Allie Johns on conference success in Chicago

By Aug.22, 2016

Interview with Media Psychology graduate Allie Johns (@AllieJohns) on working with industry for a dissertation live brief, and presenting at TVX in Chicago.


Allie at tvx allie johns tvx


Hi Allie. Congratulations on graduating with a Distinction! What a huge achievement. Did you think this was possible when you began the course?

No, not at all. I completed my first degree in 1990 and so much has changed since then, that I was way too preoccupied with learning to learn again, as well as the sheer exhilaration of returning to study to ever think I’d be able to complete the course, let alone be published and represent the Uni at a conference!

Tell me about your dissertation. What did you research and how did it come about?

My dissertation was an industry brief working with BBC Research and Development at Media City. They put out a brief out about an interactive TV episode that they’d developed (‘Our World War’ interactive episode), which caught my interest. I went along and met with Maxine Glancy at BBC R&D and then went to a session with Max and others from R&D and a producer and writer, and someone from Audience research. Off the back of that meeting, I made some recommendations for research around understanding user interaction from a cognitive and emotional engagement perspective. I proposed a research approach to them and to you. I really wanted to make the research applied so the ultimate was to produce a conceptual framework that could be used to understand future interactive narratives from the audience perspective.

What has happened with the research since then?

After completing the dissertation, I received an email from you about the call for papers from TVX (The International Conference on Experiences for Interactive Television and Video). My first reaction was to panic at that point – it sounded good but what to do next?! But I decided to go for it because I knew it would be both life and career enhancing for me to go through this. So then I had to submit the paper to ACM (the body behind the conference). What was interesting to me coming from a non-academic background was the amount of time involved and the amount of formatting! Every little detail needs to be 100% spot on. The process of submitting the initial paper and then the agonising wait! Then I had a mini-euphoria when it starts to sink in that this is major – having your study peer reviewed by people who don’t know you and finding out they were interested in your research! It was grounding and daunting at the same time. The process was a huge knowledge and skills enriching process.

What I would say to people in studying for a masters is to try to think ahead… I didn’t know a paper would come out of it, but if I was planning another dissertation I would be thinking where could this sit? What research would be publishable? Publishing is something to really aim for and I really think it should be a goal because it’s about setting out your stall as an expert and demonstrating your passion for your subject.

What was your experience of the conference in Chicago?

Oh it was amazing wasn’t it? The whole experience of the opportunity to learn from very specialist industry and academic speakers – there was a very good mix of research. The profile of the people surprised me – to have someone in the audience who you had cited in your research, and to have that person come up and say how they enjoyed it and were interested was truly special. The collaborative workshops were really great for networking and I’ve made some great connections. The experience of presenting was tremendous but nerve-wracking. It was absolutely fantastic to soak up others’ presentations and have the chance to give yours! Nerve-wracking, exciting, adrenalizing… and to be in one of the most incredible cities I’ve ever been to was an extraordinary opportunity and one I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.

What’s it like seeing your name in a printed publication?

Unbelievable! I’ve become a member of ACM and I have a ‘researcher profile’. If I go into ‘papers’ and type my name, my paper comes up straightaway! I’m very proud to share the paper on ResearchGate, and to show that I’ve started to practice my area of interest. And people have actually requested the paper! I still can hardly believe it.

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Social Media and Politics: a complex relationship

By Jun.17, 2016

Below my article published on the Converstation concerning the role of Social Media  in political debates and deliberation.

Is social media making Britain’s political debate more extreme?

Sharon Coen, University of Salford

In the fraught atmosphere gripping Britain following the killing of Jo Cox MP, there is deep concern about the tone of political debate in the country. There is no suggestion social media played a direct role in the crime, but attention has fallen on how more generally it may foment people’s anger.

Stephen Kinnock MP shared an office with Cox and the two were good friends. Following the attack he was reported as saying:

We need to think a bit about the tone of our politics and the way that politicians and the media talk to each other … and the way social media kicks in and amplifies this. It’s not a big journey from saying horrible things to doing horrible things.

