Research covers gamut of media effects

Allie Hitchcock • March 21, 2017

When students think of media research, their minds may go to reading articles or editing papers.  But at The Media School, there’s a world beyond these methods, according to professors and graduate students.

Whether using physiological tools, powers of observation, data mining or surveys, researchers at the school are examining all types of media effects. While some are accessing huge data resources to test hypotheses, others are conducting surveys online or using electronic monitors to responses to different media.

Here are a few of those projects. 

How do people respond to advertising?

Glenna Read-Bullock
Ph.D. candidate Glenna Read-Bullock (Emma Knutson | The Media School)

Glenna Read-Bullock is a Ph.D. candidate working on her dissertation about news stories that highlight identity influence how people respond to models in advertisements. She’s interested in media psychology, specifically how media messages influence people in cognitive, social and emotional ways.

Read-Bullock is a frequent user of the school’s Institute for Communication Research, which includes a lab to measure human subjects’ responses to various media.

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When she starts a new study, Read-Bullock first submits her proposal to IU’s Institutional Review Board, which oversees any work that involves human subjects.

“Once that is approved, I can get started gathering stimuli, gathering images, creating news stories, altering images, altering videos and then put all of that into a program that will display the stimuli for the subjects,” she explained.

Testing human reactions and interactions with media can lead to hiccups in the research process. If someone moves, for example, while his or her heart rate is being collected, the data can be affected. It also takes around three hours to process and make sense of data as it is collected. Read-Bullock is aiming to test 250 participants for her dissertation.

She said she’s grateful for the ICR, a facility that makes this process go smoothly.

“Coming to IU, it just felt really great. There was a lot of weight off my shoulders because there are a lot of faculty members and grad students here who are able to help you with any kind of problem that arises,” she said. “People are so nice and willing to share their knowledge.”« Collapse content

How do people respond to media dynamically? 

Ph.D. student Jingjing Han
Ph.D. student Jingjing Han (Michael Williams | The Media School)

Second-year Ph.D. student Jingjing Han also uses the ICR. Her research interests are focused on dynamic systems theory and direct perception of media.

“I generally say I’m interested in using the dynamic systems theory, and also embodied cognition approach to study communication in general,” she said. “And so I have two main projects that I’m working on.”

The first, a continued study from Han’s thesis, is based on coping research.

“There are two models in psychological research that categorize people into different groups,” she said. “I’m looking at if those kinds of groups, if their differences are based on their motivational systems. And so I’m comparing those two models with a model called the motivational activation model.”

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Han often collaborates with distinguished professor Annie Lang, who developed the motivational activation model. Han is also working with Lang in a co-viewing project, using Lang’s newest theory on dynamic systems.

This kind of research requires technology that allows for testing of people’s bodily responses. Face sensors, tools to measure heart rate and emotional response based on facial expression, electroencephalograms (EEG) and biopac technology are all used in Han’s tests.

“I think I’m very lucky as a graduate student,” she said. “Our lab is probably the largest one in our field—we have four biopacs, one EEG and one eye tracking. Usually universities only have one biopac.”« Collapse content

Public relations: How to engage consumers ethically?

Assistant professor Nicholas Browning (Tiantian Zhang | The Media School)
Assistant professor Nicholas Browning.(Tiantian Zhang | The Media School)

Other research relies on studies that don’t include technology and observation, such as data research or opinion surveys. Assistant professor Nicholas Browning’s work involves a distinctly human element, but one focused on relationships. He studies power dynamics between organizations and publics and is especially interested in politics, social responsibility and ethics.

“I’m trying to build theories that can guide organizations to act as they should,” he said.

Browning first became interested in this relationship-focused research as an undergraduate, studying how a museum could tailor promotional materials based on exhibits patrons visited the most, measured by radio-frequency identification tracking.

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At the time, that sort of tracking wasn’t done to that level, Browning said. As a result, some were sceptical of the method. Today, similar methods that monitor consumer needs are commonplace.

“Turns out I was right, because now we’re doing that immensely with social media,” he said. “But I thought it was an interesting point, the ethical concerns here. What does it mean when you’re doing that?”

This way of building relationships between organizations and their stakeholders is taken for granted as a regular part of public relations, but there are important ethical questions involved in making these decisions and using those methods, Browning said.

“It is kind of a head-scratcher because you have a situation where you want to try and know as much as you possibly can about the audiences you serve so you can best serve them, but then you’re having issues of invading privacy,” he said. “Are you using that information to serve them more efficiently or manipulate them unfairly? All these things start coming into play.”

Browning said he is interested in considering the power large corporations have, and the balance of getting these corporations to act in an ethically responsible and beneficial way while still making a profit.

“That for me is the million dollar question, of trying to get organizations to act as public stewards,” he said.« Collapse content

How do sports fans interact with social media? 

Galen Clavio
Associate professor Galen Clavio. (Laura Pence | The Media School)

Associate professor Galen Clavio also looks at relationships, specifically in a sports setting. He studies social media and related technologies and the way they impact the relationship between sports, media and consumers.

Like many faculty members at the school, he’s working on several projects. His newest research is on virtual reality and the way audiences perceive virtual reality.

He also is studying people’s motivations in utilizing specific social media in the sport setting.

“For instance, what are the intrinsic motivations for people using Twitter to interact about baseball?” said Clavio, who also is director of the school’s National Sports Journalism Center. “What are their motivations for using the service, and what do they get out of that process?”

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This research can involve studying the interactions based on different social media platforms. Or it can be studied based on individual sports rather than individual platforms—how NBA fans differ from NFL fans demographically.

In a third study, Clavio is researching the concept of engagement on social media.

“What do you want as a customer? What are you hoping to experience when you’re on a website or Facebook or if you’re interacting on social media with a business?” he said. “What are you hoping to get out of the exchange?”

As much of Clavio’s research focuses on user perceptions, there is a temptation to look back on past scientific research to make connections. This isn’t always the best research method, though, he said. Much of his methodology involves survey research, qualitative research and focus groups to help him unlock new ideas.

“For me a lot of it is trying to conceptualize, ‘What is it that we actually have here? How does our use affect our brains or how we interact with stuff?” he said.« Collapse content

How do documentaries support government states?

Joshua Malitsky | The Media School
Associate professor Joshua Malitsky. (Maggie Richards, BA’15 | The Media School)

Associate professor of cinema and media studies Joshua Malitsky researches nonfiction film, primarily film tied to socialism and political revolution in the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Cuba. He currently is working on a book about Yugoslavia.

“What I’m drawn to about it is this idea that you get these moments where they’re trying to build an entirely new society,” said Malitsky, who also is director of the Center for Documentary Research and Practice. “Nonfiction film seems to have more power, potentially more power than any other moment in history because there’s more pressure on it.”

Because most of these nonfiction films are state-sponsored through government agencies, there is a clear sense of an attempt at control of the masses demonstrated in them.

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“All these projects are about kind of unifying and edifying people around an idea. They approach it from really different ways. They’re always more interesting than people expect,” he said.

Malitsky’s methodology includes content analysis and archival work. He’s worked in Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia over the past few years and is traveling to Bosnia this summer to continue this work.

Malitsky is pleased with the broad range of topics and perspectives that have come together as the Media School has come into existence. If the research being conducted in the school is any indicator, this breadth is a strong component of the school’s curriculum, he said.

“I think it makes a lot of sense for undergraduate teaching—covering a whole range of approaches to media–so I think the school’s going to be really successful in that regard,” he said.« Collapse content