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Mood Management Theory

Abstract

Mood management theory belongs to a larger group of theoretical approaches that address selective exposure to media content. The theory posits that media choice is a function of the current affective state of media users and follows the principle of mood optimization. While the existing empirical evidence provides substantial support for the general notion that selective exposure to media content varies as a function of the situational affective state, research also suggests that media choice does not always follow the dictate of immediate mood optimization. A number of theoretical extensions have been introduced to account for the mixed empirical evidence concerning the specific predictions of mood management theory and to explain seemingly counterhedonistic forms of media exposure.
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Mood Management Theory
Leonard Reinecke
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany
Abstract
Mood management theory belongs to a larger group of theoretical approaches that address the
selective exposure to media content. The theory posits that media choice is a function of the
current affective state of media users and follows the principle of mood optimization. While the
existing empirical evidence provides substantial support for the general notion that selective
exposure to media content varies a as a function of the situational affective state, prior research
also suggests that media choice does not always follow the dictate of immediate mood
optimization. A number of theoretical extensions have been introduced to account for the mixed
empirical evidence concerning the specific predictions of mood management theory and to
explain seemingly counter-hedonistic forms of media exposure.
Please cite as:
Reinecke, L. (2017). Mood management. In P. Rössler (Ed.), The International Encyclopedia of
Media Effects (pp. 1271-1284). Wiley-Blackwell.
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Mood Management Theory
Mood management theory (Zillmann, 1988a,b) belongs to a larger group of theoretical
approaches that address the selective exposure to media content and proposes that the selection
of media stimuli is driven by hedonistic motivation. In contrast to other theoretical approaches
that explain media choice on the basis of relatively stable dispositions, such as habits or
gratifications sought resulting from individual differences in personality characteristics, mood
management theory posits that selective exposure to media messages is a function of the current
affective state of media users and follows the principle of mood optimization.
Basic Assumptions and Predictions
Mood management theory, initially referred to as the theory of affect-dependent stimulus
arrangement (Zillmann & Bryant, 1985), is founded on the basic assumption that individuals are
motivated to terminate or alleviate negative affective states and to preserve and intensify positive
affect. To serve these hedonistic goals, individuals rearrange their stimulus environments in a
way that aids them in the optimization of mood via maximizing positive affect and minimizing
aversive mood states.
Media exposure is just one among a multitude of options of stimulus arrangement, yet a highly
efficient one. While traditional means of stimulus arrangement often require considerable effort,
such as a change in location (e.g., going for a walk), or the exertion of energy in an uplifting
activity (e.g., playing a soccer game with friends), media exposure offers the opportunity of
symbolic stimulus arrangement via mediated representations of environments, narration, or social
interaction. Given the almost ubiquitous availability of a plethora of media offerings , today
stimulus rearrangement is more easily available than ever before. According to mood
management theory, we learn to navigate through this stimulus environment in a way that best
suits our hedonic needs through operant learning. Initially, stimulus selection occurs randomly
and independent of our current mood states. Selections, however, that are incidentally made
during negative mood states and that successfully terminate or tone done this noxious state are
negatively reinforced and will thus be enacted with a higher probability in similar situations in
the future. Analogously, stimulus exposure that succeeds in maintaining or intensifying good
mood is positively reinforced, thus increasing the likelihood of similar stimulus selection in the
future.
In contrast to other theories of media choice, such as the uses-and-gratifications approach, that
propose that the selection of media content is a rational and conscious decision process, mood
management theory assumes that media users may but do not necessarily have to be cognizant of
the motivational processes driving their selective exposure to media content. As the theory is
based on the mechanisms of operant learning, it does not require the assumption of deliberate
media choice. While media users may recognize their hedonic motivation in some situations,
their media exposure may be less deliberative and more intuitive in many other situations.
