Digital Media Impacts Multiple Aspects of Self Representation: An Investigation of Flow, Agency, Presence, Character Identification and Time Perception

Abstract

Research in cognitive science is rapidly increasing our understanding of the cognitive mechanisms that give rise to our sense of being a unified conscious self, and that allow us to interact in purposeful ways with the external environment. Laboratory research has shown that experimental manipulations involving computer based tasks can alter aspects of our self representation. In the current study we investigated how complex digital media, experienced in real-world settings, impacts aspects of self processing. Specifically, we investigated experiences of self representation associated with active media such as video games and passive media, such as film or television, in naturalistic settings. 222 participants completed measures of flow, sense of agency, presence, character identification and time perception, reporting on their engagement with both active and passive media. Results showed reduced agentive involuntariness, but increased flow, presence, character identification, and time perception for active compared to passive media. Trait conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness each were associated with aspects of altered self representation during media engagement. Absorption was associated with increased flow, presence and character identification. This study presents nuanced differences in the way that active and passive media impact self processing, and highlights features that may enhance engagement with digital media.