By analysing the preferences of over 3,000 participants across 108 genres of music, film, books and TV, a research team led by Peter Rentfrow has established there are five dimensions of media consumption: Communal, Aesthetic, Dark, Thrilling and Cerebral.
A key finding was that the trends in people’s genre preferences tend to span different media formats: books, music, film, TV etc. Those who score highly on the Consumer dimension tend to enjoy media that involve people and relationships, including: daytime chat shows, romantic films, pop music, and cook books. High scorers on the Aesthetic dimension enjoy creative, abstract material, including: poetry, opera, and foreign films. The Dark dimension relates to intense, edgy, hedonistic material, including: heavy metal, horror films and erotica. The Thrilling Dimension is made up of adventure and fantasy material such as thrillers and sci fi. Finally, high scorers on the Cerebral dimension enjoy documentaries, news and current affairs.
Participants’ scores on the five dimensions varied according to their demographics and personalities. So, for example, women tended to score higher on the Communal dimension whereas men and younger people tended to score higher on the Dark dimension. People with more conscientious personalities tended to score highly on the Cerebral dimension whereas those with less conscientious personalities scored more highly on the Dark dimension.
The results of the study are based on three separate participant samples: nearly two thousand undergrads at the University of Texas (average age 19); over seven hundred Oregon residents who were part of a larger community study (average age 60); and just over 500 participants recruited via the Internet (average age 34).
Rentfrow and his colleagues said theirs was one of the first ever attempts to investigate how people vary in the taste for entertainment – a surprise, they noted, given that the typical American spends approximately 55 per cent of his or her waking life consuming entertainment media.
This is a first step into a relatively new research field and so inevitably the study has shortcomings. These include a reliance on self-report, which may be biased by participants attempting to give socially desirable answers, and a US-centric, predominantly Caucasian, middle-class sample.
These limitations notwithstanding, the researchers said the notion that there are identifiable dimensions of media consumption raises interesting avenues for future research. For example, regarding the ongoing debate about media effects on people’s behaviour, what difference does it make to these effects whether a person usually seeks out the genre under scrutiny, such as violent films? In relation to personal relationships, what difference does it make how much people’s media consumption profiles overlap?
‘Overall’ the researchers concluded, ‘the findings provide a solid foundation on which to develop and test hypotheses about the causes and consequences of entertainment preferences.’
Rentfrow PJ, Goldberg LR, & Zilca R (2010). Listening, Watching, and Reading: The Structure and Correlates of Entertainment Preferences. Journal of personality PMID: 20649744