Social media is often accused of providing a public space for people to say things they previously would never have said in real life (this is known as the online dishinibition effect), encouraging unrestricted harassment and abuse and a mob mentality. But social media’s role in politics is far more complicated than this because of the nature of political debate.

The adversarial communication style we see in politics today is certainly counterproductive and polarises opinions. Disagreement is great and is at the heart of democracy. But, as political scientist Susan Bickford argues, it is only by really listening to other people’s positions, not just discarding them, that the democratic process can be successful. And – as in face to face interaction among politicians or televised debates – the internet has proved so bad at enabling people to listen to each other that there are now attempts to redesign the way we communicate online to make us better listeners.

Stephen Kinnock MP has questioned social media debate.
Press Association

In politics, in particular, there are several challenges to our capability for active listening. People have a proven tendency to disregard information that challenges their beliefs and positions, something known as confirmation bias. And because political, cultural and religious values are often central to our identities, a challenge to those values becomes a challenge to who we are and how we see ourselves. When someone argues against our point of view, we take it personally.

So for us to be able to really listen to others’ positions, some argue we need to be able to disentangle our personal identity from our beliefs and values. This is made even harder in a political environment where personalities are increasingly important, where a single political leader is given more and more emphasis, over and above the institutions and ideals she or he represents.

The increased personalisation of politics is amplified by traditional media, and this has implications for political engagement. For example, I recently conducted a small (as yet unpublished) study that was in line with similar research showing how personalised coverage reduces young people’s intention to participate in political action. Participants were less willing to engage in political activities such as debates, voting or volunteering when they read a news story focused an individual politician, than when they read the same story focused on a political party or the government.

Making it personal

Social media, on the other hand, is a double-edged sword. On the positive side, it fosters political engagement both on and offline. For example, in a small (unpublished) study I conducted, I found that when people used the internet to debate and comment on news online, they were also more likely to be politically active in the real world. Again, this is in line with other research in the area.

But social media also fosters polarisation. People tend to connect to like-minded people – and engage with content that reflects their pre-existing attitudes and beliefs. Social media focuses political debate even further around individuals who have active profiles on social media sites. It can effectively put a big neon target on them, attracting more personal abuse from those who disagree with them.

The recent launch of the Reclaim the Internet campaign has highlighted the amount of abuse individuals (and women in particular) are subjected to online. The issues of cyberbullying and cybermisogyny are ones that deserve serious consideration for the negative impact they can have on the recipients of such abuse.

Despite this, it’s important to remember that only a small minority of people act upon the violent and abusive tendencies they might express online. And unfortunately such trends are not unique to the social media era. There is also little if any evidence that social media abuse translates into offline abuse in otherwise non-violent individuals.

So what can we do about this? Social media users need to actively challenge online abuse and the platforms themselves need to respond effectively to reports of such abuse with proper regulation. The polarisation and personalisation of politics, however, is a much harder problem to deal with.

The Conversation

Sharon Coen, Senior Lecturer in Media Psychology, University of Salford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the

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50% of online abuse is authored by women – Evaluation

By Jun.01, 2016




In the past week, considerable attention has been given to the launch of the #reclaimtheinternet campaign, a cross-party initiative aimed at opening a debate concerning strategies and interventions to address issues connected to online abuse.




The homepage of the initiative states: ‘misogyny, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, intimidation or abuse online mean that some voices are silenced. We’ve heard from teenagers bullied online, women targeted by rape threats, teachers subjected to sexist abuse by pupils     and parents, people enduring racist attacks, smears and slurs’.


The criticism


Looking at the #reclaimtheinternet hashtag associated with the campaign, several tweets referred to the findings of a study conducted by Demos which were released at the same time as the launch: the study reported that in the UK alone, 65.000 women were targeted by abuse on Twitter in the three week period of the study. The interesting twist, and one which was often emphasised on the Twitterspere as well as on mainstream media, was that 50% of the abuse came from women’s accounts.

