chapter  1
24 Pages

Paying Attention to Television

It is surprising that there has been so little investigation into the nature of atten­ tion to television. Of the many thousands of empirical studies of television view­ ing and its effects, only a few dozen have included attention as a central focus, and a relatively few others have included attention as a subsidiary consideration. The lack of research is surprising for several reasons: (a) Television’s great ef­ fectiveness as a medium of mass communication is often attributed to its power of eliciting and maintaining attention; words such as “mesmerizing” are commonly used to describe this power, (b) Attention is often assumed to play a role in tele­ vision’s impact. Most directly, TV is frequently declared as affecting attentional abilities, such as reducing children’s “attention spans.” (c) Most of television’s presumed impact, of course, is due to the content retained by the viewers. It is obvious, however, that content is not uniformly absorbed by viewers; rather, there are numerous levels of selection that go on as part of television use. Selective attention is surely an aspect of this process, and is therefore a potentially crucial intervening factor in the effects of content, (d) Finally, from the practical point of view of the television producer or sponsor, eliciting and maintaining attention is an essential ingredient in gaining an audience.