Entertainment Is Emotion RUNNING HEAD: ENTERTAINMENT IS EMOTION.
Entertainment is emotion. The functional architecture of the entertainment experience
The author is indebted to Werner Wirth, Jeroen Jansz and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.
Published as Tan, E.S. (2008) Entertainment is emotion. The functional architecture of the entertainment experience. Media Psychology, 8 (1), 28-51.
Entertainment Is Emotion
Current standard accounts of entertainment have regarded emotions as essential for the entertainment experience, but it has not been understood why emotions are so important for it. Recent views of entertainment as an adaptively significant activity propose that the distal cause of entertainment activity is an unconscious need for training useful capabilities, while the proximal cause is enjoyment of the activity for its own sake. This theoretical paper argues emotions provide the link between distal and proximal causes of engaging in entertainment. An architecture of the entertainment experience based on Steen and Owens’ (2001) account of pretence play is proposed. The entertainment experience is an episode of emotions in response to an ongoing guided imagination. Two categories of emotion shape the entertainment experience: interest is the gomechanism of the entertainment experience and the emotions responding to the specific contents of the imagination, which lend a specific coloring to the experience and are functional in training some adaptive capacity. This architecture contributes to a solution of two problems for a theory of entertainment: the paradox of negative experiences and the perceived reality of entertainment content. In closing, a plea is held for studying the entertainee’s appraisal of the entertainer’s agency and qualities.
Entertainment Is Emotion
The Place of Emotion in Entertainment Standard Account of Entertainment Most people’s intuitions about entertainment seem to center on emotion. First, most people are aware that entertainment productions have the potential to generate absorption. Computer gaming is currently the best example of how one may be gripped by an entertainment experience, despite exerting a great deal of effort with seemingly insufficient reward. Second, entertainment is typically associated with having peculiarly intense emotions, some of which are not necessarily pleasant. Here the roller-coaster ride of an action movie may serve as a typical example. These intuitions about the emotional nature of entertainment have intrigued scholars interested in play and games for a long time. According to Huizinga (1950/ 1938) play can be defined as voluntary activity that is performed for its own sake, without material interest or profit to be gained from it. Games are structured forms of play set outside normal life. Not only Huizinga (1950/ 1938), but also Piaget (1945) and Goffman (1972/ 1961) wondered how it can be that players of games as forms of entertainment and involving only symbolic, non-serious matters, cam experience such intense emotions, and why they seem to seek even unpleasant ones. Media psychologists studying entertainment have begun to account for the relationship between entertainment and emotion. This issue was first addressed in Tannenbaum’s (1980) study of vicarious emotion and in Zillmann’s work on excitation transfer, mood management and affective disposition (e.g. Zillmann, 1971; 1988; 1991; 1994). The paradox of enjoyment of negative feeling became a major issue addressed in studies of sad films (Oliver, 1993; de Wied, Zillmann & Ordman, 1994) and of horror (Tamborini, 1991; 2003). Vorderer et al. (2004) mention a plausible solution by conceiving of enjoyment as a “meta-emotion”, produced by reflections on negative emotions, proposed earlier by Oliver (1993). Most recent theoretical contributions to the psychological study of entertainment regard emotion and affect as a sine qua non of the
Entertainment Is Emotion
entertainment experience (Bryant & Miron, 2003; Klimmt & Vorderer, 2003; Nabi & Krcmar, 2004; Vorderer, 2001; Vorderer, Klimmt & Ritterfeld, 2004; Vorderer, Steen & Chan, 2006; Wirth, 2006). The theoretical framework for entertainment proposed by Vorderer et al. (2004) illustrates the key role of emotion (see Figure 1). At the heart of entertainment is enjoyment, a pleasurable emotion that manifests itself in a manifold of forms, including paradoxical ones. Vorderer et al.’s (2004) account of the intuitive emotional appeal of entertainment goes a long way in acknowledging the importance of a number of emotions. However, more justice could be done to the intuition that entertainment is emotional. The account lacks a central explanatory role assigned to emotion at large in entertainment use, and the present paper attempts to address that omission. It proposes to conceive of the entertainment experience as essentially emotional in nature. The “entertainment experience” refers to the immediate phenomenal awareness that users of acknowledged media entertainment productions typically have. The proposal will be based on insights from evolutionary psychology in cultural phenomena, such as art and entertainment, on the one hand. On the other it will draw on recent insights in the psychology of emotion and of the imagination. Entertainment as an Adaptive Activity Tooby and Cosmides (2001) proposed that aesthetic and playful activities are “developmental” adaptations, helping other adaptations to “assemble” properly. “Natural selection, a relentless but devious task-master, seduces you into devoting your free time to these improving activities by making them gratifying” (Tooby & Cosmides, 2001, p. 16). Steen and Owens (2001) in their seminal paper developed a similar claim specifically for entertainment activity. Particular adaptations, such as predator escape, or hunting behavior, have a basis in the individual’s genes, but only in a rough shape. An additional adaptive capacity has evolved, that “organizes” the development of (in principle: all) adaptive functions in interaction with the environment. When
Entertainment Is Emotion
there is no pressure to work on fulfilling primary needs, humans tend to engage in organizing activity, experimenting with situations that are too rare or risky in real life to afford try-out and deliberation. A major form that pedagogic activity can take is pretence play. “Paradigm scenarios”, that is schematic representations of survival-relevant situations are pretended, and play consists of working your way through a particular scenario, experimenting with it and experiencing the outcomes of actions. An example is pretending a chase by a “monster”. Pretence play offers the model for entertainment activity at large, which is organizational activity in the first place, a playground for exercising actions such as fight and flight, but also of “higher” functions like problem solving and communication (see also Ohler & Nieding, 2006).1 Steen and Owens (2001) concluded that humans are designed to love entertainment, not because they want to engage in training, but because the activities are intrinsically rewarding. The proximal or immediate cause of engaging in entertainment is a wired-in predisposition for exploration, challenge, and play that is released by, and a response to, boredom. The distal cause is the evolved function of organization of various adaptive activities and states of mind. How much people are shielded from insight in the distal cause, a need for training, is illustrated in Steen and Owens’ (2001) research. Adults playing a chase game with their children reported to enjoy doing their utmost, but at the same time “wondered why they were doing all this”. People appear to engage in entertainment activity because nature has designed them as to love it individually under the right conditions (proximal cause), but without being aware that they are obeying an adaptive principle that goes for the species as a whole, which is to train useful capabilities (distal cause). To give an example, the proximal causes of a child engaging in chase play may be a conscious break from routine, and “just feeling like it”, whereas the distal cause is a need she is not aware of to hone her skills of dealing with aggressors.