A necessary precondition for the learning processes proposed in mood management theory is a
contingency between message characteristics and the modification of prevailing moods. Mood-
specific content preferences can only develop if different message types and genres have reliable
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and predictable effects on mood. If all media stimuli possessed the same mood-altering qualities
or if the effect of media content on mood varied randomly, no stable and mood-congruent
preference could emerge. Accordingly, prior research on mood management has made concrete
predictions on the mood-impacting characteristics of media stimuli and the corresponding mood-
congruent selection patterns. Mood management theory focusses on four distinct dimensions that
characterize media messages in terms of their mood-altering effects (Zillmann, 1988a,b):
Excitatory potential: The first dimension addressed in mood management theory refers
to the effect of media messages on the arousal level of media users. Whereas calm and
relaxing media stimuli (e.g., nature films or slow music) reduce the level of arousal,
exposure to other forms of media content (e.g., action movies, or erotic content) leads to
increases in arousal.
Absorption potential: A second important factor that influences the mood-altering
potential of media messages is their ability to capture the attention of media users and
thus to suppress the affect-maintaining cognitive elaboration and rumination on the
origins of a given mood state. Highly absorbing media messages have a higher
intervention potential and thus more strongly distract media users from the sources of
their current affective state, resulting in more effective mood alterations than less
absorbing messages.
Semantic affinity: A further dimension that is strongly related to the distraction from a
current mood is the overlap between the media content and the media user’s current
affective state. Media messages that contain strong references to the current mood are
less effective in altering the prevailing affective state than those showing low semantic
affinity with the current mood.
Hedonic valence: The last mood-altering media characteristic refers to the general
positive versus negative tone of media content. Messages with a positive hedonic
valence (e.g., a comedy program) are more effective in terminating aversive and
maintaining pleasurable moods than messages with negative affective valence (e.g., sad
and tragic portrayals in drama).
Mood management theory predicts that media users show specific preference for media
messages with distinct combinations of these mood-altering characteristics as a function of their
current affective state. As stimulus arrangement is guided by the goal to minimize negative and
to maximize positive moods, media users should selectively expose themselves to such messages
that provide the best fit with the current mood optimization needs of the user.
A first set of hypotheses of mood management theory refers to the management of the arousal
component (Arousal/Activation) of the current affective state. As both under-stimulation (i.e.,
boredom) as well as over-stimulation (stress, anxiety) are perceived as unpleasant states, the
selection of media stimuli should be guided by the goal of excitatory homeostasis to reach a
more balanced state of arousal. Accordingly, mood management theory predicts that over-
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stimulated individuals will show a preference for media content with low excitatory potential
whereas under-stimulated media users should prefer messages with high excitatory potential.
The remaining hypotheses refer to the effects of positive versus negative mood on the preference
for media stimuli with different levels of intervention potential, semantic affinity, and hedonic
valence. Individuals suffering from negative affective states should be particularly motivated to
alter their current mood. As media stimuli with high absorption potential and low semantic
affinity with the current mood state are most promising in terms of distraction from the
prevailing affect, they should be preferred by media users in an aversive state over less absorbing
media stimuli and media content that shows a strong connection with the current mood.
Individuals in negative mood states should also show a preference for media content with
positive affective valence rather than negative messages that would intensify rather than
terminate their bad moods. Individuals experiencing positive moods should selectively expose
themselves to media stimuli that provide minimal distraction from their prevailing affect. These
individuals should thus either refrain from media use altogether or select media stimuli with low
absorption potential and high semantic affinity. Furthermore, as they are already in a pleasurable
state, their preference for media content with positive valence should be less pronounced than for
individuals in aversive states (Zillmann, 1988a,b).
