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Excitation Transfer Theory

Dolf Zillmann

Subject Psychology
Communication Reception and Effects » Media Effects Theories

Key-Topics emotion

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


The theory of excitation transfer addresses sequential dependencies in emotional reactivity. Specifically, it predicts an enhancement of emotional reactions to immediately present emotion-arousing situations by portions of excitation that are left over from preceding related or unrelated emotion-arousing situations (→  emotion ; Excitation and Arousal ). The theory operationalizes excitation primarily as dominance of sympathetic activity in the autonomic nervous system and treats this activity as the main determinant of the intensity of emotional behavior and experience ( Zillmann 1983, 1996 ). Excitation transfer theory was initially advanced and tested to explain emotional reactivity in immediate social interactions. It equally applies, however, to emotional reactivity evoked by exposure to communication. Excitation transfer may be created by emotions from message exposure and affect emotions in social interactions, be created by emotions from social interactions and affect emotions from message exposure, and be both created by and affect emotions from message exposure ( Zillmann 2006 ). Excitation transfer theory is based on marked differences in the time course of cognitive and excitatory adaptation to changes in conditions that arouse emotions. Cognitive adjustment to situational changes is quasi-instantaneous because of the exceedingly fast neural mediation of cognition. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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