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Perceived Message Sensation Value


Perceived message sensation value is a message counterpart to sensation seeking as an individual difference concept, just as perceived message cognition value is a message counterpart to need for cognition (Zuckerman, 1988, 1991).

Recent research has attempted to characterize messages based on perceived message sensation value in order to inform message design on message attributes that appeal to sensation seeking individuals (Donohew, 1990; Donohew, Lorch & Palmgreen, 1991, 1998). Sensation seeking refers to an individual's preference for arousing and novel messages and a tendency to engage in and enjoy risky behaviors (Donohew et al., 1991, 1998). As message cognition value is designed to target individuals with high need for cognition, message sensation value targets individuals with high need for sensation.

Message sensation value (MSV) is a characteristic of a message regarding its audio and visual content that "elicits sensory, affective, and arousal responses" (Palmgreen, Donohew, Lorch, Rogus, Helm, & Grant, 1991, p. 219). Messages with high sensation value tend to contain be "novel, creative, exciting, intense, dramatic, or fast-paced" (Morgan, Palmgreen, Stephenson, et al., 2003, p. 513). The PMSV scale assesses responses to several indicators related to message features. The value in manipulating MSV is to help inform message strategies to increase the effectiveness of persuasive messages, especially in the context of media based health campaigns. PMSV is a measure of how message features are perceived, and thus, could be of research value as a manipulation check.

The current theoretical models that provide a framework to examine the complex relationship between specific message features and message processing are the Limited Capacity Model of Motivated Mediated Message Processing (LC4MP, Lang, 2006) and the Activation Model of Information Exposure (AMIE; Donohew, Lorch, & Palmgreen, 1998). The LC4MP suggests attention to mediate messages is driven by both an individual's goals and automatic processes (e.g., orienting responses) evoked by content and message features. The AMIE is similar; it recognizes the importance of individuals' goals in how messages are processed, but it also emphasizes message processing is a function of sensation-seeking, where high sensation seekers prefer messages high in MSV.

The seminal work to date on perceived message cognition value has been performed by the Kentucky School (Palmgreen, Stephenson, Everett, et al., 2002). They found a three-factor structure of perceived message sensation value based on participants' ratings of anti-marijuana and anti-cocaine television public service announcements. The three factors are emotional arousal, dramatic impact, and novelty.

Suggested Measures

Perceived Sensation Value Scale

Palmgreen, et al. (2002) developed and validated the Perceived Sensation Value Scale

(PMSV) scale with 368 high school students and 444 college students. The scale has three dimensions: Each item below shows bipolar anchors. Each item was measured on a 1-7 scale (α = .75).

Instructions: "We would like you to rate the PSA (public service announcement ad, message) you just saw on the following scales. For example, on the first pair of adjectives if you thought the ad was very unique give a "1." If you thought it was very common, give it a "7." If you thought it was somewhere in between, give it a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6." (Palmgreen, et al., 2002, p. 413).

Emotional Arousal (α=.90/.92)

  • Powerful impact/weak impact*
  • Emotional/Unemotional*
  • Involving/Uninvolving*
  • Boring/Exciting
  • Arousing/Not arousing*
  • Stimulating/Not stimulating*
  • Strong visuals/Weak visuals*
  • Strong sound effects/Weak sound effects*

Dramatic Impact (α=.85/.88)

  • Not creative/Creative
  • Not graphic/Graphic
  • Undramatic/Dramatic
  • Didn't give me goose bumps/Gave me goose bumps
  • Not intense/Intense
  • Weak sound track/Strong sound track

Novelty (α=.77/.87)

  • Unique/Common*
  • Novel/Ordinary*
  • Unusual/Usual*

Note. *reverse coded. First a is for anti-marijuana messages, second a is for anti-cocaine messages.

  • Advantages

    • Simple to administer
    • Does not require excessive effort to complete
    • Reliable
  • Disadvantages:

    • May be long and cumbersome if study incorporates many messages
    • PMSV fails to identify which specific audio/visual content and structural features "elicit which sensory, arousal, and affective responses" (Niederdeppe, 2005, p. 327)

Rationale for Selection

Perceived message sensation value could be a useful tool to ensure messages contain the features that appeal to target audiences high in sensation seeking.


In addition to the Palmgreen et al. (2002) study mentioned above, the reliability of the 17-item scale was assessed in a study by Noar, Palmgreen, Zimmerman, Lustria, and Lu (2010). Noar et al. measured PMSV of safe sex PSAs among two random samples of young adults. The average alpha across the samples was .84.

Additional Commentary

The relationship between PMSV and message processing has been studied in a series of studies involving anti-drug PSAs (Stephenson, 2002, 2003; Stephenson & Palmgreen, 2001). Although these studies show message processing tends to be better with high PMSV ads for both high and low sensation-seekers and message processing is positively associated with persuasion, message designers criticize the research's utility because the specific message features (content and structure) that elicit particular responses are not identified (Niederdeppe, 2005).

Morgan et al. (2003) coded a series of anti-drug PSAs for a variety of audio, visual, and format features, and examined the association between the presence or absence of these features and PMSV. The researchers concluded PMSV is roughly characterized by the use of intense images, sound saturation, music, scenes acted out, unexpected format, and a surprise ending. Niederdeppe (2005) found that the number of unrelated cuts and the use of suspenseful features (intense imagery and a "second-half punch", p. 311) increased message processing among older teens. An additive index comprised of these features was associated with message processing among both younger and older teens.


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