Reading a critic’s review of a movie or asking a friend their opinion before you read a book shapes your expectations more than you may think. A recent study by Dr. Randi Shedlosky-Shoemaker and colleagues (2011) investigated how a peer’s evaluation influenced readers’ enjoyment and engagement in a story, known as transportation. Participants were required to read the short story Sunday in the Park by Bel Kaufman, with the influence of peer reviews examined in two different studies.
In the first experiment, 106 undergraduate students were randomly assigned to read reviews of the text that were either favourable or unfavourable, before they read the story themselves. After reading the story, the participants were asked to also write a review. Not surprisingly, those who read positive reviews expected the story to be better than those that read negative reviews. Participants who read positive reviews also wrote more positive comments compared to those who read negative comments. Since the nature of the review was randomly determined, it appears that reviews do influence our perception of a text.
In the second experiment, 163 participants were told by the experimenters that they were the last group in a three group experiment. They were asked to read the evaluations of the text by both the previous groups before reading the story themselves. Reading favourable evaluations made participants focus on the positive attributes of the story. In contrast, reading unfavourable evaluations made them criticize the same things that were criticized in the reviews they had read. When there were inconsistent evaluations (e.g., one negative and one positive) the reader paid closer attention to the story. This led to increased engagement with the story, presumably to try and resolve the inconsistency between the two evaluations.
This pair of studies shows how peer evaluations can influence how we see a story, shaping our own opinions and attention in complex ways. Not only are we swayed by positive and negative reviews, but contradictory reviews can also make us more attentive to a story and its various aspects.
Shedlosky-Shoemaker, R., Costabile, K., DeLuca, H., & Arkin, R. (2011). The Social Experience of Entertainment Media: Effects of others’ evaluations on our experience. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, and Applications, 23, 111-121.
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Posted by Guneet Daid.