In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Entertainment

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Adaptive Functions
  • Exposure Motivations
  • Experiential Aspects and Enjoyment
  • Effects
  • Specific Content

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Communication Entertainment
Helena Bilandzic
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 February 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0039


Entertainment formats, as trivial as they may seem to an educated audience, are used by millions of audience members during a substantial portion of the day, and in many ways they affect the audience’s feelings, beliefs and behaviors. The goals of entertainment research are (1) to critically observe and explain effects of entertaining media consumption; (2) to investigate ways in which entertainment can be used as a means to teach and convey facts (through news, documentaries, reenactment films, educational series about history, cultures, science, etc.), as well as to familiarize audiences with norms and values and help distribute prosocial messages. To achieve these goals, explaining the entertainment experience itself has been the focus of research activities. In some scholarly work, but especially in non-academic contexts, the term “entertainment” denotes a certain type of content that is commercially produced to entertain audiences. Used in this sense, entertainment is a content category for movies, television series, books, computer games, and magazines, to name just a few. However, it is more common in academic research to use the term “entertainment” for the evaluation and experience seen from the audience’s perspective; investigating audience experiences is clearly dominant in today’s entertainment research. Broadly, the term “entertainment” is used to characterize positive dispositions toward media content and pleasurable experiences with such content. “Entertainment” and “enjoyment” are often used synonymously, as both refer to positive appraisals of content and/or experience. If they are distinguished, it is often by emphasizing the association of entertainment with escape and relaxation, and with a certain type of content (for example, entertainment seems to be an inappropriate term for news or documentaries). Finally, using entertaining media has consequences beyond positive experiences during exposure: it may result in effects such as knowledge gain or attitude change.

General Overviews

Overviews of entertainment research tend to be single chapters or collections of chapters rather than proper introductory textbooks. This means that most of the overviews address a more advanced audience, equipped with some basic knowledge of communication research in general and media effects in particular. For a first and short orientation, three chapters—Bosshart and Hellmüller 2009, Oliver 2009, and Wünsch 2002—can be recommended as overviews of the whole research field. Bosshart and Hellmüller 2009 and Wünsch 2002 also elaborate the issue of entertainment as content. Several edited books offer detailed chapters on individual concepts, theories, or topics: Bryant, et al. 2003 and Bryant and Vorderer 2006 feature entertainment-related research only; Nabi and Oliver 2009 includes entertainment but has a somewhat wider focus. Zillmann and Vorderer 2000 also presents a more entertainment-focused text collection, not necessarily up to date, but nonetheless a classic source.

  • Bosshart, Louis, and Lea Hellmüller. 2009. Pervasive entertainment, ubiquitous entertainment. Communication Research Trends 28.2: 3–19.

    This article gives a good theoretical reflection on entertainment and includes European, non-English literature as well, making this rich research tradition accessible to an international audience. The text is structured around fields in which entertaining media are relevant, such as politics, education, and advertisement, but also fields that are less commonly connected to entertainment, such as religion, military, or charity. The text nicely complements what is usually found in entertainment overviews.

  • Bryant, Jennings, David Roskos-Ewoldsen, and Joanne Cantor, eds. 2003. Communication and emotion: Essays in honor of Dolf Zillmann. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

    This volume honors one of the most influential scholars of media entertainment, Dolf Zillmann. Coworkers and former students contribute chapters reviewing prominent theories in entertainment research, such as excitation transfer, mood management, or affective disposition theory, and also present content-focused chapters on individual entertainment contents such as humor, sports, and horror.

  • Bryant, Jennings, and Peter Vorderer, eds. 2006. Psychology of entertainment. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

    This edited volume on entertainment research starts with a useful set of chapters on basic processes of attention, comprehension, memory, action, and motivation. The rest of the chapters are organized according to current research fields in the psychological study of entertainment, and the book includes chapters on topics that are less common in other introductions, such as personality or social identity theory.

  • Nabi, Robin L., and Mary Beth Oliver, eds. 2009. The SAGE handbook of media processes and effects. Los Angeles: SAGE.

    This handbook is one of the most valuable and up-to-date resources for communication research on processing and experiencing media content, as well as mechanisms of media effects. For entertainment, chapters in part 3 on “Message selection and processing” (including the chapter by Oliver already mentioned) are relevant. Part 4, “Content and audiences,” will be helpful to readers looking for research on specific media types such as sports, reality TV, or digital games.

  • Oliver, Mary Beth. 2009. Entertainment. In The SAGE handbook of media processes and effects. Edited by Robert L. Nabi and Mary Beth Oliver, 161–175. Los Angeles: SAGE.

    This chapter provides a short, concise overview of the most important approaches to media entertainment. It emphasizes the importance of explaining entertainment beyond purely hedonistic experiences and motivations, and expands the focus toward including how audiences seek and experience deeper meaningfulness and transcendence. Written in clear and comprehensible language, this chapter is very useful as an orientation and for students new to the field.

  • Wünsch, Carsten. 2002. Unterhaltungstheorien: Ein systematischer Überblick. In Unterhaltung durch das Fernsehen: Eine molare Theorie. Edited by Werner Früh, 15–48. Konstanz, Germany: UVK.

    This German-language overview is an excellent starting point to enter the field of entertainment. It covers a wide range of theoretical approaches (including approaches outside of media psychology) and discusses anthropological approaches (e.g., play), emotional and motivational theories, and finally reflects on entertainment as an experience and as content.

  • Zillmann, Dolf, and Peter Vorderer. 2000. Media entertainment: The psychology of its appeal. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

    This classic collection of approaches to entertainment contains chapters on specific entertainment contents, such as humor, drama, violence, and music. While the book is a little aged, many of the chapters have been influential in determining the theoretical and empirical agenda of entertainment research and have marked the onset of a real boom in entertainment-related study.

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