Critics therefore took this as proof that there is no need to protect women online, as they are the main perpetrators of abuse.

It is important therefore to consider what the study actually teaches us.








The tweets were selected over a (non-specified) three-week period, using two search keywords ‘slut’ and ‘whore’: these words were identified in a previous study (May, 2014) as terms which men and women almost equally use on Twitter to attack women. The 2014 report was concerned with three keywords: ‘rape’, ‘slut’ and ‘whore’.


The missing Keyword




It is interesting that the 2016 study excluded the third keyword featured in the original study, ‘rape’. The original study identified over 100,000 Tweets mentioning ‘rape’ between 26th December 2013 and 9th February 2014. More than 1 in 10 appeared to be threatening in nature.Tweets containing the keyword ‘rape’ were classified on the basis of their imputed function as Serious/News, Metaphore/Casual, Threat/Abusive, or Other.

The majority of Tweets (40% of the overall total) mentioning rape were connected to discussion of news or current affairs, or in the context of political debates and campaigns.

The second most frequent category was defined by the researcher ‘casual’/metaphor and featured uses of the word rape that the coders (or the algorithm) did not deem threatening: while one example provided (@^^^^ this is my rape face LOL) is not a simply ‘casual’ mention and actually could be quite disturbing for recipients, I convene that the use of the word ‘rape’ in this case does not imply a deliberate attack on the individual.

Threat and Abusive Tweets were 12% of the sampled Tweets, and the remaining 27% was classified as ‘Other’.

Although men seemed to be using this word more frequently, the difference did not reach significance. This is almost certainly due to the fact that this result is based on the overall sample, rather than focusing on when the term was used as a threat. I would expect many women to mention rape in the context of news, political debates or campaigning. But I wonder how many of those 12% of Threatening or abusive Tweets were by women?


The two keywords selected



The result concerning the equal use of ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ by men and women to attack women is in line with Preston and Stanley’s 1987 study, in which these terms appeared in the top 10 insults directed towards women from both genders. In this sense, the study replicates previous research by identifying these terms as part of a dominant repertoire across genders.



Morality and Competence


Insults such as the ones considered above have a strong moral component: by addressing someone with those terms, one is challenging their moral integrity and their moral standing (Rubini et al., 2016). The repertoire of insults directed to women is nonetheless not exclusively focussed on morality, but also on competence (Semin and Rubini, 1990; Heflick & Goldenberg, 2009): thus, insults like ‘dumb’, ‘idiot’, ‘stupid’, ‘dim’, etc… serve the function of undermining women by denying them intellectual and/or professional competence (ibid.).

The study conducted therefore focuses on a very limited subset of the repertoire of insults available and in doing so it is likely to underestimate the amount of verbal abuse received by women, as well as differences of repertoires across genders.


Identifying Users



It is not clear in the report what were the criteria used to identify the gender of the users whose tweets were analysed: some people on social media adopt false identities (Caspi and Gorsky, 2006), and although this is not a particularly widespread phenomenon, it is likely that a proportion of those using the internet to abuse others would be doing so under false pretences. This begs the question as to how many of the self-professed women in the sample were actually women.

This is not to say that women do not insult each other online using those derogatory terms (as argued above, these are likely to be the most common insults in general), but whether and how the researchers managed to accurately estimate users’ gender remains unclear.


Does it matter?




A more general point on this study is that it highlighted the scale of abuse, especially when considering the extremely limited definition of abuse adopted (based on only two keywords). Whether coming from men or women, such abuse can have detrimental effects on the recipients (e.g. Ortega et al. 2012) and it is important to open up a dialogue on how to best address this social issue and how to support the victims of abuse online.



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News comments: a blessing or a curse? A MediaPsych Perspective

By Apr.13, 2016

Sharon Coen


In a recent article, the Guardian reports some original research on its own comment section, and raises some important questions concerning how to deal with abusive comments.

