Initially proposed by Dolf Zillmann in the early 1970s, excitation-transfer theory (ETT) has been continuously tested and developed in a large range of communication contexts in the past few decades. The theory posits that cognitive awareness of the source of sympathetic excitation or arousal will decay before the excitation itself decays. Hence, residual excitation from the preceding stimulus tends to be misattributed to its subsequent stimulus and intensify emotional reactivity to the subsequent stimulus.

This theory is important to communication research because communication processes and behaviors are situated in contexts permeated with emotion and where successive emotion changes are an essential characteristic. For example, conversations— face to face or via social media—often unfold amid rapid topic and emotion changes. Similarly, media use typically involves switches between ...

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