Empirical Evidence
The basic assumptions of mood management theory have been tested in numerous studies over
the last three decades. Since the theory assumes that media users are often not cognizant of the
processes and motivations guiding their media choice, the majority of studies in this research
tradition have used experimental designs rather than self-report measures. Typically, participants
are first confronted with a mood-induction, resulting in positive, negative, or neutral affective
states, and then provided with the opportunity to choose from a set of pre-tested media stimuli
systematically varying in their mood-altering qualities (e.g., Knobloch & Zillmann, 2002). The
selective exposure patterns that result from the preceding mood induction are then unobtrusively
assessed. While experimental designs dominate mood management research, other empirical
methods, such as diary studies (e.g., Anderson, Collins, Schmitt, & Smith Jacobvitz, 1996) or
surveys (e.g., Meadowcroft & Zillmann, 1987) have also been applied to test the basic
assumptions and predictions of the theory. While the existing empirical evidence provides
substantial support for the general notion that selective exposure to media content varies as a
function of the situational affective state, some of the more specific predictions of mood
management theory have produced mixed results and received only partial support.
Excitatory Potential and the Regulation of Arousal
Mood management identifies the current state of arousal as a central predictor of selective
exposure to media content. Prior research clearly demonstrated that media choice well reflects
the goal of excitatory homeostasis with over-stimulated individuals seeking relaxation and
under-stimulated individuals preferring activating and exciting media content. In a seminal study
on arousal regulation through selective exposure, Bryant and Zillmann (1984) induced states of
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over- and under-stimulation by exposing their participants to boring (threading washers onto a
lace) versus stressful (solving exam questions under time pressure) tasks. After the arousal
induction, participants ostensibly waited for the beginning of a second study. During this 15
minute waiting period, they had the opportunity to choose among six TV programs. In a pre-test,
three of these programs had been rated as relaxing (e.g., underwater nature scenes) and three as
exciting content (e.g., an action-packed adventure drama). Program choice and exposure time to
relaxing versus exciting content was unobtrusively measured. The findings clearly support the
predictions of mood management theory: As expected, stressed participants selected significantly
more relaxing programs than bored participants who, in turn, showed a significantly stronger
preference for exciting programs. Additionally, the findings also showed that the majority of
participants who had chosen the TV program in accordance with the predictions of mood
management theory successfully reached excitatory homeostasis. The arousal level of under-
stimulated participants significantly increased after exposure to exciting content. For stressed
participants, exposure to TV content resulted in decreased arousal irrespective of their program
choice. Obviously, the level of arousal resulting from the stress-inducing task exceeded the level
of arousal resulting from exposure to any of the six TV stimuli. Consequently, compared to their
current state of over-stimulation, all six TV programs offered relief through relaxation. Empirical
support for selective exposure as a function of stress and arousal also comes from non-
experimental field research. Anderson et al. (1996) examined the impact of stressful life events
on TV exposure in 329 families in the U.S. The results revealed a positive relationship between
stress and exposure to comedy programs. Based on the assumption that comedy has a relaxing
and uplifting effect, these results clearly support the predictions of mood management theory.
Mood Optimization through Selective Exposure
A considerable number of studies have addressed the relationship between selective exposure to
media content and mood alteration. However, the findings of this research do not paint an
unambiguous picture concerning mood optimization through media choice. A crucial factor that
complicates research on mood-congruent content preferences is the fact that the various mood-
altering characteristics of media stimuli are strongly confounded (Zillmann, 1988b). Media
messages that are highly arousing, for example, also tend to have a high absorption potential.
Such connections among content characteristics make a rigorous test of their individual role in
mood-congruent selective exposure difficult or even impossible.
