Testing the Selection Processing Model: the Influence of Program Related Needs


David W. Schumann, Esther Thorson, and Deborah Rosen (1989) ,"Testing the Selection Processing Model: the Influence of Program Related Needs", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16, eds. Thomas K. Srull, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 495-501.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16, 1989      Pages 495-501


David W. Schumann, University of Tennessee

Esther Thorson, University of Wisconsin

Deborah Rosen, University of Tennessee

Over the past three decades, the study of television context effects has been rapidly expanding (Schumann and Thorson, 1987; Singh, Churchill and Hitchon, 1987). In particular, questions concerning the impact of programming on commercial effectiveness have resulted in a number of interesting studies. However, like much empirical work in advertising communication, the research has been characterized by various theoretical frameworks, disagreement about definitions of critical variables, and diverse methodologies. In an effort to integrate and explain the results of 30 years of program context effects research, we have recently presented the Selection - Processing Model of program context effects (Schumann and Thorson, 1987). The model has been proposed as a means of tying together past research and making predictions concerning how and when programs will affect commercial processing.

The model dissects the television viewing experience and provides a set of possible viewing states (see Figure 1). For each viewing state, a predicted outcome is offered. These outcomes center around whether or not the program has influenced the effectiveness of advertising as measured by memory for commercials and attitude toward the advertising and product (brand). Indeed, if a context effect is predicted, the model characterizes the nature of the effect (i.e., memory enhancement - memory damage; positive or negative attitude influence).

The defining feature of the Selection Processing Model is that it distinguishes two different actions by which programs can affect commercials. "Selection" is defined in terms of choosing to watch television as opposed to doing something else (STATES 1, 2, and 3A). Issues concerning selection include whether television is watched to the exclusion of all other overt behavior, or whether television watching shares time with other behaviors (e.g., eating, talking, reading). The second action, "processing" activity, occurs only after selection to watch television has occurred (STATES 3B, 4, SA, SB, 6A, 6B, 6C). It involves covert occurrences in the viewer and includes motivation, attention, thinking, and feeling.


Each of the presented actions contains key conceptual elements that help define the respective states. Within the "processing" action, the level of program related need is presented as a critical variable that is predicted to moderate the nature in which programming can influence attitudes formed from advertising (STATE SA). It is believed to be dependent on the presence of a rather intense state of program-induced affect (STATE 4). In support of this contention. Isen and her colleagues (Isen et al., 1982) have suggested that intensity may interact with valence to mediate the influence of emotion on cognition and behavior. These researchers contend that

"...really intense emotions may have quite different consequences for cognition than do weaker feelings of the same valence."

Berlyne (1971) has suggested that very low and very intense levels of arousal result in unpleasant feelings. Furthermore, a decrease in intensity and/or an increase toward moderate intensity is believed to lead to- a more pleasant affective response.

In reacting to a program that has evoked a strong positive or negative affective response, the model posits the necessity to determine whether this viewing situation contains a strong drive toward the fulfillment of a program-related need. This need is analogous to the classical "approach/avoidance" conditions found throughout the study of motivational psychology.

McClelland (1985) has suggested that stimuli that result in an approach type response may include small variations from what was expected as well as exposure to something highly attractive or agreeable. Responses would include interest-surprise-curiosity and excitement. Stimuli that result in an avoidance type response may include exposure to something that results in a large variation from expectancy, inconsistency, conflict, or pain. Responses to avoidance type stimuli include distress (leading to attempts to relieve distress and increase consistency), and fear (leading to attempts to avoid fear). For example, studies with animals have found curiosity (exploratory behavior) present with moderate amounts of novelty, and freeze or escape behavior present with extreme amounts of novelty (Fiske and Maddi, 1961).

Applied to program context effects, if a viewer is watching an extremely violent scene in a program and is highly repulsed, then the need to have the program be interrupted (avoidance) may be present. However, if the same scene proves to be less offensive and perhaps even exciting to another person (which may occur as a result of desensitization from years of viewing violent scenes), then that person may be curious as to how the plot will conclude and thus resent interruption in any form. Towards this end, Berlyne (1967) has even suggested that

"...higher animals often find access to stimulation gratifying and properties known to raise arousal--such as novelty, surprisingness, complexity--may enhance the reward value of exteroceptive stimuli. Even pain can apparently be rewarding in small doses."



