Daily Show viewers are deep. That might be a shallow analysis of the research, but "there is a segment of the political satire audience that is motivated by a deeper level of processing," says Dannagal Young, University of Delaware assistant professor of communication and lead researcher on a study that examined how college students watch and process different types of programming.
Young surveyed 398 undergraduate students on their attitudes toward 13 different genres of television, from young adult shows like MTV's Jersey Shore to crime dramas like CSI. With a particular interest in political satire, she found "meaningful differences" in the way people watch programs like The Daily Show and Colbert Report.
Most interestingly, she found a subset of viewers who watch the show for context rather than for information or amusement.
Such viewers exhibit high "need for cognition," a psychological term used to describe people who engage in and enjoy arguments, ideas and the analysis of problems and their solutions.
"It's not about capacity to think," Young explains. "It's about their enjoyment of thinking."
An improv comedian whose research examines the psychology of political satire, Young believes such viewers are not just watching the show for different reasons; they're likely experiencing different impacts as a result.
"We know that the reasons people seek out information strongly affect the implications of those messages," she says. "In this case, people coming to the show looking for satirical analysis of political information may exhibit more long-lasting shifts in attitude."
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