A number of studies support the general assumption of mood management theory that selective
exposure is driven by mood optimization. In an experiment from Knobloch and Zillmann (2002)
that tested selective exposure to music as a function of current mood, participants were first
randomly assigned to one of three experimental conditions that induced a positive, negative, or
neutral mood state. In an ostensibly unrelated second part of the study, participants were able to
freely choose among a set of eight different music stimuli that had been rated on the two
dimensions of energy and joyfulness in a pretest. Participants’ music selection and exposure time
were unobtrusively tracked over a period of 10 minutes. In accordance with the predictions of
mood management theory, participants in the bad mood condition spent significantly more time
listening to energetic and joyful music than participants in the positive mood condition. A
negative affective state thus led to a preference for media stimuli with positive affective valence
and high distraction potential, supporting the assumptions of mood management theory. After the
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music listening period, participants in the three experimental conditions no longer differed
significantly regarding their mood state, which underlines the effectiveness of the observed
mood-congruent content preference in terms of mood optimization. Further support for mood
enhancement through selective exposure to media content with positive affective valence is
provided by correlational data. In a survey study, Meadowcroft and Zillmann (1987) explored
the effect of the menstrual cycle on the TV preferences of women. The study was based on the
assumption that, due to variations in hormone concentration, pre-menstrual and menstrual
women would be more depressed and would consequently show a stronger preference for media
content with positive affective valence that promises to alleviate their mood than women midway
through the menstrual cycle. The data supported this assumption and revealed that the
participants preference for comedy programs reached a peak prior to and during menses. Mood-
congruent exposure patterns have also been found with regard to the semantic affinity of media
messages. In an experiment by Zillmann, Hezel, and Medoff (1980), participants were
confronted with a mood induction manipulation and then allowed to watch television and choose
among TV programs featuring drama, game shows, and situational comedy. Contrary to the
authors expectations, participants in the bad mood condition did not show a preference for
comedy programs. This pattern of results seems to be in clear contrast to the assumptions of
mood management that would suggest a preference of individuals in aversive affective states for
media stimuli with positive hedonic valence that should be most effective in terminating their
bad mood. However, the authors suggest a different interpretation of the data: As part of the
mood induction manipulation, participants in the bad mood condition received negative
performance feedback and ridiculing comments from the experimenter. As the comedy programs
used in the experiment predominantly featured hostile forms of humor that depicted the failure
and belittlement of protagonists, these programs showed a high semantic affinity with the
participants prevailing mood states. Having just suffered from failure and ridicule themselves,
exposure to the belittlement of others apparently did not offer any affective relief for the
participants in the bad mood condition. This assumption was verified in a follow-up study also
reported by Zillmann et al. (1980). In an initial mood induction task, participants were placed
into a bad mood either by frustration or by frustration and provocation. Subsequently, their
selective exposure to ridicule-laden or non-hostile comedy was observed. Under these
circumstances, hostile comedy exhibited a high semantic affinity for provoked participants who
consequently should avoid such content whereas merely frustrated individuals should show
strong preference for both types of comedy. The results support this assumption and demonstrate
that provoked participants avoided hostile comedy whereas merely frustrated participants
showed a stronger preference for this kind of humor. The findings support the assumption of
mood management theory pertaining to selective exposure as a function of semantic affinity and
underline the need to make fine-grained distinctions between different forms of mood (e.g.,
frustration vs. provocation) and their potential representation in media content (e.g., hostile vs.
non-hostile comedy).
The aforementioned results that support the basic propositions of mood management theory are
contrasted by other research that calls the validity and generalizability of some of the theory’s
predictions into question. Biswas, Riffe and Zillmann (1994) examined selective exposure to
news stories as a function of prevailing mood. After initial mood induction, participants were
free to choose among 12 magazine articles. Six of these news stories had been classified as good
news and six as bad news in a pretest. The results of the experiment revealed striking gender
differences. The selective exposure patterns exhibited by the female participants in the study lend
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support to the predictions of mood management theory. As expected, based on the rationale of
mood optimization, female participants that had been put into a bad mood selected significantly
less bad news than female participants in the positive mood condition. Male participants,
however, did not show significant mood-congruent exposure patterns. Consequently, the results
of the experiment by Biswas et al. (1994) lends only partial support to the assumption that
negative mood should be associated with a stronger preference for media stimuli with positive
affective valence and suggests that mood congruent selective exposure is subject to gender
differences. Conflicting results also exist with regard to mood-congruent exposure to media
content with high versus low semantic affinity. A number of studies have addressed exposure to
love-lamenting music as a function of romantic happiness (e.g., Knobloch, Weismann, &
Zillmann, 2004). Contrary to the expectations of mood management theory that would suggest
that lovelorn or romantically disenchanted individuals should avoid sad love songs due to their
high semantic affinity with the current noxious mood, the results of these studies point in the
opposite direction. The results revealed that romantically unhappy individuals were drawn to
rather than repelled by sad love songs, demonstrating that individuals in negative affective states
do not necessarily avoid media content with high semantic affinity. Besides these individual
results that are in contrast with specific predictions of mood management theory, the basic notion
of mood optimization as the core predictor of media exposure faces a more fundamental
challenge. Many media stimuli feature depictions of misfortune, suffering, violence, conflicts,
and the complexity of the human condition rather than providing uplifting, pleasurable and
exclusively positive forms of media entertainment. Exposure to such genres as drama, crime
series, horror movies, or tearjerkers seems to be at odds with the exclusively hedonistic view that
mood management theory provides of media users and the motivational mechanisms presumed
to drive media exposure. If mood optimization and the striving for hedonic pleasure are the sole
mechanisms of selective exposure, then why have genres that do not seem to aid these goals
evolved in the first place and why do so many media users expose themselves to this kind of
media content on a regular basis?
