Digital media impacts multiple aspects of self-representation: An investigation of flow, agency, presence, character identification, and time perception


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 interactive media such as video games and noninteractive media, such as film or TV, in naturalistic settings. A total of 220 participants completed measures of flow, sense of agency, presence, character involvement, and time perception, reporting on their engagement with both interactive and noninteractive media. Results showed reduced agentive involuntariness, but increased flow, presence, character involvement, and time perception for interactive compared to noninteractive media. Absorption was associated with increased flow, presence, and character involvement. Personality traits of openness and conscientiousness were also associated with moderate alteration of aspects self-representation during media engagement. This study presents nuanced differences in the way that interactive and noninteractive media impact self-processing and highlights features that may enhance engagement with digital media.

Psychology of Popular Media, (10), 3, pp. 303–318,