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Eyes on the frame: Explaining people’s online searching behavior in response to TV consumption

Sabrina Heike Kessler (Institute of Communication Research, Friedrich Schiller University, Jena, Germany)
Lars Guenther (Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST), Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa)

Internet Research

ISSN: 1066-2243

Article publication date: 3 April 2017




Using the internet parallel to or after television (TV) consumption changes the way people receive news. The way information is framed by the media has been found to influence the behavior of news recipients. The purpose of this paper is to hypothesize that the exposure to TV media frames would affect a lay audience’s online information-seeking behavior.


In an experiment combining eye tracking and content analysis, participants (n=72) were exposed to one of three TV clips with different media frames (based on a full-sample content analysis) that focused on Alzheimer’s disease. After exposure, participants informed themselves about the issue online. Eye tracking allows to investigate whether individuals mainly scan information, or whether they compute information on a higher level of attention (use more thorough deliberate comparison of information and really reading information).


Three different frames of online content were identified. Framing was found to influence the individual online searching and reading of information on a descriptive level (entering search words and viewing website content) to some degree, but not on a procedural level (such as selecting online search results).

Research limitations/implications

This study makes a significant contribution to the literature embedding an established theoretical process like framing effects into the internet literature. Regarding the broader theoretical context, this study shed some light on cross-media framing effects on online behavior. Applying the psychological perspective of framing theory to explain and predict online searching behavior is beneficial for specific types of online search behavior. Main limitations are the not representative student sample and the forced task that participants had to inform themselves about Alzheimer’s disease online.

Practical implications

The results have practical implications for the creation of TV-related websites. There can be a positive, profitable synergy of TV and online websites. The websites can complement the TV programs with the focus on information needs of the recipients depending on the TV activated audience frames. Therefore, media managers would do well to plan the contents of their websites as internet-based resources that meet the activated information needs.


This study is among the first to investigate the framing effects of TV on the online information searching behavior of individuals. A deeper understanding of how media frames, especially from TV, are affecting online information seeking will allow researchers to better explain and predict online user behavior and information needs. But still, more research is needed.



Both the authors contributed equally to this work. The authors wish to thank Antje Blumstengel, Franziska Dau, Anja Dittrich, David Hildebrandt, Magdalena Rosset, Lisa Marie Schaaf and Philip Thomisch for developing the research within a master’s course at the authors’ university; the authors also thank Julia L. McMillan for proofreading manuscripts.


Kessler, S.H. and Guenther, L. (2017), "Eyes on the frame: Explaining people’s online searching behavior in response to TV consumption", Internet Research, Vol. 27 No. 2, pp. 303-320.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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