Theoretical Extensions
As a reaction to the mixed empirical evidence concerning the basic assumptions and predictions
of mood management theory, a number of theoretical extensions and alternative interpretations
have been suggested over the last three decades following the initial formulation of the theory.
To account for the partly conflicting results of prior research, the basic assumptions of the theory
have been extended to account for the role of individual differences in the selective exposure
process. Furthermore, the hedonistic premise of mood management theory has been expanded to
better explain seemingly non-hedonistic forms of media choice.
Individual differences
Mood management theory primarily explains selective exposure through situational fluctuations
in mood and arousal. However, results revealing significant differences in choice patterns based
on demographic variables such as gender (e.g., Biswas et al., 1994) suggest that in addition to
state mood, the theory also needs to account for the influence of individual differences in more
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stable trait variables on mood-congruent choice patterns. It has been suggested, for example, that
stable gender-specific media preferences, such as the higher preference for violent or combative
media content in males compared to females, interact with situational mood management
processes (Zillmann, 2000). Furthermore, individual differences in personality characteristics or
personal attitudes also play a relevant role within the mood management process as they are
strongly related to the perceived hedonic valence of media stimuli. Depending on personality
characteristics (e.g., high versus low sensation seekers) or the individual worldview (e.g.,
political partisanship), the same media stimulus can have positive hedonic valence for one
individual and negative hedonic valence for another media user. Traits therefore at least partly
determine whether individuals show euphoric or dysphoric reactions to media stimuli and thus
play a relevant role within the mood management process (Zillmann, 2000).
Emotional utility
Prior research has applied a number of theoretical approaches to explain why seemingly non-
hedonic media content may possess emotional utility, i.e. provide positive hedonic gratification
and thus aid mood optimization (Zillmann, 2000). Affective disposition theory, for example,
provides insights into the emotional utility of media content featuring the suffering of beloved
protagonists (e.g., drama or crime series). The theory proposes that viewers develop specific
anticipations and hopes concerning the fate of liked and disliked media characters. While media
users hope for a positive ending for morally good and innocent protagonists, they hope for
punishment and a negative ending for disliked antagonists. As many seemingly non-hedonic
media stimuli ultimately depict the restoration of justice and the deserved punishment of the
antagonist, exposure to the suffering of liked media characters is finally rewarded through
hedonically pleasant affective experiences. The emotional utility of suspense-laden media stimuli
such as violent action or horror movies, which seem to evoke unpleasant feelings of tension and
fear rather than mood optimization and pleasure, is further explained by excitation transfer
theory. The theory suggests that the physiological arousal elicited during suspenseful movie
scenes or other arousing media stimuli only slowly returns to baseline levels and intensifies the
emotional experiences during subsequent media exposure. As many action-laden narratives
culminate in a happy ending, the aversive experience of suspense and fear during exposure
provides the hedonic gratification of particularly intensive feelings of euphoria and relief at the
end of the narration.
