Do we improve, disrupt, or embrace sadness? Exploring sadness-based media choice and its anticipated effects on coping

Open Access
Kim, Jinhee
Graduate Program:
Mass Communications
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 27, 2007
Committee Members:
  • Mary Beth Oliver, Committee Chair
  • S. Shyam Sundar, Committee Member
  • Fuyuan Shen, Committee Member
  • Stephanie A Shields, Committee Member
  • mood management
  • sadness coping
  • sadness regulation
  • media choice
  • media use
Sadness, unlike other negative feelings, is unique in that its main causes are related to unpreventable and irreversible harm without any blamable objects. Due to these distinctive attributes, pre-existing theories of media use—uses and gratifications and Zillmann’s mood management—that center around hedonism-driven media choice are not sufficient to explain the media preferences of individuals with sad feelings. As those theories predict, sad individuals may not always opt to improve their negative feelings into positive ones or distract themselves from those feelings. In order to predict sadness-based media preferences that correspond to the three potential salient goals of sadness regulation—improving, distracting, or embracing—the present study conducted an experiment manipulating sad and neutral feelings and repeatedly measuring preference for three media genres—comedies, game shows, and sad dramas. Results showed that most participants wanted to watch comedies over sad dramas or game shows regardless of their prevailing mood states. However, a series of mediation analyses revealed that sadness indirectly affected preference for sad dramas because of an expectation of gaining profound life meanings and purposes. Additionally, sadness indirectly affected the tendency of some viewers to avoid comedies and/or game shows because they expected viewing such programming to induce unhappy or annoyed feelings respectively. These findings were interpreted as suggesting that although most sad individuals preferred to watch comedies, some viewers are motivated to experience self-understanding and maturity and to gain insights into life and the world, and sad dramas with their truthful, compelling, and meaningful messages provide viewers with constructive coping resources. To more fully understand the media consumption of sad people, the results are further discussed in terms of the importance of cognitive responses distinct from the emotional responses that resulted from the use of media.