Journal of Motivation, Emotion, and Personality

Reversal Theory Studies

Why Do People Enjoy Watching Natural Disasters and Human Violence on Television

Author: Mariona Portell and Etienne Mullet
Organization: Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and Institute of Advanced Studies (EPHE), Paris, France

Citation: Portelle, M. and Mullet, E. 2014. Why Do People Enjoy Watching Natural Disasters and Human Violence on Television? A Reversal Theory Perspective. Journal of Motivation, Emotion, and Personality. Vol. 2, No. 1 (2014), pp. 38-49. DOI: 10.12689/jmep.2014.205

Abstract:  We explored the psychological links that may exist between people’s choices of television program, conversation topics around the content of these programs, and people’s perceived degree of threat associated with these programs. The theoretical framework of the study was reversal theory (Apter, 2001). Participants were presented with a series of questionnaires assessing the degree of threat associated with potentially stressful situations (e.g., running of the bulls), the degree of enjoyment associated with television programs dealing with these situations (e.g., watching a report about the running of the bulls), and the degree of enjoyment associated with participation in conversations about these programs. The overall finding was that (a) most people like to watch frightening television programs because they find these situations to be the most entertaining once their negative consequences have been removed, (b) most people like to choose conversation topics centered on risks and risky situations for the same reason, (c) some people dislike watching frightening television programs and do not preferentially choose conversation topics centered on risks and risky situations because these situations, although not real for them, are still highly stressful, and possibly psychologically harmful. We highlight the usefulness of the concept of protective frame in the domain of risk communication, risk perception, and risk behavior.

Keywords: media enjoyment; risk perception; threat; catastrophe; protective frame; reversal theory

DOI: 10.12689/jmep.2014.205

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