It is also possible that some viewing experiences provide the viewer with a desire to maintain a positive mood. In these settings the viewer may be laughing at a dialog between characters in a situation comedy, feeling warmth from a romantic love story, or getting wrapped up in an mystery or adventure. Under these conditions, viewers may actually resent being interrupted by commercial messages.

It was decided to explore the nature of program related needs by exposing individuals to high impact programming and measuring 1) intensity and direction of affective response and 2) the reported need for interruption/continuation. What follows is the description or methods and initial findings from an exploratory study.


Forty-four students from a large southeastern state university were employed as subjects for this exploratory study. All subjects viewed an hour long program with commercials removed. Half the subjects viewed an episode of "Thirtysomething" while the other half watched an episode of "MacGyver".

Subjects entered a laboratory and were seated at desks. They were given initial instructions concerning the apparatus in front of them, and were then exposed to one of the two programs. Upon completion of the program, subjects were asked to fill out a brief questionnaire. Once completed, the subjects were debriefed and dismissed. In order to minimize any social influence (hearing or seeing another subject react to a program segment, e.g., laughing, crying), subjects were visually isolated from each other and provided with headphones which served to communicate the audio portion of the program and screen out extraneous noise. Two measures were employed in the study. To monitor affect intensity and direction on a continuous basis, a potentiometer was used. Subjects were provided with a dial that contained a marked midpoint. The subjects were instructed that as they viewed the programming, they were to use the dial to reflect the direction and intensity of their mood. By moving the dial to the right they were noting positive affect. Moving the dial to the left noted negative affect. They were told that increased intensity of feeling should be reflected by moving the dial toward the endpoints. They were given a brief time to try the dial before viewing the program.

After viewing the program, subjects were given a brief questionnaire to complete. The questionnaire described separate scenes in the program and was used to remind the subjects of particular program segments. Using a 7-point semantic differential scale, subjects were asked to reflect on their need "...for the show to be interrupted" versus their need "...for the show to continue without interruption" for each scene described. Subjects viewing Thirtysomething responded to seven different scenes while those viewing MacGyver were asked about six separate scenes. These particular scenes were employed because they were believed to be ones that would evoke high affect intensity levels.


Each scene was analyzed separately. The potentiometer allowed for a response to be recorded every 2 seconds employing a range from 0 to 255 (with 127 serving as the midpoint). Thus each subject had approximately 1400 data points during the span of the program. The points at which the scenes began and ended were used to frame the scores for that scene. Because 1) a subject might take a few moments to move the dial upon a scene change (if they choose to move the dial at all), and 2) the scenes differed in length, it was decided to take the last 40 seconds of a scene as the best representation of the viewer's mood related to that scene. A mean score for each scene was derived and employed in the analysis. These scores were plotted against the need for interruption/ continuation scale (see Figures 2 and 3, Thirtysomething and MacGyver respectively).

As one can easily see (and as might be predicted given the discussion on approach/avoidance above), with one exception, no within scene correlations emerged. This can be explained by the notion that any one scene might affect two people differently. One person might have a high need to have the program continue while another might have a need to have the program interrupted. Indeed, this bimodal trend appears to occur with scenes that potentially contain both approach and avoidance conditions (as dependent upon the interpretation and response of the individual).

Thirtysomething: In the first scene in Thirtysomething, one spouse is informing the other that he is moving out. Since it is early in the show, subjects scoring near the midpoint in affect appear to vary in terms of need for interruption/continuation. Those that have a more severe negative reaction appear to be more inclined to want the program to continue without interruption. In the second scene, the couple are together in the bedroom and the husband is packing. For this scene, a significant positive correlation between the measures emerged, p=.02. This finding suggests that for this scene, the stronger the intensity level for negative affect, the more likely subjects wanted the program interrupted. Since all but one of the points is at or below the midpoint, as subjects neared the midpoint, the likelihood of wanting the program to continue increased.

