Testing the effects of excitation from violent entertainment media on persuasion
This study examined the effects of excitation from entertainment features on persuasion. The overlap of entertainment and persuasion dates back to oral cultures, and entertainment features in contemporary persuasive messages are common. However, there is a lack of research that empirically addresses the persuasive effects of residual excitation, which can result from entertainment features. The purpose of this study was to test whether or not residual excitation from a violent entertainment media stimulus could make participants more prone to persuasion from fallacious arguments containing appeals to emotion (emotional arguments). Additionally, this study explored how residual excitation from the same stimulus could affect persuasion from non-fallacious arguments containing minimal appeals to emotion (rational arguments). Responses to rational and emotional arguments were compared in a pre-post design. Drawing on ancient Greek concepts of entertainment features, emotion, and persuasion as well as contemporary psychology of entertainment theory, this study posited that arousal phenomena such as the excitation transfer effect could affect persuasion and tested this notion using a 2x2 within-subject design. Participants' heart rates and skin conductance responses were used as measures of excitation. The test arguments were fictional trial closing defense arguments. Participants were asked to imagine themselves on the jury and rate how likely they would be to acquit or convict the defendant based on the evidence they heard in each defense argument. Results indicated that after watching the violent Omaha Beach invasion scene from the film, Saving Private Ryan, participants, contrary to prediction, had less physiological excitation than before watching and were persuaded significantly more by rational than emotional arguments. However, participants tended to be more persuaded by rational than emotional arguments throughout the study (both pre and post-stimulus). Although emotional argument persuasion did increase slightly after the stimulus, this increase was not statistically significant. Thus, the stimulus and the resulting deficit of physiological excitation seemed to have little effect on persuasion. Additionally, the observed calming effect of the stimulus suggests the dominant notions about the excitatory effects of violent cinematic media may need to be reevaluated. Other implications, limitations, and potential research directions are also discussed.