Psychological processes in perceiving reality

Michael A. Shapiro, T. Makana Chock

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Little attention has been paid to the mental processes and the story elements that influence perceived reality judgments of media stories. People often lack the motivation or ability to be thoughtful about perceived reality judgments. This is particularly true when the stimulus controls the pace of the story (e.g., television). It is possible that people use the typical and atypical elements of a story as a heuristic for making simple judgments about perceived reality of media narratives. In 2 studies, the careful manipulation of atypical and typical information in a soap opera and a news story predicted about half the variance in perceived reality. As the typicality of the stories increased, so did the participants' ratings of the perceived reality of the stories. In a 3rd study, while viewing entertainment television shows, participants used dials to continuously rate the selected programs for perceived reality, typicality, interest, and liking. Results indicate that viewers can make moment-to-moment reality judgments, and these judgments are strongly related to typicality. Interest - liking was related to typicality and perceived reality for drama. For comedy, however, situations with low reality produced greater interest and liking. Typicality appears to be a key psychological characteristic of media stories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-198
Number of pages36
JournalMedia Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Applied Psychology


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