Entertainment Is Emotion
What is the Link between Distal and Proximal Causation of Entertainment Activity? Steen and Owens’ (2001) proposal, based on studies of pretence play, constitutes a major and elegant step to the solution of the paradox of the enjoyment of unpleasant and strenuous activities and experiences that users of entertainment may meet. What remains to be explained, is the link between distal and proximal causes of entertainment activity. What is the mechanism involved in seducing you to spend your resources in seemingly useless or even painful activities? Vorderer, Steen and Chan (2006) mention the psychological processes in entertainment activity that allow for bridging the gap between distal and proximal causes. One is simulation, the use of substitute agents and objects, another is make-believe play, and a third is identification with substitute agents. None of the processes by itself makes an adaptively valuable exercise into an enjoyable experience. According to Deci and Ryan’s (2000) self determination theory of behavior regulation it is the experience of 1) autonomy, 2) competence, and 3) relatedness that makes an activity intrinsically motivating. Vorderer et al. (2006), subscribing to this theory, claim that simulation allows for autonomy, because the user is free in ascribing more or less reality to the simulated world; that make-believe enables the user to create the level of challenge that she can meet, making for optimal control; and that identification or empathy are the basis for the experience of relatedness. Based on this view, the missing psychological link between evolution’s silent pedagogy and the fun of entertainment is intrinsic motivation. The conditions giving way to intrinsic motivation are psychological transformations of biological functions of organizing any adaptive functions. However, in my view there are two difficulties with the account. First, intrinsic motivation is a concept that has been used with success in dealing with individual differences in selecting and engaging in activities (Deci & Ryan, 2000). But the concept is much less suited to support a generic account of on-line phenomenal experiences of activities. Hence it is less useful in accounting for the
Entertainment Is Emotion
entertainment experience as a state that users are aware of while being engaged in it. A mechanism that has a subjective awareness component to it is more proximal than a regulation mechanism such as intrinsic motivation. It will be argued in a moment that it is an emotion that does the proximal trick, namely interest. A second problem with the intrinsic motivation account is that it severely limits the range of both distal adaptive functions and proximal contents of entertainment activities. On the distal side, the autonomy, competence, and relatedness no doubt constitute a non-arbitrary set of general adaptations, but they leave out a large number of themes common in entertainment from the mechanism’s scope. The account diminishes the explanatory power of the proposal from Steen and Owens (2001) and Tooby and Cosmides (2001), implying there is no limitation to paradigm scenarios other than relevance for survival in a very broad sense. Emotion as the Functional Link Between Distal and Proximal Causes of the Entertainment Experience A more principled and integrative role can be assigned to emotion in the dual causality model of entertainment, which also approaches the paradox of negative experiences in a parsimonious way (see Figure 2). It is based on the widely shared view of emotions as functional that is, serving adaptive purposes (e.g. Cosmides & Tooby, 2000a; Damasio, 1999; Frijda, 1986; Lazarus, 1991; LeDoux, 1996; Rolls, 2005; de Sousa, 1987). Evolution has endowed us with a mechanism for implementing courses of action recommended by the accumulated outcomes of action in recurrent important situations, namely emotions. Emotions forcefully indicate that a situation is important to survival of individuals, their success in procreation, and acquiring and maintaining resources. The emotions are a system for concern realization (Frijda, 1986), signaling relevance, motivating attention, perception, thinking, feeling and action. For instance, fear as an emotion signals an event that is crucial to us, makes us aware of an acute threat to our well-being,
Entertainment Is Emotion
primes finding the best ways to escape from it, and prepares us for flight. The programs of mind and behavior responding to such threats have been honed across generations of our ancestors. Emotions consist of 1) an appraisal of situations in terms of concerns and possibilities for action, 2) a tendency to act, accompanied by changes in information processing and bodily states, and 3) a feeling state, that is a subjective awareness of a) the situation as appraised, b) the action tendency and related information processing, and c) bodily states (e.g. Scherer, 2005). Emotion lends its potential for the control of perception, cognition and action from the person’s awareness of a situation in light of her concerns, and her propensities to act in a certain way (e.g. Scherer, 2005; Frijda, 2007). Two properties of emotions and more specifically of emotional concerns, additional to potential for motivating action, render them suited to mediate between distal and