COM Research Colloquium Series

The Communication Research Colloquium Series at Boston University was established in October 2009. This series consists of monthly research presentations that highlight current and original research of faculty in the College of Communication. This forum provides an intellectual exchange of ideas and perspectives, features scholarship in several methodological traditions, and fosters discussions among faculty and students about a variety of research topics in the field of communication.

 Past Lectures

Toward Robot Humanization: Exploring Relational Dynamics & Perceptions of Robots & Artificial Intelligence

Kate Mays
Doctoral Candidate, Division of Emerging Media Studies
March 2020

Society is currently facing two big technological changes: Robotization, which has the same dramatic potential for change in people’s lives as has the computer/Internet revolution; and Artificial Intelligence (AI) integration to existing technological applications. As this technology continues to develop, it is being designed to assimilate socially and serve as a communicative entity in its own right. Simultaneously, to a large degree robots and AI are put forth as yet another technological tool to aid us. The value proposition for AI and robots—their interactivity and relative autonomy­—make them closer to “living” and social entities than any technology that has come before them, though. This ontological leap may create friction for people as they logically know and intend to treat robots as tools but are still confronted with their social cues that prompt emotional and social responses.

In this talk, PhD candidate Kate Mays reviews her research on the social and relational perceptions of robots and AI. Based on a series of surveys (conducted with Dr. James Katz), she draws on multiple models and theories­—uncanny valley, media equation, apparatgeist, social distance, and social identity—to develop a framework for exploring the social implications of these technologies.

Persuasion Knowledge in an Era of Covert Influence

Dr. Michelle Amazeen
Assistant Professor, Department of Mass Communication, Advertising and Public Relations
February 2020

With the growth of “fake news” and other digital disinformation, media consumers have been inundated at an unprecedented scale with content that seeks to influence their attitudes and behaviors­—much of it taking place covertly. Dr. Michelle A. Amazeen will highlight some of her research on the nature and effects of mediated persuasion that blurs commercial interests, journalism, and politics. Leveraging the Persuasion Knowledge Model—a theory of how people’s understanding of persuasion affects their ability to cope with persuasive attempts—her work expands what we know about the dispositional and situational factors that affect whether and when people recognize and how they respond to covert persuasion in digital news contexts. Beyond helping news consumers to identify covert persuasive attempts, Dr. Amazeen will discuss the implications of this research on the journalism industry and policymakers who seek to make our media environment less deceptive.

Technology to Support Family Caregivers

Dr. Margaret McLaughlin
Distinguished Visiting Research Scholar
December 2019

Devices such as GPS-enabled smartwatches and motion-detecting webcams are being used by increasing numbers of caregivers who want to take additional precautions to protect their loved ones when they are unable to be present or give them undivided attention. This talk focuses on family caregiver use of communication technology to cope with threats to the safety of persons living with a degenerative major neurocognitive disorder including Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy Body dementia, and Frontotemporal dementia.  Results are presented from a survey of 230 unpaid family caregivers.

Video games, memory, and the human brain: The neurological affordances of gaming

Dr. Kelsey Prena
Assistant Professor of Emerging Media
November 2019

Video gaming is never an isolated event; Recent research has demonstrated how video gaming can cause short- and long-term improvements to certain forms of memory. In this talk, Dr. Kelsey Prena (Assistant Professor of Emerging Media) will share findings from her own research in this realm, specifically the behavioral and neurological evidence for these changes found in a region of the brain where reward processing memory and spatial mapping overlap. Dr. Prena will discuss how current communication theories can provide necessary context to understand these observations and how findings might inform future research.

Refugees, Cellphones, and Information Precarity

Dr. Dana Janbek
Master Lecturer, Department of Mass Communication, Advertising & Public Relations
October 2019

Based on years of field research with refugees, NGOs, and volunteers, Dr. Dana Janbek gives an overview of the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis and the conditions under which refugees live in urban areas and refugee camps in Jordan and Germany. The presentation explores how information and communication technologies, especially cellphones, are used during refugees’ migration journeys and while navigating displacement to overcome information precarity.

Fear and Loathing (and Enthusiasm!): A National Study of Attitudes Towards Artificial Intelligence

Dr. James E. Katz
Feld Professor of Emerging Media, and Director, Division of Emerging Media Studies
September 2019

Major advances in the technology of artificial intelligence (AI) have commanded great attention at both the national and international levels. Various commissions, panels, and studies have been launched to understand AI’s transformational potential for both positive and negative outcomes. Some see AI as solving major problems ranging from healthcare to transportation, while others see it as a profound threat to job security, personal privacy, individual autonomy, and even humanity itself. 

In this talk, Dr. James E. Katz reports on a research project (in which he is assisted by Division of Emerging Media Studies students Kate Mays, Janey Zitomer, and Yiming “Skylar” Lei) exploring public attitudes towards AI. The project’s aim is to help build better policy by analyzing how the public perceives AI. Dr. Katz presents findings from this collaborative work, including the results of a national U.S. attitude survey conducted in 2019.

The Politics of Attention: Understanding the Currency of the Hybrid Media System

Dr. Christopher Wells
Assistant Professor, Division of Emerging Media Studies
March 2019

The attention economy, or the logics by which attention is generated and transformed into various forms of power, is coming into focus as a central feature of our political-media system. This talk by Dr. Christopher Wells (Assistant Professor, Division of Emerging Media Studies at Boston University’s College of Communication) is grounded in contemporary theoretical work directed at understanding attention, publicity and visibility in the hybrid media system. It then draws on evidence from several aspects of the American election in 2016, including news media treatment of Donald Trump, the “media-hacking” of far-right social media networks, and the information operations of Russia’s Internet Research Agency, to rethink what we know about political communication under conditions of the attention economy.

                    

Tech News and Tech PR: It’s Not Just Tech Anymore

Dr. Nirit Weiss-Blatt
Visiting Research Fellow at Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California
February 2019

What is tech news today? And consequently, what is tech PR? Research by Dr. Nirit Weiss-Blatt discovered a major turning-point in both practices. Her previous study examined, “Who sets the technological agenda?” by analyzing millions of articles/posts, and deploying time series and network analyses. Her current research focuses on the role of tech PR due to the accumulating tech scandals. Her talk with summarize the rapid changes in the tech news ecosystem and provide preliminary conclusions, both theoretical and practical.