Letters from the Director

Letter From The Director: September 2023

By: Michelle Amazeen

Welcome to the Fall 2023 Semester!

With the start of the academic year, I’d like to welcome you to the fall 2023 semester and share some information about the CRC.

First established at Boston University in 1959, the CRC serves to support its fellows as thought leaders who advance communication-related theory and methods in addressing society’s challenges. We are located in the lower level (basement) of Alden Hall at 704 Commonwealth Avenue. You can read about our facilities and technologies and bookmark our website at https://sites.bu.edu/crc/. 

Image of the BU CRC office

We are excited to welcome our new full-time Lab and Research Manager, Amanda King, effective September 18th. Amanda is a COM graduate, earning a Master's in Emerging Media Studies in 2021. We are joined by three graduate students who will be working in the Center this fall:

  • Zain Bali (MCR), SONA Administrator
  • Snigdha Bhowmik (FTV), Communications Assistant
  • Xinyue “Tracy” Cui (FTV), Events Assistant

This fall, we have several events lined up:

Colloquium Series:

  1. Thursday, September 28th at 3:30 pm, Alexis Shore, EMS PhD Candidate: Platforms as Rulemakers for Interpersonal Communication: The Case of the Screenshot Feature
  2. Thursday, October 26th at 3:30 pm, Dr. Deborah Jaramillo (FTV)
  3. Thursday, November 30th at 3:30 pm, Dr. Joan Donovan (JO/EMS)

Dr. Melvin L. DeFleur Distinguished Lecture:

  1. Wednesday, November 15th at 3:30 pm, Dr. Kjerstin Thorson, Brandt Endowed Professor of Political Communication, Michigan State University

CRC Policies:

Fellows interested in reserving rooms for research purposes or reserving our technologies may do so using QReserve. To make reservations you will need to create your own QReserve account, associated with the CRC. Instructions for how to do so are included in the CRC Resource Guide. New and returning fellows are encouraged to review the CRC Resource Guide to (re)familiarize yourselves with our resources. Please also familiarize yourself with the policies and protocols of conducting research at the CRC, available here. Note: the Request for Research Study Details form (in step 2) is currently not available. To help us plan for use of the CRC this fall, in lieu of this form please email the following information to crccom@bu.edu. 

  1. The name(s), titles and email addresses of you and any co-researchers
  2. A preliminary title for your research project
  3. If applicable, the faculty advisor associated with your project
  4. Approximate start date, end date, and deadline (if applicable) for your project
  5. Details regarding IRB approval/status (if applicable)
  6. Whether you will require an iMotions-enabled laptop for your project
  7. Whether you will require long-term storage for your research data

For researchers planning to use the SONA Research Participation Pool, the CRC will continue to offer its COM Research Review Board (RRB) as an alternative to IRB for review of survey-based studies that adhere to the COM Master Protocol. To fairly allocate the workload, all faculty fellows who utilize SONA are expected to serve on the RRB. 

For the fall 2023 semester, we will be unable to accept the use of SONA for class projects of individual students. Should you be willing to oversee the administration of such an effort as chair of the COM SONA Review Board, please email me.

Finally, please join me in welcoming several new CRC fellows who are now part of the COM community:

  • Dr. Joan Donovan, Assistant Professor of Journalism
  • Dr. AnneMarie McClain, Assistant Professor of Media Science
  • James Crissman, EMS PhD student 
  • Lilian Naa Korkoi Tackie, EMS PhD student
  • Jiaxin Wang, EMS PhD student

I wish you all a successful start to the fall semester and look forward to seeing you in the CRC.

Letter from the Director: August 2023

By: Michelle Amazeen

Barbie: Covert Influence and Representation

Google search bar with 'Barbie movie' as the search term.

The billion-dollar blockbuster movie this summer was Barbie. As I prepared to go see it with my mother in July, I reminded myself that I was going to see what amounts to a 2-hour advertisement for a child’s toy, a practice also known as branded entertainment. As a scholar who studies covert influence, I am particularly aware of the goals of this strategy: don’t make the content into an explicit sales pitch but also create positive associations for your brand. While not as insidious as branded content that imitates news, the commercialization of media content – especially content directed at children – has been expanding.

This technique isn’t new. In 1931, the radio drama “March of Time” documented the work of journalists by reenacting famous news events such as the Hindenburg disaster or the disappearance of pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart. In reality, it was actually branded content, produced by Madison Avenue ad agency Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn (BBDO) that was intended to cross promote Time magazine to radio audiences. In other words, it was an ad, just like the Barbie movie.

Watching the movie with this critical mind-set, I found myself enjoying it more than I expected. As a misinformation researcher, I was surprised by the intellectual winks to psychological theories such as Leon Festinger’s cognitive dissonance and William J. McGuire’s inoculation theory. As one Barbie says to another, “By giving voice to the cognitive dissonance required to be a woman under the patriarchy, you robbed it of its power.” That is, exposing patriarchy will build immunity against it. Alas, just talking about patriarchy doesn’t confer resistance to it. Indeed, most Americans believe there is more work to do in attaining gender equality.