In line with what argued elsewhere, the study revealed that articles authored by women receive the largest amount of comments which are subsequently blocked by moderators due to their abusive nature or irrelevance. Belonging to a minority group in terms of ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion are other factors which seem to characterise articles which attract abusive comments.

The article includes some testimonies from journalists who have been subjected to online abuse and report the negative impact that these comments have on them. Again, these reports are in line with literature on the emotional effects of online abuse and cyberbullying

The Guardian therefore asks: how shall we deal with online abuse?

One suggestion would be to block comments, or to get rid of the comment feature altogether. While this would certainly eliminate the problem, one needs to bear in mind that research from the Pew Research Centre shows that the possibility to share and comment news articles is one of the main reasons why people access news online (this especially for young adults, 18-30 yrs old). Moreover, a preliminary study I have recently conducted on a sample of Undergraduate students in my Institution suggests that commenting and sharing online news is a predictor of offline political and civic engagement. In her Dissertation, the MSc Media Psychology Graduate Aylin Guzel reviews the important factors which make of the opportunity to comment online a fundamental feature of online news. Therefore, however appealing to just turn off comments, this might be a counterproductive move both for online outlets and for the health of our democracy.

So, what alternatives do we have?

Some suggestions may come from the ever-growing literature concerning trolling and communication in online communities.

How to deal with Trolls


The term ‘trolling’ has been defined in many different ways in the literature, but a common theme is that trolling has to do with disruptive communication online. This can take the form of deviating from the topic by posting apparently random comments to posting inappropriate humorous or satirical comments to posting offensive and abusive content. In her book on the argument, Whitney Phillips proposes a view of internet trolls as individuals who ‘actively embrace amorality, and are, or at least profess to be, pawns in the service of nothing but their own amusement. When the troll posts an obnoxious comment the main purpose is therefore to provoke a reaction in the readers to which s/he and the Troll community can laugh about. More importantly, the author suggests that, rather than being a deviation from mainstream culture, trolling is actually a reflection of the themes and biases which are inherent in our culture as well as in mainstream media.

Some useful guidelines on how to deal with trolls come from Timothy Campbell:

When you suspect that somebody is a troll, you might try responding with a polite, mild message to see if it’s just somebody in a bad mood. Internet users sometimes let their passions get away from them when seated safely behind their keyboard. If you ignore their bluster and respond in a pleasant manner, they usually calm down.

However, if the person persists in being beastly, and seems to enjoy being unpleasant, the only effective position is summed up as follows:

The only way to deal with trolls is to limit your reaction to reminding others not to respond to trolls.

When you try to reason with a troll, he wins. When you insult a troll, he wins. When you scream at a troll, he wins. The only thing that trolls can’t handle is being ignored.


How to deal with other offensive comments


Trolls represent only a proportion of people who post offensive content online. This is partly due to the online dishinibition effect, that is the tendency of people to behave online in ways that they would see inappropriate in a face to face interaction. This effect means that we tend to disclose more of ourselves online with perfect strangers than we would in face to face social encounters and that we tend to allow parts of ourselves to find expression online which we keep closeted in our day-to-day interactions in person, but also that we are more likely to give in to aggression, insults and abusive language.

Moreover, whereas in our face-to-face communications we tend to be able to choose the people we are talking to, when the communication moves online, it reaches a much wider public, therefore the likelihood of our message reaching an audience which fundamentally disagrees with our position, or who dislikes us simply on the basis of the various social categories we belong to.

In this case, the purpose of the commenter is not their own enjoyment, but to express their own position or their dislike towards the author/s or participants in a discussion.


The power of the Online Community


Once again, in this case it is fundamental to be reminded of the power of ‘we’: research in marketing and in computer mediated communication has repeatedly shown the extraordinary ability of online communities to self- regulate. For example, in her PhD project exploring the role of Social Media in Charities ‘Fundraising activities, Evie Lucas interviewed several professionals who were managing important UK Charities’ Facebook pages. Some of these mentioned how they do not engage in moderation of the comment threads in their pages, because the moderation is actually made by the other members of the online community.

