More than half of television viewers between ages 18 and 24 engage in social media on a second screen while watching, but a new University of Connecticut study says this engagement does not increase enjoyment of a show.
The UConn Department of Communication found in its study that tweeting reduces viewers’ ability to immerse themselves into the TV narrative.
“Social media metrics are an important and widely used measure of user engagement, [but] engagement may not necessarily mean enjoyment,” Saraswathi Bellur, a UConn assistant professor of communication who co-authored the study, said in an e-mail.
Researchers separated 230 college students into two groups. One group watched “Friends” while sending at least five tweets, and the other group watched the same show without tweeting.
A survey afterward showed that the participants who did not tweet were more likely to be “transported” into the show and feel “more intensified emotions,” the study states. Not focusing entirely on the narrative of the show is likely what reduces enjoyment, said Xiaowen Xu, a UConn doctoral student who co-authored the study.
“You’re asking people to do a different thing when they could have involved themselves more with the story,” she said. “It kind of takes away part of their cognitive ability to get immersed.”
Some TV shows encourage and initiate audience conversations on social media, and the study imitated that to an extent, Xu said, but more research needs to be done.
“We need more studies that can systematically examine whether engaging in such Twitter interactions during a break, for example, instead of while watching the show, would be less disruptive of their enjoyment,” Bellur said. “It could also depend on the type of show, drama versus sports versus news.”
The type of social platform, such as Instagram instead of Twitter, or interactions between friends instead of the general public might also affect audience enjoyment, she said.
There have been other studies about “media multi-tasking,” such as memory tests, but the UConn study is unique because it measured participants’ emotions, Xu and Bellur both said.