Watching the news on smaller screens saps its impact

Watching news videos on your phone may keep you from paying attention in the same way you would with a larger screen.
man reading phone (screen size concept)

We’re less attentive and engaged when we watch news videos on smaller screens, according to new research.

The findings document less variability in heart rate and muted changes in sweat when the screen shrinks.

The work is in line with previous research on movie and television screens. This study, however, finds significant differences for news content, even across rather small changes in screen size.

“We are, to our knowledge, the first to find this effect for news content, and the first to focus on the move from a laptop to smartphone-size screen. This finding is of some significance given the trend towards news consumption on mobile technology,” says Stuart Soroka, a professor of communication studies and political science and faculty associate at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

Soroka and lead author Johanna Dunaway, associate professor of communication at Texas A&M University, says that results in the current study suggest that cell phone technology may have both mobilizing and demobilizing effects.

Even as mobile technology facilitates news consumption for a large number of citizens, at almost any time and place, the reduced screen size means that news consumers may be less attentive and activated by what they are viewing, the researchers say. News consumption on small screens may be less informative and mobilizing than news consumption on larger screens, they say.

Participants watched a news program on a computer monitor, using a randomized sample of seven news stories, both international and domestic. Stories varied widely in subject matter, from a fire in Peru to a Labor Day parade, to an American man making bagpipes.

The size of the video varied from roughly 13 inches wide (large) to just 5 inches wide (small). The researchers measured heart rate and skin conductance during viewing.

The findings appear in Information, Communication & Society.

Source: University of Michigan

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