The third scene was judged by the researchers to be one of the more emotionally involving scenes in the program. It shows the mother with her children reading them bedtime stories. From the scatter plot, it is clear that the scene provides both approach and avoidance conditions. For those subjects scoring at the midpoint or less, with the exception of two subjects, the remaining eighteen were split evenly, with half wanting the program to continue (as interpreted by scores of 6 or 7) and the other half desiring a break from the scene (scores of 1 or 2). The forth scene which depicts the wife talking with a friend, reflects less overall affect intensity and more variance on need for interruption/continuation.

The last three scenes reflect continuing buildup r and increasingly more extreme scores on need for interruption/continuation. Each scene gets increasingly more depressing which is reflected by the potentiometer scores. In the last two scenes, it is clear that one group of subjects preferred to have the program interrupted while another segment wanted to see how the program concludes.

MacGyver: In the episode of MacGyver, five of the six scenes depicted action. For example, in the first scene, MacGyver (the hero in this program) has lost contact with his friend and unless communication is restored, he will be in danger of being subject to a military bombing run. Although affect direction and intensity varied across subjects (which was characteristic of all the scenes in this program), most of the subjects wanted the program to continue without interruption. There were, however, a few viewers that would have-welcomed a break, even at the beginning of the show. As the program progressed, the subjects appeared to report more need for continuation without interruption.

The fifth scene provided an exception. The scene dealt with a scientist exposed to a bacterial compound that advanced the aging process. Despite the efforts of MacGyver and his friend, the scientist and her dog could not be saved and both died. As was similar to the depressing scenes in Thirtysomething, the subjects appeared to be split in terms of need for interruption/continuation. The last scene in MacGyver has the main characters trying to escape the secured laboratory before it self-destructs. For this exciting scene, the subjects obviously desire closure and thus do not want to be interrupted.


The results of this initial exploratory study suggest some promise for both the existence and importance of STATES 4 and 5A of the Selection Processing Model. These initial findings reflect rather large individual differences in reporting direction and levels of affect- intensity within scenes. It also appears that individuals differ in their program related needs. While some clearly wanted a depressing scene to be interrupted (avoidance), others desired to have it continue without interruption (approach). In the adventure scenes, subjects generally wanted the programming to continue without interruption (approach).

As Figure 1 denotes, the Selection - Processing Model makes predictions based upon these program related needs. STATE 6A assumes the presence of a program related need and asks "Does the need reflect a desire to have the program continue?" If relief is desired (reflecting a further desire to have the program interrupted) then STATE 6B goes on to further define the viewing state and offers predictions. On the other hand, if continuation is desired, STATE 6C offers a further viewing state with predictions.

From this exploratory study, subsequent research must focus next on how these program related needs influence the effectiveness of commercials. Will the predictions of the Selection - Processing Model be supported? These questions and others await future tests.






Berlyne, D.E. (1967), "Arousal and reinforcement," In D. Levine (Ed.), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation (Vol 15, pp.l-110) Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Berlyne, D.E. (1971), Aesthetics and Psychobiology. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Fiske, D.W., and S.R. Maddi (1961), The Functions of Varied Experience. Homewood, IL: Dorsey.

Isen, Alice M., Means, Barbara, Patrick, Robert and Gary Nowicki (1982) "Some Factors Influencing Decision Making Strategy and Risk Taking," in Margaret

Sydnor Clark and Susan T. Fiske (eds.), Affect and Cognition. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 243-262.

McClelland, David C. (1985), Human Motivation. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman and Company.

Schumann, David W. and Esther Thorson (1987), "The Influence of Viewing Context on Commercial Effectiveness: A Selection - Processing Model," College of Business Administration Working Paper Series No. 238, University of Tennessee.

Singh, Surendra N., Churchill, Gilbert A., and Jacqueline C. Hitchon (1987), "The Intensifying Effects of exciting Television Programs on the Reception of Subsequent Commercials," working paper, Department of Marketing, University of Kansas.



David W. Schumann, University of Tennessee
Esther Thorson, University of Wisconsin
Deborah Rosen, University of Tennessee


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16 | 1989

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