Like in face-to-face interactions, therefore, ‘bystanders’ (that is, other readers) play a crucial role in the face of online abuse and bullying. The community can help ensure that the conversation remains around the issues raised in the article (or in the forum) and does not descend in personal attacks.

Appealing to the readers and seeking their support in regulating the comment threads is therefore an excellent idea, not only because it will hopefully discourage inappropriate use of the online space, but also because it will show the targets of the offensive communication that they have the support of the vast majority of the public.

Finally, it is very important to bear in mind what Whitney Phillips suggested in her books: this abuse is a painful reminder of what is wrong with our society and where the attention of educators, politicians and social scientists should focus.

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MediaPsych Presentation: Parasocial Interaction

By Jan.04, 2016


With great pride I invite you to watch the FANTASTIC work by Vicky Carr, Katie McLaughlin and Rachel Clitheroe (L6 Mediapsych students) who explore parasocial relationships with celebrities

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Social media and politics: harnessing the power of ‘we’

By Sep.30, 2015

Jeremy Corbyn is right to embrace social media politics

Sharon Coen, University of Salford

In his speech to the 2015 Labour conference, Jeremy Corbyn, the party’s new leader, spoke of a new kind of politics. This includes using social media to spread his message, rather than old media. A team led by deputy leader Tom Watson will be dispatched to work out how to do it. Luckily for him, some evidence is emerging on how you translate online support into real-world action.

There is little doubt that social media played an important role in Corbyn’s success in the leadership election. His Facebook fanpage Jeremy Corbyn for PM has more than 84,000 followers, while his personal page is liked by more than 230,000 people. To put this in perspective, Corbyn still has a way to go before reaching David Cameron, who boasts more than 747,000 likes.

Corbyn seems to be embracing the message of social media enthusiasts, who hail these new forms of communication as democratising forces. Social networking sites such as Twitter played an important role in the 2011 Egyptian revolts and in the 2008 election in Malaysia. And Barack Obama’s 2008 victory in the US election has been attributed in part to a well-run social media campaign. This was not only about mobilising support online but also translating it into actual engagement, such as campaigning, voting and funding.

The answer to all his problems?

Internet activists are sometimes accused of “slacktivism”. They engage on social media because it doesn’t require much effort. They feel good about themselves for being “active” members of society by signing an online petition or liking a post but that doesn’t translate into more meaningful activity. In fact, the fear is that their online clicks actually detract from their willingness to try to make a difference offline.

But we don’t yet really know if that is true. In fact, what little evidence does exist seems to indicate a positive – albeit weak – relationship between being politically active online and offline.

What’s more, social psychologists are beginning to understand what leads people to engage offline in collective action such as writing to a politician, joining a demonstration or signing a petition.

Motivations include the extent to which a person thinks of themselves as being part of a social movement, whether they feel their group has been treated unfairly and whether they think they can make a difference.

These factors do seem to be at play in successful social media campaigns. A survey of 303 people involved in the famous 2012 campaign to trace fugitive warlord Joseph Kony found that on average they did see themselves as being part of a social movement and that by supporting the anti-Kony campaign they were part of a community of like-minded people. The study found that this emergent identity was a crucial reason for their participation.

Time will tell.
Reuters/Toby Melville

As was noted in the run-up to the leadership election, Corbyn supporters did develop a strong online community, but so did fans of Ed Miliband prior to his devastating general election loss in May 2015.

The two ingredients which were missing in the general election campaign were the strong moral outrage (emotional reaction to the perception of injustice) and a strong sense of efficacy, which Corbynists so well captured with the hashtag #JezWeCan. It comes therefore as no surprise that more than 160,000 people have translated their online support into joining the ranks of the Labour Party.

Doing what’s right

Another factor that drives collective action is morality. Aside from perceiving injustice, people are willing to act simply because they think it is the right thing to do.