proximal causes of entertainment, namely breadth of scope, and efficiency in training. First, the overarching general concern in entertainment is a need for training. In response to situations where this concern is addressed, the entertainment user seeks for and approves of emotions of all kinds. Each of these emotions, in turn, depends on activation of another concern that corresponds to an adaptive need. For instance, in the movies we feel anger for the perpetrator, fueled by a concern for safety. Our movie-tolerance for the emotion helps to “organize” resistance to perpetrators. The range of the concerns involved is as broad as the entire spectrum of human emotions, and as a consequence the variety of adaptive needs to be addressed in entertainment scenarios is huge, ranging, so to speak from physical escape in “primal” scenarios to psychologically more advanced ones, such as stories on choosing the right partner in some enterprise or the formation of the self’s identity. Advanced functions may have been derived in evolution from primary ones, as argued in distinct ways for instance by Tomasello (1999) and De Waal (2001), in a more recent cultural and perhaps even individual history. Although needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness do qualify as concerns in many entertainment emotions, a
Entertainment Is Emotion
theoretical restriction to scenarios revolving around these needs seems unnecessary and to impose limits on scenarios beyond what is recognizable in the actual entertainment supply. Second, the emotions seem to comprise a particularly efficient system for developing adaptive functions in a variety of complementary ways. They signal the relevance of paradigm scenarios represented in entertainment productions, resulting in increased attention to entertainment content. They also indicate some optimal range of options for action (e.g. Damasio, 1999): On the one hand, emotional responses shortcut counterproductive consideration of too many alternatives, but on the other they prompt the individual to take secondary characteristics of a situation into consideration. Action tendencies involve planning, forcing the individual to consider a range of alternatives (e.g. Oatley, 1992; Oatley & Johnson-Laird, 1996; Rolls, 2005; Schwarz, 1990). Training one’s adaptive skills consists in part in envisioning alternative courses of events and actions, and adaptive learning has taken place once various outcomes associated with different courses of action have been interpreted by the emotion system, and “tagged” with an affective label (e.g. Taylor & Schneider, 1989; Taylor, 1991). When a similar situation is met in the future, the individual will be ready to decide more efficiently how to act. In sum, emotions as a mechanism seem capable of filling the gap between distant causes of entertainment activity, that is, organizational needs, on the one hand, and the immediate experience of entertainment, on the other. In the remainder of this paper the emotional architecture of the entertainment experience will be sketched, largely in line with Vorderer et al.’s (2006) account and, in particular, with Steen and Owens’ (2001) functional account of entertainment as generalized pretence play. Entertainment as an Emotion Episode
Entertainment Is Emotion 10 In this section we unfold a model of the entertainment experience as an episode of emotions. Two classes of emotions form the substance of the experience, namely interest-appreciation and imagination-based emotions. Interest, Enjoyment and Appreciation (Emotions 1) The main engine in support of engaging in activities such as entertainment, play and aesthetic activities is the emotion of interest (Izard, 1977; Rathunde, 1993; Silvia, 2006; Sansone & Harackiewicz, 1996; Tan, 1995; 1996; 2000). Darwin (1923/1965) classified interest together with curiosity as one of the “intellectual” emotions that form the basis of the development of all intellectual powers. A contemporary label is “epistemic” emotions (e.g. Keltner & Shiota, 2003). Somewhat neglected in emotion literature (Hidi & Baird, 1986), interest presently enjoys a reawakening (Ainley, Hidi & Berndorff, 2002; Ellsworth, 2003; Silvia; 2001, Tan, 2000) with most emotion researchers agreeing that interest is an emotion, and some that it is a basic emotion (Frijda, 1986; Izard, 1977, 1992; Panksepp, 1982; Tomkins, 1984). Indeed interest meets the prerequisites of emotions in that (a) it is a response to specific stimulus events, (b) reflects a valuation of events in terms of the person’s concerns, that is his or her fundamental needs, and (c) motivates action. To elaborate, interest is triggered by stimuli featuring novelty or complexity (Silvia, 2005, 2006). Regarding concern-based valuation, interest has been considered as a mental state lacking any “valenced reaction” (Ortony, Clore & Foss, 1987) due to indifference relative to concerns. However, interest does involve a concern, which is the need for novel stimuli and exploration of the environment. The opposite of satisfaction of this concern is boredom, which is an absolutely aversive state (Cf. Solomon, Leiderman, Mendelsohn & Wexler, 1957). Finally, the action tendency of interest is attending to and exploring the stimulus (Day, 1968; Berlyne, 1971, 1972; Harlow, 1950; Kretzinger, 1952; Silvia, 2005).
