Monday 6 July 2015

Research Bulletin: Do Reviews Change Our Evaluation of What We Are About to Read or Have Already Read?

As active readers we are constantly evaluating what we are reading in order to form our own opinions. Making personal evaluations based on what we have read is a fundamental aspect of the reading experience. However, we may also look to the opinions of our peers and professional critics for guidance. Sometimes we seek out a review prior to reading a piece of literature in order to decide whether or not to read it. At other times we might read a review after we have read something to find out what others think about it. Do these reviews affect how we see a piece of literature? Moreover, does the source of the review or whether it is read before or after we read something influence our personal evaluation? Do negative reviews have a different effect than positive reviews? Peter Dixon (University of Alberta), Marisa Bortolussi (University of Alberta), and Paul Sopčak (MacEwan University) conducted a study to answer these questions. 

These researchers hypothesized that reading the review first would lead the reader to focus more on particular aspects of the text that were mentioned in the review. In contrast, reading the review after the piece would influence the reader’s evaluation to fall more in line with the views of the reviewer. In order to test their ideas, participants either read a review and then a piece of literature (N = 56), or read the literature first and then read the review (N = 48). In both conditions the participants had to read the first two pages from four novels, all of which were accompanied by either a positive expert review, a negative expert review, a positive peer review, or a negative peer review. It should be noted that the participants were not forced to read the reviews. After participants in both conditions read a booklet containing the pieces of literature and reviews, they evaluated the stories.

When the review was read after the piece, positive peer reviews had a larger impact than negative peer reviews, shifting opinions to be more positive. Both types of peer reviews were also more impactful than reviews from professional critics. When the review was read before the piece, only negative reviews by an expert had an effect on reader evaluations, shifting opinions to be more negative. These results are interesting because not only do they establish that reviews affect readers’ evaluations, but they also indicate that when a review is read affects how much a reader likes a text.

Dixon, P., Bortolussi, M., & Sopčák, P. (2015). Extratextual effects on the evaluation of narrative texts. Poetics, 48, 42–54. doi:10.1016/j.poetic.2014.12.00

* For a copy of this article, please e-mail R. Mar (e-mail in 'About' section).

Posted by Amin Khajehnassiri

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