Individual Differences in Coping with Stressful Mass Media An Activation-Arousal View

Authors

  • GLENN G. SPARKS,

    1. Glenn G. Sparks (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin—Madison) is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907.
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  • MELISSA M. SPIREK

    1. Melissa M. Spirek (M.A., Cleveland State University) is a doctoral student in the Department of Communication at Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907. The authors express their thanks to Professor John O. Greene and to three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article.
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Abstract

In this article, we summarize recent advances in the study of behavioral dispositions by detailing the activation-arousal framework. This approach locates the origin of behavioral traits in the activation and arousal systems and, consequently, it offers a more fundamental explanation of personality traits than is typically seen in the mass communication literature. In the interest of applying this view, we propose the Miller Behavioral Style Scale (MBSS) as a measure of an individual's tendency toward activation or arousal. Study I was conducted to test the prediction that scores on the MBSS would be related to the intensity of negative affect during a film segment from Nightmare on Elm Street. The results were encouraging in that the predicted relationship emerged between the MBSS and skin conductance responses. Study U was conducted to test the prediction that scores on the MBSS would be related to information-seeking of highly negative emotional information transmitted by the media when the space shuttle, Challenger, exploded. The results indicated support for this prediction. Implications for future research in mass communication are discussed.

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