Entertainment Is Emotion 11 Izard (1977) described the experience of interest as the experiential component of the organizational capacity at work: “At the experiential level interest ... is the feeling of being engaged, caught-up, fascinated, and curious. There is a feeling of wanting to investigate, become involved, or extend or expand the self by incorporating new information and having new experiences with the person or object that has stimulated the interest. In intense interest or excitement, the person feels animated and enlivened. It is this enlivenment that guarantees the association between interest and cognitive or motor activity. Even when relatively immobile the interested or excited person has the feeling that he is ‘alive and active’ ” (p. 216). Emotion bridges the gap between distal cause and proximal motivation by its basic mechanism, which is linking an encountered situation with a concern. The concern underlying interest is diversity of stimulation and learning new things, and the eliciting condition is boredom plus a promise of reward in terms of the concern: new and exciting experiences (Tan, 1996). The mechanism stimulates exploration and taking risks when there is no need for urgent action, when all seems quiet, resulting in adaptive advantages in meeting future challenges. Deci and Ryan’s (2000) autonomy, competence, and relatedness may be perceived, for instance as the particular content of expected reward, but this is not a necessity. If the entertainment is good enough (that is, promises rewarding new experiences to a particular user), there is always a minimum level of interest (see also Tan, 1996, Ch. 4), the animated feeling that you really want to do this, possibly in spite of currently insufficient reward. An important implication of the dual cause model is that concerns related to organization of evolutionary “older” functions are the more potent in provoking interest. In line with this implication, evolutionary psychologists propose that emotional concerns owe their relative strength
Entertainment Is Emotion 12 to their contribution to reproductive success (e.g. Schwab, 2004). Studies of popular entertainment provide support for the idea (e.g. Carroll, 1998), but more psychological research is clearly needed. As stated earlier, emotion is characterized by action readiness. The action tendency in interest is, as the quotation of Izard (1977) illustrates, an embodied urge to spend resources in approaching, exploring and conquering the entertainment stimulus. Experiencing the action tendency is the paramount proximal cause of engaging in entertainment activity. The feeling of motivation, that is, feeling like wanting to do what one does, is the most proximal cause of entertainment activity. Interest is a self-enhancing emotion, because spending more resources to the entertainment stimulus may increase prospects of reward, which leads to increases in interest. Proposing that interest is the central emotion in entertainment contributes economically to solving the paradox of negative emotions in entertainment. Interest’s action tendency provides for an explanation of why people spend so much energy in entertainment, integrating emotion with motivation in a direct and elegant fashion. The conception of negative emotions as “manifestations” of enjoyment is unnecessary, and so is the concept of meta-emotion (a concept that may still be useful in other contexts). Interest is straightforwardly accompanied by negative affect because this arises naturally in the course of going for “new experiences”. Novel and complex stimuli signal anticipated but uncertain reward, and the response, exploration, has its risks, resulting in some degree of threat and tension to be felt in interest (Berlyne, 1971; Litman, 2005). People bear negative emotions in entertainment like sadness, fear, and frustration because interest’s action tendency of wanting to engage in a challenging situation or activity assumes “control precedence” (Frijda, 1986) over other concerns and emotions. It may even alter their appraisal. For instance, Ravaja, Saari, Salminen, Laarni and Kallinen (2006) present evidence showing that negative events in a computer game may be experienced as a funny challenge.
Entertainment Is Emotion 13 Interest is not identical with enjoyment. Enjoyment or liking is the undiluted pleasurable feeling in actual need satisfaction lacking uncertainty (Reeve, 1989). Whereas interest involves anticipation and uncertainty of reward, enjoyment is a response to actually getting valued targets in one’s possession and interacting with these, performing valued activities, or achieving valued goal states (Frijda, 2001; Berridge, 2004). In entertainment, promise of reward permanently motivates the user to engage in the activity, and only at times there is actual reward. Rewards may range as to specificity and permanence from, say, gaining points in a computer game to making a discovery or expanding the self (Izard & Ackerman, 2000). Interest is probably supported by the neurophysiological, dopaminergic “wanting” or “go”-system (Berridge & Robinson, 2003), whereas enjoyment has its basis in the “liking” system, involving opiate neurotransmitters (Berridge & Robinson, 2003; Panksepp, Knutson, & Burgdorf, 2002). Experiencing Deci and Ryan’s (2000) autonomy, competence and relatedness may be related to enjoyment, but not to interest (Silvia, 2006). In sum, the pleasure in entertainment is in interest, an emotion characterized by a net positive affect, and in enjoyment proper. In entertainment, interest is also enjoyed for its own sake, as an emotion that is sought after by the user. Tensions, frustrations and other unpleasant feelings experienced in entertainment do not disappear altogether from the experience, many forms of entertainment are not just fun. In many cases, then, it may be more appropriate to refer to “appreciation” rather than to enjoyment (See also Tan, 1996). Interest and appreciation provide the key emotional link between proximal and distal causes of engaging in entertainment. The motivational implementation of the adaptive design, it makes us love entertainment at the level of subjective conscious experience. Without any awareness of learning or learning potential, we engage in it, because we feel like doing it. The emotional experience of interest and enjoyment is a more proximal cause of entertainment activity than self-
