Technology and mass media are becoming more popular by the minute and our response to the information, both emotionally and cognitively, is altering just as fast. West Virginia University professor Nicholas Bowman’s research in communication and media is improving our understanding of how we perceive and adapt to mass media.

People use media and video games to “escape” from the real world by being able to take control in a virtual world. In his study “Task demand and mood repair: The intervention potential of computer games,” published in the New Media and Society journal, Bowman and Ron Tamborini from Michigan State University confirmed that greater task demand—how much attention the game required of the player—is related to greater mood repair as long as the demand is not too high. Too much demand can become frustrating and harmful to mood repair, causing bad moods rather than helping them, but a limited and controlled amount of task help alleviate boredom and stress.

Even playing as little as five minutes is useful for people experiencing bad moods. This could be helpful if you are busy and only have a short break in the day. Bowman finds that a quick video game may be able to help lighten your mood, which can lead to better productivity afterwards.

In another study titled “Elderly people and morality in virtual worlds: A cross-cultural analysis of elderly people’s morality in interactive media,” published in the New Media and Society journal, Bowman, along with Leyla Dogruel and Sven Joeckel from Germany, studied the elderly in the United States and Germany. They were interested in whether there was a difference in the moral codes between two cultures. Through online gaming, Bowman studied five moral intuitions:

• harm/care, or not hurting others and caring for those less fortunate;
• fairness/reciprocity, or justice, making sure everyone gets an equal share;
• authority/respect, or obeying those in charge and showing respect for people in positions of authority;
• purity/sanctity, or not using drugs and ‘treating your body as a temple’; and
• group/loyalty, or being faithful to family.

Their findings concluded that more elderly Germans focused on and had higher scores in harm/care and fairness/reciprocity (both considered more liberal traits) but scored lower in authority/respect (a more conservative trait) than Americans. Elderly Americans focused a more even distribution across all five moral intuitions.

Another finding concluded that participants instinctively make decisions based on their sense of morality. Elderly people were more likely to make the same decisions in the virtual world as they would the real world because the elderly population is not programmed to let down their guard in virtual terms. Since the younger generation has been born into the era of gaming, they can feel the difference in making decision in the real world versus the virtual world, the study concluded. On the other hand, the older generation cannot distinguish the effects of their choices in the two different worlds.

Bowman explains that our innate sense plays an important role in the decisions that we make, and it can be an intuitive rather than a conscious process; a “gut reaction” to a morally questionable situation. However, in video games and other entertainment media, people usually know that decisions are not real and as a result, might suppress gut reactions so that they can enjoy the experience.

“Most of us realize that video games are not real, so we don’t necessarily need to ‘go with our gut’,” said Bowman. “This probably takes time and experience to develop in the beginning, and someone with no or limited media experience—an elderly person playing a video game—may not be as good at ‘turning off their gut’ than a younger person who has much more experience. So, elderly people are more likely to make decisions in a video game that are similar to their ‘real-world’ view.”

With the rise of social networking, Bowman studied both positive and negative consequences of the use of Twitter and Facebook. In his study “How demanding is social media: Understanding social media diets as a function of perceived costs and benefits—a rational actor perspective,” published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, Bowman, WVU colleague David Westerman, Ph.D. and Christopher James Claus, doctoral candidate in communication studies, discovered that for both Facebook and Twitter, perceived self-efficacy, our perception of our technology skills, helps us reduce the perception of cognitive demand of social media. For example, if an individual felt comfortable using social media, they did not see the programs as having an associated cost to using them. These people were likely to use the programs more.

Some of the costs can include not only an invasion of privacy and security, but cognitive costs as well, or how much of our mental resources a media network requires.

The social networks differed in terms of how cost was perceived, with most users seeing Twitter as being significantly more demanding that Facebook. In fact, usage of Facebook was predicted almost completely as a result of its perceived benefits, building interpersonal relationships and getting news and information were the prime benefits.

“For me, these data suggest that Facebook has more or less evolved into a ‘transparent technology,’ one that requires almost no training to use and that has been more or less absorbed into our lives,” Bowman said. “Yet, Twitter is still growing on most users, and does take a bit more skill and attention to use. Unlike Facebook, Twitter requires users to constantly monitor updates and can be a bit intense, particularly for new users.”

The team also found that male users perceived both networks as more cognitively demanding than female users. Additionally, it was found that older people who use Facebook were more likely to judge the network as cognitively demanding and as having lower self-efficacy when using it.

“We can use the media to our advantage if we are goal-oriented and persistent about our usage,” Bowman said. “We can greatly benefit from social media and networking by instantly connecting with the rest of the world through the click of a button, but like most skills it takes practice and persistence as well as a clear set of goals.”

Bowman received his doctorate in Communication from Michigan State University in 2010. He is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at WVU where he conducts research in the Media and Interaction Lab. The main focus of his research is the psychology of communication technology and its implications for human communication.

For more information, contact Nicholas Bowman, at 304-293-3905 ext. 2126 or



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