Emotional Television Scenes and Hemispheric Specialization

Authors

  • BYRON REEVES,

    1. Byron Reeves (Ph.D., Michigan State University, 1976) is a Professor in the Department of Communication, Stanford University. Annie Lang (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1987) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communications, Washington State University.
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  • ANNIE LANG,

    1. Byron Reeves (Ph.D., Michigan State University, 1976) is a Professor in the Department of Communication, Stanford University. Annie Lang (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1987) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communications, Washington State University.
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  • ESTHER THORSON,

    1. Esther Thorson (Ph.D., University of Minnesota, 1974) is an Associate Professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin—Madison.
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  • MICHAEL ROTHSCHILD

    1. Michael Rothschild (Ph.D., Stanford University, 1974) is a Professor in the School of Business, University of Wisconsin—Madison. This research was supported by a grant from the American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.
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Abstract

This study examined hemispheric differences1 in cortical arousal as a function of positive and negative emotional television scenes. A three-factor within-subjects design was used: hemispheres (right and left), location of cortical arousal (frontal and occipital), and emotional content of messages (positive and negative). Based on findings that the frontal cortex responds differently to emotional stimuli, it was predicted that negative television content would produce greater right hemisphere activity, and that positive content would produce greater left hemisphere activity, but that differences would be apparent only in the frontal region. The results confirmed these predictions. There was a significant interaction between hemisphere and emotional content for frontal alpha, but no interaction for occipital alpha.2 There were two other main effects: (1) greater cortical arousal for negative than positive scenes, and (2) greater occipital than frontal arousal. The results are discussed in relation to a definition of emotional scenes that emphasizes approach (positive emotion) versus withdrawal (negative emotion), and in relation to hemispheric specialization and the ability of television to prime overt behavior.

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