Television watching is associated with numerous negative health outcomes, including obesity, metabolic syndrome, and premature death [1, 2]. One of the mechanisms by which television watching affects health is increased snacking during television watching periods. Though food advertisements appear to be partially responsible for this affect, multiple studies suggest that TV also increases energy intake due to distraction from satiety cues [3–6]. In fact, a comparison of watching a continuous TV program to watching brief clips from that program found greater intake during the continuous program condition . The authors suggested that increased attentional allocation, or distraction, may have been responsible for this difference. Conceptually distinct types of distraction exist that may differentially affect intake. Though many distraction-related terms are used interchangeably, here we contrast engagement, spatial presence, and narrative transportation as representing different depths of immersion.
Engagement, or mental immersion, is a measure of attentional allocation . As defined by the International Society for Presence Research, engagement occurs when one’s perception is directed towards a technologically mediated world and away from the physical world . When engaged with, for example, a television program, one’s attention is selectively allocated to the program at the expense of one’s environment. Common synonyms for engagement include involvement, immersion, and engrossment.
It is possible to become so engaged in a technologically-mediated world as to feel as if one is physically present in it. This sensation is known as spatial or physical presence . In addition to feelings of engagement in the world, individuals also suspend their disbelief in its physicality. For example, “jump scares” in horror or other media cause startle reflexes, even though viewers intellectually realize that the objects are not real . Thus, spatial presence consists not only of attentional distraction but also a psychological feeling of being in an alternative space.
Narrative transportation, or absorption in a storyline, integrates attentional allocation with imagery and feelings related to a story . When absorbed in a narrative, as opposed to non-narrative media, a loss of self-awareness is combined with mental construction of the narrative reality. Though engagement and presence in a virtual environment may be relatively passive, individuals must actively participate in imagining a storyline. Thus, narrative transportation may produce more profound distraction than engagement or even spatial presence because of the mental effort required to construct the narrative.
Results of a recent study suggested that sedentary screen time, including TV watching and typical video gaming, can produce greater energy intake than playing video games that use motion-based controls, and that this effect is unlikely to be due to lower levels of energy expenditure . Motion-controlled games played with a camera-based or accelerometer controller (such as Microsoft’s Kinect or Nintendo’s Wiimote) require body movement to play and may reduce intake by busying hands, reducing opportunities to eat as much as in conditions with idle hands (e.g., TV watching). These games may also be less distracting than sedentary games and TV watching. There is mixed evidence as to feelings of presence and engagement during motion-controlled video games as compared to typical video games [14–18], and little is known about narrative transportation. Previous studies have compared sedentary gaming to no stimulus [19, 20] and to gaming while walking on a treadmill , but we are unaware of TV or gaming studies that have measured or compared the effects of different types of distraction.
The purpose of this secondary data analysis was to investigate psychosocial variables measured during a study comparing TV watching, typical video gaming, and motion-controlled video gaming (described above) . The effects on energy intake of several different measures of distraction were studied: transportation, spatial presence, and engagement. We hypothesized that greater distraction would be associated with greater energy intake. We also hypothesized that TV watching and typical sedentary gaming would be more distracting than motion-controlled gaming. The effects of enjoyment and tendency towards immersion were also explored.