Individual Differences in Emotional and Physiological Responses to Televised Sports Violence: A Test of Sensation Seeking Theory
Hatfield, Bradley D.
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Purpose: To test sensation-seeking theory as an explanation for individual differences in emotional and physiological responses to violence in televised sports and account for sex differences in those responses. Methods: One hundred ten non-smoking subjects prescreened for the personality trait of sensation seeking were selected for the experiment. Subjects viewed two videos of plays from professional football games; one featuring violent action, the other showing little or no violence, and a video of natural scenery (neutral content) as a distraction between the two treatment videos to minimize any carry-over effects. Participants' emotional responses (levels of pleasure and arousal) were subjected to two separate 2 (sensation seeking) x 2 (biological sex) x 3 (video treatment) x 2 (order of video treatment) ANOVAs, while participants' physiological reactions (heart rate, skin conductance, and respiration) were subjected to three separate 2 (sensation seeking) x 2 (biological sex) x 3 (video treatment) x 2 (viewing period) x 2 (order of video treatment) ANOVAs to test the study's main hypotheses. Results: Emotional (self-reported levels of pleasure and arousal) and physiological responses (heart rate, skin conductance, and respiration) were not different between high and low sensation seekers for either high- or low-violence televised sports. However, high sensation seekers did report higher levels of pleasure (for both sexes) and exhibit faster mean respiration (for males only) when watching high-violence televised sports than neutral content, and the pleasure level was significantly higher for high sensation seekers (for both sexes) when watching low-violence televised sports than neutral content. Significant sex differences in self-reported levels of pleasure and arousal were observed; males reported higher levels of pleasure than females when watching high-violence televised sports, and males reported less arousal than females when watching low-violence televised sports. Sex differences in physiological responses were also found; however, the direction of the effect was inconsistent. In addition, viewers' self-reported pleasure and arousal increased with the degree of violence; nevertheless, this relationship was more pronounced in males than in females. Conclusions: Sensation-seeking theory failed to account for individual and sex differences in emotional and physiological responses to sports violence; however, the data support the notion that high sensation seekers enjoyed arousing and exciting media content (both high- and low-violence football plays) more than milder themes (neutral content). Although previous studies have found that the preference for violent televised sports, such as football, is associated with sensation seeking, the results indicated there might be other characteristics besides violent content that account for sensation seekers attraction to football. Biological sex was found to be a strong predictor of spectators' responses to sports violence. In addition, this study provides support for previous research suggesting that violence contributes to viewers' arousal and enjoyment of televised sports, especially for male viewers.