Although many forms of media content provide emotional gratifications via empathy with the
protagonists and a happy ending, other media stimuli elicit primarily negative affective reactions
that do not culminate in a uplifting conclusion (e.g. drama or horror films). The theoretical
construct of metaemotions has been used to explain the emotional utility of sad and poignant
media fare (Oliver, 1993). The concept of metaemotions refers to the cognitive appraisal of
emotions, making a distinction between the direct emotional response to media stimuli and the
evaluation of these emotions. In contrast to the original assumptions of mood management
theory this suggests that negative moods and emotions do not necessarily have to be perceived as
unpleasant states that need to be terminated or avoided. Rather, media users can come to the
conclusion that negative emotions do have a positive value and provide emotional gratification,
for example because they are socially desirable or are indicative of attractive and desirable
personality characteristics, such a being able to feel empathy for others. Such positive
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interpretations of bad moods and feelings, thus, provide hedonic gratifications. Just like positive
moods and emotions, positive metaemotions can act as a positive reinforcement of successful
media choice and thus have an impact on future selective exposure behavior (Oliver, 1993).
The emotional utility of counter-hedonistic media content has also been explained with reference
to processes of social comparison. In a seminal experiment by Mares and Cantor (1992), the
selective exposure behavior of lonely and nonlonely elderly participants was examined. Lonely
elderly participants showed a preference for negatively valenced portrayals of old age.
Furthermore, they showed a decrease in negative affect after watching a movie portraying an
unhappy and socially isolated old man whereas exposure to a positive portrayal of the same
protagonist did not improve their mood. Nonlonely elderly participants exhibited the reverse
pattern of results. While the findings regarding lonely participants (preference for and mood
optimization through media stimuli with negative affective valence) seem to contradict the
predictions of mood management theory, social comparison theory provides a plausible
interpretation: For the elderly participants, downward social comparison with other elderly
individuals who are in an even worse situation provided hedonic gratifications through self-
enhancement. Processes of social comparison have also been applied to explain exposure to other
forms of media content, such as sad love songs. Accordingly, romantically frustrated individuals
may expose themselves to love-lamenting music to reassure themselves of the fact that other
people share their misery or are even worse off (Zillmann, 2000).
Informational utility
The concept of emotional utility is complemented by the concept of informational utility. While
the original perspective of mood management theory suggests that troubled individuals should
avoid all media content that makes reference to their current situation (i.e., has high semantic
affinity), more recent interpretations also acknowledge the possibility that media choice can be
motivated by the goal of information seeking rather than mood optimization (Zillmann, 2000).
Accordingly, selective exposure to counter-hedonistic media content can be driven by the desire
to learn something about the self and to receive information that aids in improving the current
situation. In addition to the hedonic gratifications offered by downward social comparison,
exposure to the portrayal of the socially isolated protagonist in the study by Mares and Cantor
(1992), for example, may also have been motivated by the desire to learn new ways of coping
with loneliness. Informational utility may also guide exposure to sad love songs that could
provide new insights into alternative ways of coping with romantic frustration. The concept of
informational utility significantly extends the perspective of mood management research by
acknowledging that selective exposure is not necessarily or exclusively a form of emotion-
related coping seeking to cure negative moods and emotions resulting from personal problems
and stressors. Rather, selective exposure can also resemble a form of problem-focused coping
that aims at solving or eliminating the actual source of unpleasant affective states.
Mood adjustment theory and telic hedonism
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A final extension of mood management theory refers to the concept of telic hedonism and the
distinction between processes that serve short-term versus long-term hedonic goals (Zillmann,
2000). While spontaneous and short-term forms of hedonistic behavior aim at instantaneous
pleasure and mood optimization, the concept of telic hedonism refers to the acceptance of
negative mood and unpleasant affective states in the interest of subsequent hedonic
gratifications. This suggests that anticipatory considerations play an important role in mood
management processes: Individuals may be willing to delay immediate hedonic pleasure and
mood optimization if they anticipate that this will ultimately lead to even greater hedonic
gratifications. This is a crucial extension to the initial logics of mood management theory as it
suggests that seemingly counter-hedonic exposure patterns may serve long-term hedonic goals.
