Children's Emotional Reactions to a Scary Film The Role of Prior Outcome Information and Coping Style



    1. Cynthia Hoffner (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1988) is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Illinois State University.
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  • The author would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable suggestions. Thanks are also due to Chris Segrin, Scott Meyers, Traci Smith, and Jeffrey Sasser for their contributions and to the staff and students of Metcalf School, Normal, IL, for their cooperation in this research project.


An experiment examined the influence of happy outcome information and coping style on children's emotional responses to a frightening film sequence. Fourth and fifth graders viewed a program that included a threatening scene and a happy resolution. Before viewing, they heard an audiotaped introduction that either described the happy outcome or did not. Children's preferred coping style was classified as blunting or monitoring, using Miller's Child Behavioral Style Scale. Hypotheses were derived from theory and research on emotion, responses to suspense, and self-regulation processes. Consistent with expectations, prior knowledge of the happy outcome reduced self-reported fear and worry for Hunters but not for monitors. Regardless of coping style, outcome information reduced children's facial expressions of fear and increased positive affect during the conclusion of the show. Interpretations of the findings, as well as implications for understanding emotional responses to mass media, are discussed.