Entertainment Is Emotion 14 determined regulation. In the context of the dual cause model of entertainment activity, it is an interesting question to what degree appreciation may also be based on non-hedonic concerns, such as altruistic motives and a quest for meaning, without the experience being labeled as ritual or otherwise as non-entertainment (Tan, 2004). Imagination-Based Emotion (Emotions 2) Figure 3 gives an overview of the entertainment experience and the role of the two classes of emotion in it. Interest and appreciation, as a go-mechanism of the entertainment activity, are complemented by other emotions that correspond to the particular sources of fortune and misfortune in training a particular adaptive function, that is, when dealing, in imagine, with paradigm scenarios. These emotions are built on imagination activity. Emotions like mirth, fear, sadness, sympathy, etc. come about in engaging in paradigm scenarios presenting the difficulties of life. Imagination-based emotions can, in turn, be divided in two analytical classes, based on adaptive functions, namely non-empathic and empathic emotions. Non-empathic emotions entail responses to (quasi-) physical objects, events, and settings, empathic emotions to beings endowed with a mind more or less like ours. The first category includes basic emotions such as surprise, joy, fear, and disgust. Their adaptive value is that they incite the individual to consider the impact of the physical environment, its dangers and its potential for finding shelter, safety and resources. Such emotions may stimulate simulating counterfactuals, that is, better or worse courses of events than actually met, especially when they arise in response to imagined events (Roese, 1997). The emotions can be called non-empathic, because they do not require imagination of mental processes of another person or being. Empathic emotions owe their name to the fact that they do require a grasp of what it feels like to stand in the shoes of another person. The adaptive significance of empathy for higher, social species such as humans is extremely high, and organizing the functions involved very valuable. Its role in entertainment is well documented (e.g. Zillmann, 1991; Tan, 1996). Many and perhaps most
Entertainment Is Emotion 15 paradigm scenarios in entertainment involve other actors. The predator schema is one example. Others include mate selection, trust, deceit, altruism, cooperation, and moral dilemmas. In line with this importance, many emotions have an empathic component, that is, their appraisal includes an understanding of how other beings feel and what they intend. They include basic emotions such as sadness, fear and anxiety (e.g. related to loss of an important other), the social emotions love, anger and contempt (Oatley & Jenkins, 1996), and self-conscious emotions like shame, guilt and envy. Adaptive effects of empathic emotions provoked by fictional narratives have been documented. Readers of a story who shared anger with a protagonist reported vicarious planning of what to do next, whereas they engaged in backward reasoning (what were the causes) when they had compassion with a protagonist suffering a significant loss (Oatley, 1996). Nussbaum has analysed how empathic emotions in response to fictional narratives are the starting point for examining how one should treat other persons (e.g. Nussbaum, 2001). Adaptive effects of experiencing these emotions in playing violent video games by adolescent men, namely organizing their identity, have recently been discussed by Jansz (2005). Reality of Entertainment Content: Dual Awareness In order to understand the functionality of imagination-based emotions, we have to examine how their intensity relates to their effectiveness. Emotion intensity may depend on perceived reality of imagined events in the first place (e.g. Frijda, 2007; Valkenburg & Peter, 2006). Two determinants of perceived reality will be discussed, namely diminished attention for the unreality of imagined events and the specific nature of processes involved in imagining events. Coleridge’s idea of the willing suspension of disbelief is Vorderer et al.’s (2004) and Vorderer et al.’s (2006) starting point for understanding the seeming reality of entertainment stimuli that stress playful simulation on the part of the user. However, the hypothesis of practicing adaptive skills as a distal cause of entertainment experiences requires that suspension of disbelief be
Entertainment Is Emotion 16 specified more precisely. In particular we have to consider whether there should not be limits to the perceived reality of fiction because within the dual cause functional framework, a complete identification of the fictional world with reality would result in the entertainment user’s acquiring beliefs held true but actually being false in the real world. This would seriously undermine any silent pedagogic effects. Tooby and Cosmides (2001) argue that fiction is a specialization of the capacity humans have developed for “quarantining” beliefs and representations. Narrative fiction is a “scope syntax” allowing us to distinguish a wide range of truth-values for scenarios, from hypothetical through conditional or “believed-to-be-true-by-others” to counterfactual and so on (Cosmides & Tooby, 2000b). In their extensive studies of chase play Steen and Owens (2001) identified a scope-syntax for the particular form of pretence in which one person assumes the role of the chaser and another that of the fleer. It features ambivalent cues, the chaser vocalizing in an exaggeratedly modulated way “I’m gonna get you”, signalling the organizational mode, and benevolently smiling but also growling and stalking, and obviously self-handicapping; the fleer appearing desperate to escape, but also giggling in appreciation for the chaser’s performance (Steen & Owens, 2001, 304). It may be added that fleers even invite the chaser to “get them”. Generalizing Steen and Owens’ (2001) model of pretence play, we may construct the entertainment experience as comprising a dual awareness (see also Valkenburg & Peter, 2006). Contradictory signals serve to establish and develop a two-layered mental space consisting of a pretend space embedded within an executive space. The model of the dual layer mental space may be considered typical for entertainment, the reason why, in the present argument, Steen and Owens’ pretend space has been generalized into an entertainment space (see Figure 3). The entertainment space allows for confronting stimuli closely resembling situations that are crucial for survival and procreation that is situations addressing real concerns of the entertainment user and evoking potentially high-intensity emotion. The executive space represents the infrastructure that supports
