We are all film critics in one way or another. But, do some reviewers hold more sway than others? And how effective are reviews at getting people to watch something?
Today we are going to look at a research paper from Jacob Pentheny called The Influence of Movie Reviews on Consumers. In this article, we will break down the paper’s findings, how the study was conducted and what it all means. Firstly though, let’s outline the paper’s goals.
Pentheny’s paper researched how various types of online film criticism can impact the average moviegoer. In particular, the paper focused on research into how reviews informed moviegoers’ decision to see a film in the cinema. As well as the difference between professional critic and consumer reviews in terms of influence. And how a review’s tonal information (positive, negative, and mixed) can sway readers opinions.
To conduct this research Pentheny created a survey that began by showing 1 set of 3 randomised critical/consumer reviews that were either good, bad, or mixed (from a pool of 6 sets). The participants were then asked 17 questions about their feelings on the reviews.
Everyone then filled in questions on two different scored ranking scales. The first scale was the Self-Monitoring scale which used its questions to measure how much an individual adjusts their attitudes based on the actions/opinions of the group they are part of. Thereby demonstrating how external forces can impact participants. High scorers were more likely to agree with the majority. Secondly, there was the Need for Cognitive Closure (NFCC) scale. Which measured an individual’s need for a definitive answer (which would score higher) over ambiguity (which would score lower). Therefore helping to showcase participants feelings towards the reviews.
225 people responded to the survey with the major demographics being 18-21-year-olds and 71-80-year-olds.
Firstly, the results showed that people with a high NFCC preferred reading consumer reviews and believed consumer reviews benefitted others more than those of critics. This is possibly because they view consumers as being more likely to want definitive answers, like themselves. Additionally, they believed other people would be more inclined to watch a movie after reading consumer reviews. They also valued positive reviewers opinions and trusted positive reviews over negative ones.
Conversely, people with a lower NFCC score saw all reviews as being of little help. Though critical reviews were slightly more favoured. Similarly, they thought others would find the reviews unhelpful. But consumer reviews were seen as minorly more useful to others. Critical reviews were seen as more likely to encourage others to watch a movie. They also favoured mixed reviews as they showcased more than one way of seeing a film. Despite this, they viewed negative reviews as the most accurate and mixed reviews as the least. Perhaps showing that lower NFCC responders value nuanced analysis but view overall negative reviews as being more honest.
When it came to the Self-Monitoring scale those with a low ranking found consumer reviews more helpful than critical ones. Whereas high scorers found critic’s reviews to be of comparatively greater help. This is odd as high self-monitors would usually be more likely to agree with opinions echoed by the majority. Which the NFCC analysis said was more associated with consumer reviews. Both high and low self-monitors believed others would get more from consumer reviews over critics. Finally, low scorers tended to prefer reviews with positive content and high scorers leant more towards negative writing.
In summation, it is obvious that reviews can significantly affect whether moviegoers will see a film. But how it impacts people varies wildly depending on how much you value closure and fitting in with the majority.
Overall consumer reviews are valued more by people who require unambiguous information and aren’t concerned with what the majority think. Film critics however play more of an important role with people who don’t need closure. As well as with People who adjust their behaviour within groups.
And while polarised review content is seen as more trustworthy, mixed reviews hold favour for those looking for a more nuanced opinion.