics will help maintain the interest of the subject,
such that those participants who read an online news story with animated
graphics will perceive the story to be significantly more interesting
than those participants who read the same story without animated graphics.
According to the Elaboration Likelihood Model, the central route to attitude
change occurs when a person has the ability or motivation to carefully
scrutinize a message. However, when a person does not have the ability
or motivation, or finds the message irrelevant, attitude change occurs
via the peripheral route, as a result of some simple cues (such as attractive
source, graphics, humor etc.) in the persuasion context. This leads to
the following hypothesis:
H2: Participants will perceive the presence of animated graphics as peripheral
cues when reading irrelevant stories, and will consequently rate the stories
to be more enjoyable and interesting than subjects in the text-only condition.
Thirty-two participants took part in a between-participants experiment.
They were exposed to two online news stories that were designed to evoke
neither strong positive or negative reactions. However, one of the stories
was of great personal relevance while the other was designed to be irrelevant
to typical college-aged students. Half the participants read the stories
in text-only form while the other half read the same content with the
presence of animated graphics. Both the experimental conditions were identical
in content but differed slightly in terms of layout. After participants
read the page, their memory for story content was measured by a battery
of recall and recognition questions administered via a paper-and-pencil
H1: Not supported. The results indicate that comprehension was about
the same for participants in both conditions.
H2: Not supported. The results indicate that participants in the animated
graphics condition did not perceive the stories as being significantly
more enjoyable and interesting than those participants in the text-only
While the results indicate the presence of animated graphics have no
effect on either comprehension or liking of online news content, future
research should address other issues such as the combination of different
types of modalities (such as text-only, text-audio, text-graphics etc.)
as well as different types of news stories.