Entertainment Is Emotion 17 the construction of imagined stimuli; it is the “mind stage” giving access to the entertainment space. As mental representations, the two spaces can be simultaneously attended to, and shifts in the amount of attention spent to either may occur from one moment to another. Steen and Owens do not discuss limits to an awareness of the executive space. As to the lower limits it may be argued that entertainment users have at least a minimal awareness of the executive space, for several reasons. First, because the executive space is the very source of the imagination engaged in, it must be attended to in order to construct the entertainment space and its contents. For example in film viewing, cues that are part of the executive space (e.g. stylistic genre elements) are perceived in order to construct a proper entertainment space (e.g. in terms of time, space and action, Visch & Tan, 2007). In interactive entertainment, such as pretend play, a minimal awareness of the executive space is needed to communicate with a partner or a game system. Second, as Steen and Owens (2001) observe, if the executive space serves as a safe fall-back option, allowing for experimenting safely with scenarios, then a design feature of it should be that it is always accessible. Just like the emergency exit sign in a cinema is not attended to all the time, but permanently stands out in the dark, the signals of executive space must always be on in the back of our mind, so to speak. Its total oblivion has to be considered an anomaly as it would be identical to experiencing a delusion rather than an illusion, in the first place, resulting before long in derailment of the imagination process. Finally, the go-mechanism in entertainment, the interest appreciation tandem, has one of its points of application in the executive space. In the end, as entertainees we appraise movies (or other productions) as well as their contents, and interest is raised by what happens in the executive space as well as in the paradigm scenario. The action tendency in interest and appreciation is aimed at the production rather than the imagined contents: we follow the movie and want to see more of it. Thus, these appraisals imply awareness of the executive space.
Entertainment Is Emotion 18 The upper limit of awareness of the executive space has an emotional basis. Once emotions such as curiosity, fear or sadness set in, they control perception and attention to some degree (e.g. Zeelenberg, Wagenmakers, & Rotteveel, 2006; Anderson & Phelps, 2001). The stronger the emotions caused by what is imagined in the entertainment space, the less capacity the mind has to deal with the executive space. It recedes into the background, and as a consequence, events in it are perceived as if they were real. In the entertainment space, emotion is one of the causes of perceived reality, as it tends to weaken the motivation to attend to the executive space. Imagination-based emotions fuel interest, the action tendency of which is to explore the entertainment space. As the pretend play example illustrates, it does not require much to imagine reality once emotions are there. Poor acting, low-fi props (the banana - “revolver”) may suffice as fillers of the roles in paradigm scenarios, and perhaps only deviations from the scenario’s logic are perceived (Shapiro & Fox, 2002). Signals from the executive space are perceived under awareness threshold, and only in as far as they contribute to the emotion-guided imagination. In this view, entertainment users do not deliberately turn a switch that controls belief modes, but are sucked into an experience that has emotional believability. This may happen rapidly and largely outside the user’s consciousness as emotions may take us unawares. Being entertained means being spun into a form of emotional magic. The moderating effect of the executive space may apply in the second instance, in a secondary appraisal following scenario events, or even after the entertainment episode. In a pretence chase, for example, an intense fright reaction incites the chased person to reappraise the events, now taking into account the entertainer’s signals of friendly intentions. It should be noted that the events (e.g. constituting the chase) rather than previous emotion responses are the subject of reappraisal. Secondary appraisals of the events result in tagging what has been learned as “sort of
Entertainment Is Emotion 19 possible” rather than as “real”. In this view, emotion-driven suspension of disbelief, followed by a revision of beliefs about events replaces the concept of meta-emotion. The view of the emotional reality of imagination in entertainment implies a two-way relation between perceived reality and emotion. On the one hand, emotions lend “reality” to imagined events. On the other, entertainment users are motivated to construct a reality the point of which is an emotion or a set of emotions. They will try to get the strongest emotions out of the paradigm scenario without realizing that emotion strength is directly related to pedagogical effectiveness. Reality of Entertainment Content: Imagination and Embodied Experience A diminished awareness of the artificiality of entertainment stimuli is one (emotional) factor in explaining the intensity of emotions in entertainment. As proposed above, it may be hypothesized that this factor is active, especially once imagination-based emotions have set in. This raises the question how emotion sets in. Vorderer et al. (2004), summarizing current work on the subject, mentioned empathy and presence as user prerequisites for emotions. These prerequisites, taken as imagination processes, certainly provide satisfactory explanations of powerful entertainment emotions. Mind states such as presence (Biocca, 2001) and transportation (Green & Brock, 2002; Green, 2004) increase emotion or are in part synonymous with emotion (Epstein, 1994). But these notions leave open whether the imagination is forced upon entertainment users, or alternatively is a product of willful construal on their part. A closer look at the literature on imagination processes suggests that the two possibilities are not mutually exclusive. Recent cognitive neuroscience studies have established the insight that the apparent reality of imagined objects and events is due to embodied simulation of these (e.g. Barsalou 2003; Goldman, 2006). According to Goldman (2006) willful simulation, or enactment, as he terms it, of objects, persons and events provides us with images, sounds, kinesthetic sensations, tastes, and so on resembling sensory perceptual impressions to varying degrees, up to being entirely similar. The resemblance is enabled by neural circuits that
