The effect of user control on the cognitive and emotional processing of pictures

Kevin Wise, Byron Reeves

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper explores psychology related to the moment that control is exercised during interactions with media. What is the difference in the thoughtful and emotional engagement of viewers with the content presented between reacting to media versus controlling its onset? Subjects viewed pictures on a computer as part of a 2 (control) × 2 (picture type) × 16 (repetitions) × 2 (order) within-subjects experiment (N = 22). In one condition, subjects controlled the picture onset with a computer mouse. In the other condition, the computer controlled the picture onset. Heart rate and skin conductance were collected as indicators of the automatic attention and arousal elicited by each manipulation of control. Results showed that subjects exhibited a cardiac orienting response when the computer controlled the onset of emotional pictures. Subjects failed to orient when they had control over picture onset. Physiological arousal, as measured by skin conductance, was higher when subjects had control over picture onset. Subjects gave higher subjective ratings on valence and arousal for pictures that were presented by the computer. These results are discussed in relation to current assumptions about interactive media and audience activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)549-566
Number of pages18
JournalMedia Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Applied Psychology


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