More recently, Knobloch (2003) has introduced mood adjustment theory that further expands the
notion of telic mood management and delayed gratifications through selective exposure. The
theory proposes that hedonically optimal mood is not sought under all circumstances and that
selective exposure is subject to the anticipation of situational requirements. While positive mood
and hedonic pleasure may be desirable and adaptive in many situations, it may be dysfunctional
or socially undesirable for other tasks (e.g., an academic test) or social situations (e.g., a funeral).
Mood adjustment theory predicts that under such circumstances, individuals will be motivated to
attain an affective state that is subjectively best suited to facilitate optimal functioning in the
subsequent situation. Depending on the anticipated situational requirements, media users may
thus select media content that helps them to maximize concentration or to neutralize their current
affective state rather than media stimuli that provide hedonically pleasant mood states. However,
in the absence of such situational requirements, selective exposure is guided by the goal of mood
optimization. Mood adjustment theory thus provides a more general model of selective media
exposure than mood management theory, as it suggests that media choice is a function of various
regulation goals that include but are not restricted to mood optimization. Mood adjustment also
goes beyond the concept of telic hedonism as it suggests that hedonically unpleasant mood is not
only tolerated in order to obtain delayed hedonic gratifications, but also if anticipated non-
hedonic goals or social requirements demand it.
Recent Developments and Future Directions
Since the initial development of mood management theory by Zillmann and Bryant (1985), the
media landscape has changed considerably. The introduction of interactive media, in particular,
provides interesting new challenges to mood management research. In contrast to traditional
non-interactive media stimuli that present the same content, structure, and appearance to all
users, interactive media such as video games or social online media react to and are altered by
the users’ activities. This has crucial implications for the mood management process as the
stimulus environment provided by the same media stimulus may vary considerably depending on
individual usage patterns. This makes it harder to interpret the findings of mood management
experiments using interactive stimuli as it becomes more difficult to expose participants to the
same mood-altering stimulus environment. At the same time, interactive media may provide new
opportunities to better differentiate between the individual effects of the mood-altering
characteristics of media stimuli that are frequently confounded in traditional content. Video
games, for example, provide new ways of experimentally manipulating the intervention potential
of media content (e.g., via the level of task demand within the game) while keeping all other
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features of the stimulus (sound, graphics, narrative, etc.) constant (Bowman & Tamborini, 2013).
Interactive media also, however, create new problems regarding confounded variables, such as
the personal skill level of game players or the willingness to self-disclose private information in
social media, which may impact the experience of media use and complicate the mood
management process. Although initial evidence supports the applicability of mood management
theory to new media (Bowman & Tamborini, 2013), future research will need to further explore
the specifics of mood management processes in interactive environments.
Recent developments in the distribution of media content introduce additional complicating
factors to the mood management process. In times of mobile internet connections and
smartphones, the temptations of pleasurable media use seem to be a growing challenge for many
media users. In this media environment, the hedonic striving for mood optimization may easily
conflict with other less pleasurable goals and obligations and result in procrastination. Guilt
reactions and the negative appraisal of such forms of media use reduce the beneficial effects of
media exposure and may impede successful mood management (Reinecke, Hartmann, & Eden,
2014). In the face of the growing ubiquity of media content, future research in the area of mood
management will need to integrate and account for processes of self-control that moderate
between hedonic media exposure and the attainment of other non-hedonic goals as well as the
normative evaluation of media use.
New challenges for future mood management research also come from recent theoretical
developments in entertainment research. In an attempt to explain the appreciation of sad and
dramatic media content, entertainment scholars have extended the traditional hedonic view on
media enjoyment and suggested that hedonic viewing motivations are complemented by
eudaimonic viewing motivations. This eudaimonic view goes beyond the notion of emotional
utility that suggest that exposure to counter-hedonic media content ultimately results in hedonic
gratification in form of positive metaemotions or downward social comparison. Instead,
eudaimonic viewing motivations refer to non-hedonic gratifications of poignant media content
such as feelings of meaningfulness or contemplation (Oliver & Raney, 2011). Other researchers
in this area have suggested that rather than being guided by pleasure-seeking, selective exposure
to entertaining media content is guided by intrinsic needs, and that need satisfaction is an
additional mechanism of mood repair (Reinecke et al., 2012).