A study on collective action in two different events organised by social movements in Italy (the V Day and the No Berlusconi day) found that the more people participated in online discussion, the more they participated because it was the “right thing to do” rather than because they were angry. Online discussions seem therefore to dissipate anger and give space to moral reasoning to lead the way to collective action.

Opening up online spaces where ideas can spread and deliberation occurs, and engaging in political discussions with the supporters can be an effective means to deliver the “new kind of politics” Corbyn and his followers aspire to.

Whether or not this will be sufficient to win the next general election is hard to tell. Corbyn needs to expand his support, not just consolidate what already exists. Having a strong grassroots base on which to build could certainly help though.

The Conversation

Sharon Coen, Senior Lecturer in Media Psychology , University of Salford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Collecting and analysing online data using conversation analysis – a brief introduction

By Jun.19, 2015

Written by Jo Meredith

There is, quite understandably, a growing interest in the study of online data in media psychology. My research focuses specifically on studying online interaction, using conversation analysis (CA). CA is a qualitative method which is more commonly applied to spoken interaction, although there are a number of researchers who are investigating online interaction. Conversation analysts are, broadly, interested in understanding how participants in an interaction maintain mutual understanding and how this can illuminate everyday interactional practices. So, conversation analysts examine interaction in close detail in order to find patterns and norms of interaction.

There are a few core assumptions of CA. One particularly important one is that talk is action-oriented. In other words, when we talk we do not simply talk about a topic, but the talk is also an action. Consider the example ‘Would you like to go for a drink?”; this is not simply about the topic of drinking, but is an invitation. Consequently, the response to this invitation should be either an acceptance or refusal; that is, it is the action that is responded to. Another core assumption is that any bit of talk is context-situated, that is, its meaning will differ according to the context. Equally, any bit of talk will provide the environment for whatever follows that talk.

One key aspect of CA is the way that researchers collect data. Researchers do not ask people about their interactional practices, but rather record the actual events. Data is collected of people actually living their lives, from visiting the doctors, to chatting to friends, to using internet forums. This type of data collection is known as ‘naturalistic’, in that it aims to reduce researcher involvement. In some ways, collecting online data is a perfect means for reducing researcher involvement; after all, data collected directly from the internet is not posted for any particular research project or at the request of the researcher.

However, the posted versions of online data are effectively missing information, including how those posts were constructed. A way of rectifying this is by using screen-capture software to collect data of people actually ‘living’ their online lives. For my research I collected data from Facebook chat (when it was still an instant messaging facility, meaning you had to be online at the same time in order to chat). Four participants were recruited who collected chat logs of their Facebook chats, as well as recording their screens using screen-capture software. Participants returned both screen-capture videos and log files via DVD. Informed consent was obtained from all participants, both those collecting data and the people they were interacting with on Facebook chat. All data were anonymized, removing any identifying details, with pseudonyms used for participants.

There are a variety of aspects which I have examined using conversation analysis, including how participants take turns in online interaction, how they maintain coherence, and how they open and close their chats. The extract below, though, possibly best shows the additional analysis that can be conducted when screen-capture data is available. Prior to this extract, Joe and Isla have been discussing Joe’s night out, where he has been quite drunk and ended up ‘chatting up’ a girl, from whom he is now receiving text messages. Joe’s turn at lines 147-148 is his final message in a sequence where he has been explaining to Isla what happened that night. The lines of interest are 161-163, where we see Isla deleting a message.  

Meredith transcription

In this extract, lines 147-148 and 164 are turns which appear as part of the chat itself. The lines of transcript from 149-163 are not visible to Joe, but are to Isla (who is the participant whose system is collecting data). Without the screen-capture data these would be the only lines available to the analyst. Instead, the screen-capture data provides us with additional information about how Isla edits or ‘repairs’ her message prior to sending it. She initially constructs a turn (line 156) which consists of a question (“where were you last night”) and an assertion about Joe’s behaviour (“I bet you can’t remember a thing”), before deleting those and replacing them with an assessment which appears at line 164.

