Message sensation value (MSV) is defined as the degree to which a message’s format and content features elicit sensory, affective, and arousal responses. MSV research has received considerable scholarly and professional attention for more than two decades. The seminal work, to date, has been conducted by the Kentucky School. MSV was initially operationalized as perceived message sensation value (PMSV). The activation model of information exposure (AMIE) provides the basis for explaining the functional mechanism of MSV and PMSV. The AMIE proposes that exposure is a function of the interaction between an individual’s sensation-seeking tendency and sensation-enhancing attributes of the message itself.
There are three primary types of message features that contribute to MSV: (a) the formal video dimension, (b) the formal audio dimension, and (c) the content dimension. There is an important distinction between subjective reactions to the message (PMSV) and the format and content features contributing to these reactions (MSV).
In general, messages of high relative to low in sensation value have elicited greater message processing and more favorable evaluations across a range of outcome variables in health communication. Some health communication campaigns have employed high sensation value messages to target high sensation seekers. This sensation-seeking targeting approach, SENTAR, however, has received mixed and limited support. The influence of MSV on message effectiveness might be very similar for the two groups. Recently, some scholars have attempted to situate AMIE in a broader context of persuasion. First, AMIE and the elaboration likelihood model (ELM) offer competing predictions in terms of the role of MSV in persuasion, such that AMIE stresses a straightforward attention-getting effect, whereas ELM predicts a distracting effect of MSV interfering with message’s content. The very few studies conducted thus far reveal limited and mixed findings. Second, in the integration of MSV research with the appraisal theory and excitation-transfer theory, MSV may function as an arousal generator to amplify the influence of discrete emotions on perceived message effectiveness. Third, according to the psychological reactance theory, there are challenges with implementing high sensation value (HSV) messages, in that they potentially could backfire among the target audiences. Messages with HSV may garner better-perceived effectiveness when they tone down the controlling language.
Future studies should investigate the relationships between specific MSV-enhancing features and message processing. They can expand the literature by studying the impact of MSV in a variety of media message contexts (e.g., broadcast journalism). Future experiments might also incorporate psychophysiological measures (e.g., skin response and heart-rate deceleration) to complement self-reported measures. Future studies should continue to explore other features (e.g., visual-verbal redundancy) that might affect attention and message processing jointly with MSV, and other individual difference variables, such as need for cognition, trait reactance, locus of control, and etc.