Effects of story deviance, context, and personal involvement on information processing of news stories: A Web-tracking analysis of exposure, attention, and memory retention

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communications


Pamela J. Shoemaker


Story deviance, Context, Personal involvement, Information processing, News, Memory

Subject Categories

Journalism Studies | Mass Communication


This study examined how the deviance of news stories, deviance of context, and personal involvement influence information processing of the stories. The three factors represent event characteristics, contingent conditions, and audience characteristics. The measures of information processing examined were exposure, attention, and memory retention---recall and recognition at immediate and delayed time points.

Based on studies in mass communication and cognitive psychology, this study proposed three hypotheses for each measure of information processing: a positive effect of story deviance, a negative effect of contextual deviance, and a positive effect of personal involvement.

Methodologically, this study conducted an online experiment with a 4 (story deviance) X 2 (contextual deviance) X 2 (personal involvement) X 4 (story order: control) mixed-factor design. One hundred fifty-one participants browsed a stimulus web page that presented 21 crime news stories with different levels of deviance. Two different versions of web pages---more deviant neighboring stories versus less deviant neighboring stories---were prepared for the manipulation of contextual deviance. And, the treatment of personal involvement was carried out by having the participants read crime alerts before browsing the stimulus stories. Employing a web-tracking program, this study record which story is selected and how long the story is read.

The effect of story deviance prevailed on exposure, attention, and memory retention. As the level of story deviance increased, the story was selected more frequently, paid more attention to, and remembered better. The effect of contextual deviance was also found. In a less deviant context, the target stories were selected more frequently and attended to more carefully than in more deviant context. However, personal involvement was not influential in information processing. Furthermore, this study presented structural equation models to explain the relationships among all three factors and three information processing measures in a combined setting.


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