Conversation analysts avoid, as far as possible, trying to ascribe motivations to any particular action, so we could not say what Isla’s motivations were for deleting this message. Instead, we can analyse what the interactional implications are of deleting this particular message. The message being constructed includes two actions, the first being a question – “where were you last night?” – and the second, an assertion about Joe’s behaviour –  “I bet you can’t remember a thing lol”. Both of these actions will have implications for how Joe responds. For example, the question would expect a response (with Joe explaining where he was), and the assertion may expect a confirmation or a denial (about whether he can remember anything). By deleting her message and merely providing what conversation analysts describe as an ‘assessment’, Isla is effectively working to close down this topic of conversation.

So, collecting screen-capture data allows us access to a level of the interaction which would otherwise be ‘hidden’. From this we can see how participants can effectively ‘head off’ any potential trouble in the interaction before it occurs. More importantly, it provides evidence that it is not simply us as analysts who can see that particular actions have particular implications, but also participants themselves orient to it. There is much to be gained from using screen-capture data for conversation analysis (and for other methods too!) There are also challenges, particularly with the increased use of mobile internet-enabled devices. I am looking forward to working within media psychology here to develop new and innovative ways for collecting and analyzing this kind of data.



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The Psychology of Slow TV: “The Vinyl of Visual Media”

By May.05, 2015

Something is happening. Our world is slowing down. In the face of faster connections, more choice, quicker edits, BIGGER, BRIGHTER, LOUDER… a canal boat glides quietly into view. It signifies the BBC’s foray into the emerging broadcast phenomenon of Slow Television.

Slow TV was first brought to my attention by Tim Prevett, documentary film-maker and Slow TV expert (a link to Tim’s dedicated Slow TV blog can be found here). Tim asked me for a Media Psychological perspective on the unexpected success of a Norwegian broadcast of a 7 hour train journey (The Bergensbanen), filmed in real time, which remarkably attracted around 1.2 million viewers for the channel NRK2 . So successful was this program that the experiment was repeated several times, most notably in a 5 and a half day broadcast of Norway’s iconic Hurtigruten boat trip, filmed live. During this time, 3.2 million viewers tuned in, making NRK2 the most watched channel.

In conversation with Tim we entertained several hypotheses about the success of these broadcasts, which are captured in Tim’s fantastic documentary on Slow TV, ‘That Damned Cow’.  My initial thoughts centred on how the engaging aesthetics of snow-covered mountains promoted a sense of immersion; that the iconic journeys engendered national pride; that viewers wanted to be part of a media event (with the Hurtigruten, many people, including the Norwegian Queen, turned up to wave the boat on during the broadcast).

As Tim says when we talked again recently, “One of the successes of the Norwegian format is that they picked something that people really care about.”

This week, the BBC are trying their own Slow TV experiment across several programmes that started on Sunday and continues through to a two-hour canal trip down the Kennet and Avon canal shown on BBC4 tonight at 9pm (see details here). Interested viewers have already had chance to watch an hour long dawn chorus, 30 minutes of glass blowing and 30 minutes of metal forging.

I wonder whether the success of Norway will be repeated here. The Kennet and Avon canal is less iconic than the Norwegian journeys and will probably be familiar to fewer people. The journey is not broadcast live, so it will be less of an event that people can participate in.

I asked Tim whether he thought the BBC experiment with the Canal trip would work. “The canal trip… it’s not something which compels me, but I will certainly watch it. It’s a pre-recorded two hour journey along the Kennet and Avon Canal canal which nevertheless will be very different to our usual pace on images on the TV…”

“Also, When the Norwegians did the Hurtigruten, they had 11 cameras mounted on that. This sounds like it’s going to be just one camera… Do I think that makes a difference? Possibly… but it might even end up giving a more relaxed, mesmeric effect”.

