Female Viewers’ Central and Peripheral Processing or Commercial TV Ads and Movies and Corresponding Changes in their Body Esteem
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Two experiments examined the complex and elusive process by which women experience changes in their body esteem while paying attention to commercial media messages featuring competing messages that invite them to value contravening views about feminine beauty. These studies were held with two groups of college-age female participants in separate communication colleges in the Southern United States. Poor self-appreciation has become an important issue on many college campuses in North America (Richins, 1991) where female students are particularly at risk for body esteem problems (Harris, 1995). Researchers relied on Petty and Caccioppo’s (1986) Elaboration Likelihood Model to assess female viewers' levels of attention to complex commercial message appeals and to examine the extent to which they “made sense” of competing message cues. They assumed, as Tiggeman (2005) proposed, that conditions of high attention could increase a woman’s body-focused anxiety, while peripheral conditions of low scrutiny could provoke body esteem effects as well, albeit in a different measure. They categorized women’s thoughtful responses to test messages along a central-peripheral “continuum” based on viewers’ written comments. Test messages were selected to attract viewers’ attention differently, either to focus on personally-relevant issues or else to focus on product, brand or message-related issues. Particular messages features, they hypothesized, would lead female viewers to process information centrally or peripherally, affecting viewers body-esteem in predictable but singular way. As well, researchers conducted pre-test post test-sessions to assess group changes in female viewers' body esteem. Thus, researchers formulated two corresponding sets of hypotheses for each message viewing conditions, one focusing on viewers' message processing of commercial message with unique structural characteristics, and the other predicting a related body-esteem effect. Results of these two experiments indicated that female viewers’ attention to personally-relevant beauty issues was key to influencing their body-esteem. Results of these two experiments demonstrated female viewers’ processing of complex commercial messages, structure and the social-relational thoughts they elaborated in response to these messages were key factors affecting their body esteem. These experiments also highlighted the message structures featuring images of realistic or unrealistic-looking female models in test ads and movies that influenced female viewers’ body esteem and those that did not.