How Our Digital Storytelling Methods Are Psychologically Affecting Our Audiences

April 17, 2017 Nicola Brown

storytelling is changing us psychologically

As I write this, there’s a tab open in my browser that’s been sitting there for a week. I bookmarked an article on digital storytelling that I planned to read that day . . . and I still haven’t. It’s not that I haven’t tried. I’ve started and stopped at various points along the way. In my most successful attempt, I only managed to get the first couple sentences under my belt before instantly forgetting what I’d just read.

I don’t remember this level of distractibility always being the case, but it does seem to permeate many areas of my life today. I find it harder to get through the books I’m reading, even if I’m enjoying them. Place a Tolkien tome before me, and I’ll admit defeat right off the bat.

Today, our digital content landscape is psychologically impacting our audiences more than ever before. That means creators and marketers need to take a proactive approach to content development—one that takes into account the extent to which our media is changing who we are.

Media Multitasking

media multitasking

One of the hallmarks of the ways in which we consume media today is how much time we spend multitasking between different devices. We may be watching TV while reading an article on our laptop and responding to a friend’s text. At home, at work, and even on the go, our lives are filling up with screens full of an endless stream of content.

Researchers at the University of Helsinki conducted a study that revealed a link between media multitasking and distractibility (among other problems with attention) in youth ages 13 to 24. The study found that those who reported more of a tendency to engage with multiple media types simultaneously had problems with attention-related tasks in the lab, such as filtering out distractions. Using brain-imaging data, the researchers were able to see that media multitasking is so difficult because it creates competition for neural resources in tasks that involve overlapping parts of the brain, such as going between reading and listening.

Think of it this way: imagine that 100 neurons are needed for reading, and 100 for listening. When you try to multitask , you actually end up dedicating just 50 neurons to each, which is half the level of attention needed for successfully completing each activity. So rather than getting more done by multitasking, we end up performing poorly on everything. We’d be better off focusing on a single activity at a time.

According to a study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, media multitasking is also associated with higher depression and social anxiety symptoms. The researchers suggest that the growing trend of media multitasking may present a unique risk factor for mental health problems related to mood and anxiety.

Binge Watching

Another shift in behavior is the emergence of content-on-demand media models that are leading to increased binge watching, particularly with the arrival of platforms like Netflix. Because binge watching is relatively new behavior, not a lot of research has been conducted on its psychological effects. But we do have insights from studies on binge behavior in general that suggest an association with loneliness, depression, and a lack of ability for self-regulation.

Researchers recently confirmed these associations exist with binge watching TV, too. One study discovered that, among 18- to 29-year-olds, the more lonely and depressed they reported themselves to be, the more likely they were to binge-watch to get away from these negative feelings. Those who lacked self-control were more likely to binge-watch, too. This suggests a situation in which these issues, instead of being adequately dealt with, are pushed under the media rug.

Furthermore, binge watching may have a negative impact on long-term goal setting and achievement. In a recently published chapter descriptively titled “Of sweet temptations and bitter aftertaste,” scientists discuss how people may be having an increasingly difficult time striking a balance between the short-term pleasures and potential costs of media exposure when it comes to long-term planning. They even find that such a lack of self-control when it comes to binge consumption of media leads to negative effects on life satisfaction and psychological well-being.

Ubiquitous Content

media multitasking and sensationalism

Mobile digital platforms are now present in our pockets at all times, so we are accessing digital content everywhere we go, at all times of the day. We’re looking at smaller screens for shorter periods of time—which means the content we consume needs to be better at grabbing our divided attention. We’re seeing a rise in sensationalism in digital storytelling, and a constant stream of sensational content in the form of more graphic images, videos, and headlines on social media, which is leading to PTSD-like symptoms and media burnout.

But there’s an even greater reason we need to think very carefully about the kind of content we’re creating and the nature of the platforms we’re using to consume that content. The future of ubiquitous content lies in virtual and augmented reality, which have the deepest impact on our brains. Stories told via VR and AR need to be crafted with a built-in understanding of psychological impact, strategies for positive experiences, and policies for ethical content.

How We Can Steer Digital Storytelling in the Right Direction

As storytellers and marketers, we have a new responsibility when it comes to content creation. More than just grabbing eyeballs, we need to reflect on how our content is changing the way our audiences think and behave, for better or for worse.

Smart marketers are embracing more long-form digital storytelling avenues that offer a much-needed dose of quality over quantity, and are providing a space for audiences to slow down and gain deeper insights. We are amidst the heady rush of a new relationship when it comes to digital content, but the frenzy will inevitably settle into a slow burn as the novelty begins to wear off.

In my opinion, content can’t continue to get shorter, faster and more sensational. There will be a breaking point where people become overwhelmed with the bombardment, and those positioned to capture the counter-cultural shifts will reap the long-term benefits from their loyal audiences.

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Featured image attribution: Clem Onojeghuo

The post How Our Digital Storytelling Methods Are Psychologically Affecting Our Audiences appeared first on The Content Standard by Skyword.

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