Indeed, Twitter response to BBC4’s SlowTV screenings so far has been positive (#SlowTV #BBCFourGoesSlow) with comments praising the relaxing effects of focussing on a single activity, and even requests for a dedicated channel.

So, perhaps the success of this experiment will hinge on whether there is anything intrinsic about the slowness of the content that appeals to viewers. Indeed, when I first watched the Norwegian train journey in our Media Psychology lab, I experienced a compelling sense of calm.

Tim notes, “Since researching Slow TV, I’m so much more conscious of the speed of images which we have on TV, and to have it decelerated, even if it’s just this one shot, it will be interesting to see how people find it”.

For me, the appeal of slowness has its parallels elsewhere. In January this year, The Telegraph reported on the ‘Rise of Low Tech’, commenting on the success of vinyl in the face of downloads, printed books, polaroid cameras and retro mobile phones. Technological efficiency and increased functionality isn’t always favoured, and neither is increased stimulation. Tim agrees, and puts it succinctly:

“Slow TV is kind of the vinyl of visual media”

Tim continues “It’s an experiential format. Consider the dawn chorus. If you have a traditional documentary about the dawn chorus, it will be filled with information. When you sit down and listen to the dawn chorus you want to go, ‘oh wow, did you hear that one?’”

The opportunity for control over what to pay attention to is a really interesting aspect of Slow TV, particularly the journeys in which landscapes unfold slowly before our eyes. The gentle pace affords us the luxury of letting our attention drift across details to pick out elements of personal interest, things we would probably miss if the same scenes were embedded in traditional formats. Narratives (whether fictional or informational) constrain where and how we direct our attention, given further emphasis through production techniques like cuts, pans, zooms and musical scores. As Tim put it:

“When we go out in nature, or people watching, we allow ourselves to see what’s going on – essentially our own eyes are one cut. So essentially Slow TV brings people into the moment and allows them to… become more aware of what they’re looking at and listening to.”

The BBC capture this in the description on their website: “Taking in the images and sounds of the British countryside, underpinned by the natural soundscape of water lapping, surrounding birdsong and the noise of the chugging engine, this is a chance to spot wildlife and glimpse life on the towpath while being lulled by the comforting rhythm of a bygone era.”

This description of bringing attention to the present moment also draws parallels with mindfulness  training. This raises the question of the therapeutic consequences of Slow TV. One Twitter user suggests Slow TV as a calming escape from the distress of insomnia.

At present we don’t yet fully understand what works and why because research into Slow TV is in its infancy. Media Psychologists need to explore the experiential aspects of Slow TV consumption, what motivates viewers to seek them, the psychological consequences, and whether this is merely a gimmick or a new form of mediated experience that will have long-term appeal.  I, for one, am looking forward to being transported this evening from couch to canal.


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The age of celebrity politics

By Apr.27, 2015

In an article published in the latest edition of The Psychologist magazine, I explore the contribution Psychology can give to understanding the phenomenon of celebritisation of politics.


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The Psychology of Democracy – 22nd May, 2015, 10am – 4.30pm

By Apr.24, 2015

What will happen after the General Election?  Will our votes mean we get the politicians we deserve and how will they make things happen?  How much importance should we place on what we are told before and after the election? These are questions which underpin the way our democracy functions, but how well it works may be another question altogether.

To mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and this election year, the University of Salford is delighted to invite you to this one day event featuring talks and debates with psychologists and political thinkers who have researched and consulted on these issues with the aim of ensuring we get the best from our current system.

Speakers include Professor Matt Flinders (author of ‘Defending Politics’), Professor Jo Silvester (designer of candidate selection systems for two of the major political parties), Dr Richard Kwiatkowski (leading psychological interviewer of UK MPs), Dr Peter Bull (expert analyst of political speeches), Dr Sharon Coen (media psychologist who assesses public perceptions of politicians) and Dr Ashley Weinberg (editor of ‘The Psychology of Politicians’ and researcher into MPs’ mental health).

In the spirit of democracy this event is free! Lunch is also provided. Please register using the link below:

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