Entertainment Is Emotion 20 are active both in perception and in simulation of images etc., caused either by involuntary association or by the will (e.g. Kosslyn, 1994, 2005; Carr et al., 2003). Thus, simulations may or may not require deliberate efforts, and enactments may be as convincing as automated ones. Humans also have a highly developed empathic imagination, forming representations of what others do, want and feel through a perception-action mechanism or PAM (Preston & de Waal, 2002). When we perceive others, automated and partly unconscious processes construct action representations that are quite similar to those produced when we ourselves are the actors. Resonance, as these processes are called, is a fundamental adaptation in a social species, like humans, and regarded as the basis for bonding and cooperation and even for the fundamental awareness of others as self-identities like us, that is, as persons (Gallese, 2003). The importance of resonance for entertainment experiences was already discussed by Zillmann (1991) who referred to it as “mimicry”. The representations of events in the executive space typically support automated resonance. Although on close inspection even the most graphic portrayals of events leave a lot to the imagination, it seems as if we literally see what happens in the entertainment space, and feel what its personae experience. This guided imagination is the basis for strong non-empathic and empathic emotions. Perceptual systems such as the visual “what” and “ where” systems appraise emotionally significant features, and deliver input to the amygdala, through a “high road”, involving cognitive elaboration, but also through a “low road”, which is automated and direct. Direct pathways in the brain connect resonance structures with emotion centers (e.g. de Vignemont & Singer, 2006; Wicker et al. 2003). It can even be demonstrated that moral values can play a role in resonance without willful effort (Moll et al., 2002). Nonetheless research showing the power of imagery in provoking emotion is as yet scarce according to Holmes and Mathews (2005). A few studies providing evidence are cited in Russell (2003). Perhaps the work of Lang and his co-workers on the
Entertainment Is Emotion 21 emotional processing of pictures comes closest to demonstrating the emotional power of imagery (e.g. Bradley, Codispoti, Cuthbert, & Lang, 2001). Automatic embodied simulation and enactment, then, are the start-up engines of the entertainment experience. Imagination results in bodily feelings because simulation and resonance produce bodily sensations similar to ones we have when we perceive real world events. Potentially intense emotions such as fright, fear, and vicarious pain and pleasure are felt due to an automated mechanism. What about the emotions in response to non-automated forms of imagination? The stimuli provided in the executive space and the simulations that they cause are not always sufficient by themselves in order for the most “organizing” and rewarding emotions to rise. Sometimes they require an act of will, depending on the degree they go beyond what is given in the stimulus provoking the process. Following Stüber (2005) willful forms of enactment may involve complex inference, and reasoning with knowledge that is only remotely associated with the initial, sensory, format. Simulation and resonance may be embedded in enactment imagination, as when various scenarios for concrete action are compared in action planning. The most advanced psychological process of mind reading is seeking explanations of actions and behavior making extensive use of folk theories of mind. According to Malle (2004) people frequently engage in explaining others’ and their own behavior for various reasons, including finding coherence in events and persons and placing actions in the larger context of their personal lives and identities. Entertainment experiences involving willful empathy may require action explanations and provide training of the faculties involved that are crucial for our social species. Behavior explanations are part of complex appraisal in empathic emotions such as sympathy, pity, admiration, regret, embarrassment and gratitude, and the like. They are required in complex entertainment, for instance when gamers bother to predict
Entertainment Is Emotion 22 what their adversaries are likely to do or to understand, or when film viewers try to fathom why an Isabelle Huppert character commits cruelties for no obvious reason. In conclusion, imagination as the basis for emotion in entertainment is in part produced or provoked by entertainment stimuli, and in part a deliberate activity. Representations of paradigm scenario events are automatically produced by entertainment stimuli. These may be as vivid as real events, depending on the entertainment medium, and provoke emotion, thus enhancing perceived reality. 2 The resulting emotions pave the way for deeper processing of the scenarios in entertainment space, by raising interest beyond the point of no return. Finally, with interest at higher levels, more complex emotional appraisals are set in motion, enabling an exploration of the most remote backgrounds and consequences of events in paradigm scenarios. Concluding Remarks: Entertainment as Communication The functional architecture of the entertainment experience just presented integrates available theories and research to enhance our understanding of the emotion-entertainment relationship. It was proposed that we view the entertainment experience not just as containing emotion, but as thoroughly emotional in nature, with two sets of emotions acting as the cornerstones connecting distal with proximal causes of entertainment activity, linking a remote need for development of adaptive functions, on the one hand, and an immediate attraction, on the other. As in all emotion, distal causes of affect, that is concerns, do not have to be conscious, but once emotional programs are running, we are subject to their control of our perceptions, activities, motivations and feelings. Once we are in an entertainment episode and interest is caught, we are unaware of any remote pedagogical functions of our engagement, but feel an urge to continue and intensify our active engagement. Once our empathy is activated, we are not aware of a need to care for other people or of any other general concern, but it is hard for us to withdraw from the emotions, almost regardless of how painful they may be.
