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Last updated February 19, 2001


Mass Communication Context
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Media Equation

Explanation of Theory:
This theory predicts why people respond unconsciously and automatically to communication media as if it were human.

Theorist: Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass

Date: 1996

Primary Article: 

     Reeves, B., & Nass, C. (1996). The media equation: How people treat computers, television, and new media like real people and places. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Individual Interpretation:

This theory looks at interpersonal communication between an individual and the media.  We talk back to our computers, and we use the same personal spacing techniques with media as we would if that particular medium were a real person.  We unconsciously act as if the media are people.  Thereís something unique about this theory.  It is relatively new, and considers new forms of interpersonal communication


This theory is scientific in nature, and according to Chaffee & Bergerís 1997 criteria for scientific theories, it is an okay one. 

  • It predicts that people will treat the media (according to interpersonal theory) as they would treat a real person.
  •  It explains ways the audience is active.
  •  It is relatively simple to understand.
  • It is internally consistent on the scientific side (one truth, determinism, value nuetral).
  • It helps organize knowledge about the action of the audience.


When the television you are watching is real small, you tend to sit closer, and when it is large, you tend to sit further away from it.  Ask a friend to randomly watch you when you are watching someone you like, admire, or think is attractive on television.  You can do the same for them as well. I notice that I tend to sit closer to the television, smile, and keep eye contact when I am watching someone I like on television.  However, I walk away, make ugly faces, or ignore people I donít like when I am watching television. 

More Research on Media Equation:

     Moon, Y., & Nass, C. (1996). How real are computer personalities? Psychological responses to personality types in human-computer interaction. Communication Research, 23, 651-674.

Media Equation in Texts:

     Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill, 309, 349, 373-385, 476.