Feeling transcendent? Measuring psychophysiological responses to self-transcendent media content

Russell B. Clayton, Arthur A. Raney, Mary Beth Oliver, Dominik Neumann, Sophie H. Janicke-Bowles, Katherine R. Dale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Self-transcendent media experiences are thought to involve cognitive engagement and mixed affect, leading to psychological well-being. The current study investigated whether these characteristics were reflected in viewers’ psychophysiological responses and sharing intentions. Multilevel model analyses revealed that viewers (n = 57) allocated more cognitive resources to encoding (heart rate), experienced greater physiological arousal (skin conductance level), and less positive but greater negative affect (facial electromyography), and were more motivated to share content (prosociality) when exposed to self-transcendent videos relative to humorous videos. Moreover, specific self-transcendent portrayals (appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, and hope) elicited greater cognitive effort and mixed affect relative to the average response of these videos. In line with emotional flow, cognitive resources increased after the transformational scene in each self-transcendent video, which was accompanied by a negative-to-positive emotional trajectory shift wherein negative emotion remained statistically the same but positive emotion increased. The current study provides initial evidence for theoretical development into the ways that self-transcendent content and narrative structure influence cognitive and affective responses and prosocial intentions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)359-384
Number of pages26
JournalMedia Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Applied Psychology


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