The relevance of attention for selecting news content. An eye-tracking study on attention patterns in the reception of print and online media


This article argues that a theory of media selectivity needs a theory of attention, because attention to a media stimulus is the starting point of each process of reception. Attention sequences towards media stimuli – pages of newspapers and online-newspapers – were analyzed using eye-tracking patterns from three different perspectives. First, attention patterns were compared under varying task conditions. Second, different types of media were tested. Third, attention sequences towards different forms of news with different design patterns were compared. Attention was seen as a prerequisite for reception: Its selective functions for these processes are especially important. Reception itself was examined within an action-theoretical framework and therefore described as a form of interaction between recipient and the media. Eye-tracking data were used as indicators of attention. Starting with a hypothesis on the impact of different media such as printed newspapers and online newspapers on the agenda-setting process of their audience, the study examined how the type of media and the form of news influences attention and selectivity. Our findings showed that visual cues such as salient photos or graphics and information hierarchies signalled by design and layout guide attention processes, not as an automatic process driven from the bottom up, but as stimuli for an active, intention-driven selection process. The results indicate that the form of news affects these patterns of interactive attention more than the medium itself.

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The European Journal of Communication Research is an established forum for scholarship and academic debate in the field of communication science and research from a European perspective. Communications highlights the concerns of communication science through the publication of articles, research reports, review essays and book reviews on theoretical and methodological developments considered from a European perspective.