Research and Creative Interests
- moral psychology
- race and media
- media violence
- cognitive science
My program of research could broadly be described as media psychology. That is, I am interested in why people consume certain types of content and how this content affects them and my work is informed by what we know about mental processes. I have research projects currently in progress in three focus areas:
Media violence. I’m working on developing a better understanding of how and why people consume violent content. This has included an examination of several content domains, including video games, television drama, and children’s cartoons, using a variety of research methods (e.g., meta-analysis, psychophysiology, self-report, content analysis).
I’m doing research on several aspects of media psychology at the moment, but one set of studies that are especially exciting to me is the research that my students and I are doing on human morality. I’ve always been interested in trying to understand what motivates people and how we make decisions, and moral judgments and behaviors are a big part of that. This is a really interesting time for the field in developing our understanding of just how morals work. There are new theories of moral psychology that have emerged to explain morality, but there’s still so much that we don’t know. For example, how and when do our morals change? Can you shift another person’s moral compass? These are core questions for us right now, and we found that video games are a wonderful space in which to study these things. Morality is often based on emotion, and the old paper and pencil tests with moral dilemmas didn’t do a very good job of capturing that emotion, but with video games people get immersed. They care about the characters, they feel the weight of their decisions, it’s meaningful to them. So, right now, we’re doing a set of studies where we look at moral judgments and decisions in games, and we tweak various aspects of the experience to see just how malleable our morals might actually be.
In a couple of these studies, for example, we’ve manipulated the narrative arc of the game, and we found that this influenced participants decisions not only within the game, but after the game play was over as well. Now we’re manipulating players’ emotional state to see how that affects their behavior as they move through the game world, and eventually we hope to get to a place where we have evidence that speaks to the relative influence of both cognition and emotion on a moral decisions, which would have a whole host of both theoretical and practical implications for how we think about morality.
Recently published work in this area:
- Martins, N., & Weaver, A. J. (2019). The role of media exposure on relational aggression: A meta-analysis. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 47, 90-99.
- Martins, N., Weaver, A. J., & Lynch, T. (2018). What the public “knows” about media effects research: the influence of news frames on perceived credibility and belief change. Journal of Communication, 68, 98-199.
- Martins, N., Weaver, A. J., Yeshua-Katz, D., Lewis, N., Tyree, N., & Jensen, J. D. (2013). A content analysis of print news coverage of media violence and aggression research. Journal of Communication, 63, 1070-1087. doi: 10.1111/jcom.12052
- Matthews, N. L., & Weaver, A. J. (2013). Skill gap: Quantifying the amount and type of generated violent content in video game play between variably skilled users. Mass Communication & Society, 16, 829-846. doi: 10.1080/15205436.2013.773043
- Weaver, A. J., Zelenkauskaite, A., & Samson, L. (2012). The (non)violent world of Youtube: Content trends in Web video. Journal of Communication, 62, 1065-1083.
- Kobach, M., & Weaver, A. J. (2012). Gender and empathy differences in negative reactions to fictionalized and real violent images. Communication Reports, 25, 51-61.
- Weaver, A. J., & Kobach, M. (2012). The relationship between selective exposure and the enjoyment of television violence. Aggressive Behavior, 38, 175-184.
- Weaver, A. J. (2011). A meta-analytical review of selective exposure to and the enjoyment of media violence. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 55(2), 1-19.
- Weaver, A. J., Jensen, J. D., Martins, N., Hurley, R., & Wilson, B.J. (2011). Liking violence and action: An Examination of gender differences in children’s processing of animated content. Media Psychology, 14, 49-70.
- Weaver, A. J. & Wilson, B. J. (2009). The role of graphic and sanitized violence in the enjoyment of television dramas. Human Communication Research, 35, 442-463.
Moral choice in video games. My interest in the appeal of media violence has expanded into thinking about what happens in video games when players are given choices about their violent activity. This, in turn, has led to a few new research projects on moral choice in games. I’m especially interested in why players make the choices they do (e.g., are they guided by real-world moral codes, do they adopt the moral code of the narrative they’ve entered, or do they disregard morality in the game environment altogether?). I’m also interested in how the moral (or immoral) choices players make impact their enjoyment of and emotional reactions to the game. More broadly, I’m looking to apply work in moral psychology to our understanding of mediated judgments and behaviors.
Recently published work in this area:
- Prena, K., Reed, A., Weaver, A. J., & Newman, S. D. (2018). Game mechanics matter: Differences in video game conditions influence memory performance. Communication Research Reports, 35, p. 222-231. doi: 10.1080/08824096.2018.1428545
- Lewis, N., & Weaver, A. J. (2015). Emotional responses to social comparisons in reality television programming. Journal of Media Psychology. doi: 10.1027/1864-1105/a000151.
- Weaver, A. J. & Lewis, N. (2012). Mirrored morality: An exploration of moral choice in video games. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15, 1-5.
- Ross, T., & Weaver, A. J. (2012). Shall we play a game? How the behavior of others influences strategy selection in a multiplayer game. Journal of Media Psychology, 24, 102-112.
Race and selective exposure. My third research focus involves examining the impact of the race of characters in entertainment media on selective exposure to that content. With movies in particular there seems to be an assumption that casting minority actors will cause White audiences to avoid the film. I am exploring whether that perception is accurate, and if so, why outgroup audiences would practice selective avoidance and how this effect could be overcome. I’ve also looked at the effects of exposure to certain types of portrayals of outgroups on audience emotions/attitudes/behaviors.
Recent published work in this area:
- Weaver, A. J., & Frampton, J. (2019). Crossing the color line: Changing perceptions of the intended audience through social media. Communication Monographs, 86, 399-415.
- Kharroub, T., & Weaver, A. J. (2019). Selective exposure and identification with fictional characters in the transnational Arab television industry. International Journal of Communication, 13, 653-673.
- Hurley, R, J., Jensen, J. D., Weaver, A. J., & Dixon, T. L. (2015). Viewer ethnicity matters: Black crime in TV news and its impact on decisions regarding public policy. Journal of Social Issues, 71, 155-170. doi:10.1111/josi.12102
- Kharroub, T., & Weaver, A. J. (2014). Portrayals of women in transnational Arab television drama series. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 58, 179-195. doi: 10.1080/08838151.2014.906434
- Weaver, A. J. (2011). The role of actors’ race in White audiences’ selective exposure to movies. Journal of Communication, 61, 369-385.
If you’d like copies of any of the published work above, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are a current or prospective student interested in doing research in one of these areas, feel free to get in touch with me to discuss any of the ongoing projects.