Entertainment Is Emotion 23 At the same time, we are not hermetically locked into a fantasy as attention must be, and is, given to cues from the executive space. The cues sustain and improve the imagination; they also signal that we can step out of the entertainment space, if need be, for instance when the paradigm scenario is too difficult for us to handle. The entertainment experience is, in the end, a product of our own making, requiring entertainment skills and a basic willingness to be entertained. For that reason, too, there is abundant room for individual differences in what counts as entertainment, that is, how far a particular person wants to go in experiencing emotions of a certain kind.3 The view of entertainment experiences as thoroughly emotional answers some widely shared intuitions, including that entertainment is absorbing, that it typically brings along strong emotions, including unpleasant ones. A final intuition has not yet been addressed. A lay person’s understanding of what it means to entertain somebody involves being amusing or giving pleasure, activities associated with being a good host to a guest. The intuition is that entertainment is communication, taking two roles. The entertainer acts intentionally to bring about interesting emotional experiences in the entertainee. Entertainment may not be just play, but a playful form in which the player expects that a service is being rendered to her and the service can be good or bad. The entertainer may be held responsible for the effect. Tan (1996) referred to emotions having as object those who are held responsible for our imaginations as Artefact emotions, that is, responses to the entertainment products as intentional communications. The chasers in Steen and Owens’ (2001) study of pretence play are entertainers that may be appraised in their roles not only as friendly, but also as skilful, “devastatingly good” or “downright disappointing”. What the role is of appreciative emotions of this kind in the silent pedagogy of entertainment is a task to be taken up yet by media psychology.
Entertainment Is Emotion 24 Footnotes 1. A comparable claim is made by Ohler & Nieding (2006) who also consider entertainment as a form of play. Play is a biologically very old adaptive function. In humans it evolved to encompass the representation of imagined events, contributing to the capacity to anticipate on threats posed by real life events. 2. Ohler & Nieding (2006) observed that especially media entertainment contributes to an extension of people’s behavioral array, because there is a huge supply of media types, genres and particular content, offering a particularly rich variety of playful endeavours. 3. Elsewhere (Tan, 2004) I proposed that individual preferences for media entertainment products may depend on two dimensions, namely complexity and personal relevance (or its opposite, "gratuitousness”) of the experience.
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Entertainment Is Emotion 35 Figure Captions
Figure 1. Theoretical framework for describing the entertainment experience proposed by Vorderer, Klimmt & Ritterfeld (2004). The experience of enjoyment is at the heart of entertainment. Enjoyment is a pleasurable emotion manifesting itself in many foms, e.g. sensory delight, exhilaration, serenity, suspense, sensory pleasure and self-efficacy. On the one hand the experience can have effects, such as catharsis and learning, and on the other it is enabled by prerequisites in the user and in media content. Examples of user requisites include a readiness for empathy and para-social relationships with media personae; examples of media prerequisites are technological and aesthetic elements.
Figure 2. Functional architecture of the entertainment experience. The model adds to Steen & Owens’ (2001) and Steen, Owens & Chan’s (2006) dual cause proposal a proximal mechanism transforming the need for training (distal cause) in concerns that when meeting proper entertainment stimuli (representing paradigm scenarios) cause an emotion experience, acting as an immediate cause of entertainment activity. Two classes of emotions are typical for entertainment. Concerns in entertainment emotion are twofold. One group of concerns psychologically reflects the organizational function. It includes needs for discovery and learning, e.g. concerns for boredom avoidance, diversity, complexity, challenge, learning, fantasy, competence, autonomy. Another is a set of concerns related to all adaptive functions in principle, including, among others, bodily integrity, safety, belongingness, power, attachment, nurturance, and identification.
Figure 3. Architecture of emotional entertainment experience.
Entertainment Is Emotion 36 The architecture is based on the model of Steen & Owens (2001) of pretence play and entertainment. The entertainment user envisions two adjacent mental spaces, an executive space and an entertainment space. Users have conscious awareness of these spaces. The executive space is the interface with the real world, in which the entertainment stimulus is attended to, cuing the imagination. The entertainment user can mentally withdraw in the executive space. The entertainment space is the theatre for imagination of paradigm scenarios provoking emotions. Two classes of emotion are provoked, 1) interest and appreciation / enjoyment, a response to novelty and complexity of events in the executive space and paradigm scenario, and 2) a variety of emotions in response to the particular contents of the imagination, e.g. sadness and fear. The most proximally motivating feelings are part of these emotions. Concerns in emotions 1 and 2 originate in a distal cause, the need for organization, outside awareness. The entertainment user is unaware of these influences, that is, they are outside the two mental spaces.
Entertainment Is Emotion 37 Figures
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Entertainment Is Emotion 39