Mood management theory has significantly shaped the scholarly view on media content as a
resource for coping and self-regulation. Recent research has extended this perspective by
providing a more general view on the effects of media use on well-being that goes beyond the
regulation of mood and arousal. Research on media-induced recovery, for example, suggests that
in addition to mood repair, media exposure may also facilitate the restoration of other resources
such as general vitality and cognitive performance after phases of stress and strain (Reinecke,
Klatt, & Krämer, 2011). Future mood management research could thus benefit from broadening
its view to include additional outcome variables and from addressing the effects of mood
management on the general psychological health and well-being of media users.
SEE ALSO:
Affective Disposition Theory; Arousal/Activation; Emotion Regulation/Coping via Media Use;
Entertainment Effects: Media Appreciation; Excitation Transfer Theory; Media Habits;
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Personality Traits: Influence on Media Effects; Selectivity: Selective Exposure Effects; Social
Comparison Theory; Uses and Gratifications: Basic Concept
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Oliver, M. B., & Raney, A. A. (2011). Entertainment as pleasurable and meaningful: Identifying
hedonic and eudaimonic motivations for entertainment consumption. Journal of
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Reinecke, L., Hartmann, T., & Eden, A. (2014). The guilty couch potato: The role of ego
depletion in reducing recovery through media use. Journal of Communication, 64, 569-
589. doi: 10.1111/jcom.12107
Reinecke, L., Klatt, J., & Krämer, N. C. (2011). Entertaining media use and the satisfaction of
recovery needs: Recovery outcomes associated with the use of interactive and
noninteractive entertaining media. Media Psychology, 14, 192-215. doi:
10.1080/15213269.2011.573466
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Reinecke, L., Tamborini, R., Grizzard, M., Lewis, R., Eden, A., & Bowman, N. D. (2012).
Characterizing mood management as need satisfaction: The effects of intrinsic needs on
selective exposure and mood repair. Journal of Communication, 62, 437-453. doi:
10.1111/j.1460-2466.2012.01649.x
Zillmann, D. (1988a). Mood management through communication choices. American Behavioral
Scientist, 31(3), 327-340.
Zillmann, D. (1988b). Mood management: Using entertainment to full advantage. In L.
Donohew, H. E. Sypher & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Communication, social cognition, and
affect (pp. 147-171). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Zillmann, D. (2000). Mood management in the context of selective exposure theory. In M. E.
Roloff (Ed.), Communication yearbook 23 (pp. 103-123). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Zillmann, D., & Bryant, J. (1985). Affect, mood, and emotion as determinants of selective
exposure. In D. Zillmann & J. Bryant (Eds.), Selective exposure to communication (pp.
157-189). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Zillmann, D., Hezel, R. T., & Medoff, N. J. (1980). The effect of affective states on selective
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323-339.
Further Readings
Knobloch-Westerwick, S. (2006). Mood management theory, evidence, and advancements. In J.
Bryant & P. Vorderer (Eds.), Psychology of entertainment (pp. 239-254). Mahwah, NJ:
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Oliver, M. B. (2003). Mood management and selective exposure. In J. Bryant, D. Roskos-
Ewoldsen & J. Cantor (Eds.), Communication and emotion. Essays in honor of Dolf
Zillmann (pp. 85-106). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Author Mini-Biography:
Leonard Reinecke is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Communication at Johannes
Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany. He holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in psychology from the
University of Hamburg. His past work has addressed the uses and effects of interactive and non-
interactive media, computer-mediated communication, and entertainment research. His work has
been published in numerous international journals, among them the Journal of Communication,
Media Psychology, the Journal of Media Psychology, and Computers in Human Behavior.
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