Although I enjoyed the movie, my expertise is not in examining media representations. This expertise is, however, in the purview of the Communication Research Center’s newest Fellow, Dr. AnneMarie McClain. As an Assistant Professor of Media Science, Dr. McClain focuses on understanding how media – and conversations around media – can be used to promote positive outcomes for children and families, especially marginalized children and families. I asked Dr. McClain her thoughts on the Barbie movie, and this is what she shared:

The girl power! The outsmarting of the boys! The nostalgic rollerblades! As a millennial who loved Barbies, there were many elements of the new Barbie movie that struck right to my childhood core. However, as a mother raising small children and an academic who studies representation and identity socialization, it is important to highlight that the film missed some opportunities to be truly expansive in its representation and boundary-pushing.

The film had loud chords of feminism, some progressive commentary on various issues in our real human world, and unflinchingly included a trans Barbie, Barbies with bigger bodies, and dolls of various ethnic-racial identities as just part of the gang. Yet, the film largely stuck to the gender binary: real and fictional worlds of only females and males, rendering nonbinary individuals, gender fluid people, and people of other genders essentially invisible. The theory of invisibility (Fryberg & Townsend, 2008) suggests that without representation, it becomes harder to see yourself positively and to navigate your environments. The film missed moments to capture how the Barbie franchise has inspired people of all genders, not just girls. Importantly, Mattel has a line called Creatable World with dolls that can change their gender expression; featuring those dolls in the film, too, would have more accurately represented the world that we live in -- and that we need to celebrate.

Additionally, although the film featured BIPOC Barbie and human characters, the favorite doll of the Latine family was the white so-called "stereotypical Barbie.” This racial element was never addressed. Given concerns about how play may reflect BIPOC girls’ beliefs about their identity (e.g., Sturdivant & Alanis, 2021), this wide-reaching film missed opportunities to explicitly affirm that brown and Black dolls can be favorites, too. Barbieland also had a Barbie-version Mount Rushmore replica, a monument of European settlers carved into the sacred Black Hills of the Lakota Sioux, along with an unnecessary analogy that referenced smallpox harming Indigenous populations. Though these examples were not the center of the film, they could cause harm to Indigenous communities, who are already unfairly and minimally represented in U.S. media (e.g., Leavitt et al., 2015). The film also leaves room for more sensitive language around mental health – for example, it could have avoided using ableist language like “crazy” and “insane” and removed the commercial that makes light of mental health challenges where various conditions like OCD were “sold separately.” The Barbie movie tried to drive home an important message about how girls and women can be anything they want to be, but it could have also more explicitly celebrated another key part of inclusivity as well: that whoever any of us are is already enough, too.

While it might be unfair to demand a summer movie be all things to all people, Barbie’s social failures go beyond identity dynamics.

In an interesting postscript to the movie, the Barbie Liberation Organization (BLO) – an environmental activist group – employed a classic technique of protest, called culture jamming, to draw attention to the overwhelming use of plastics in society. Given how much oil it takes to produce a single Barbie, more than three cups, the environmental damage caused by the production of Barbies and all of her accessories is concerning to those who care about the environment. The BLO produced a series of press releases purportedly from Mattel that announced its commitment to entirely stop using plastics by 2030 as well as the launch of a new decomposible line of Barbie dolls made from organic materials such as mushrooms, algae, seaweed, clay, and bamboo. At least three national news organizations fell for the influence campaign and published articles about the pledge and new doll line including People, The Washington Times, and Dow News Wire.

Composite showing different images of dolls.

In response to questions about the ethics of their culture jamming efforts, a BLO activist stated that, “What we’re fighting against is half a century of misinformation from the plastics industry and from fossil fuel companies and interests that are trying to convince people that recycling is a viable solution to the plastic waste problem.”

Thus, the Barbie movie has been a case study in how covert influence campaigns are being used to both entertain us as well as to hold powerful corporate interests to account.

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Letter from the Director: July 2023

By: Michelle Amazeen

Speaking Out: Then They Came for the Academics…

During my spring 2023 research sabbatical, I have continued my studies of disinformation. While having the time, resources, and support to focus exclusively on research is an increasingly rare privilege in academia, as I prepared to return as COM’s Director of the Communication Research Center, I have been reflecting on some of the challenges academic researchers face, especially those that study disinformation.

In 1943, the U.S. Department of War (today known as the Defense Department) released a short film called “Don’t Be a Sucker.” With anti-racist and anti-fascist themes, the film was intended to educate the public about prejudice and discrimination. At 14:56 into the clip (available here from the U.S. National Archives), the narrator – a Hungarian immigrant – remembers how the German Nazis came for academics and others who spoke for truth, exposing, among other things, the scientific fallacy of a “master” human race. These academics, writers, and scientists were exiled from Germany, jailed, or even put in concentration camps.

Eighty years on, the New York Times posted an article indicating that academics are once again under attack by their government. This time, it’s disinformation researchers who are being targeted by government legislators, not in some far away country, but right here in the United States. The goal is to undermine research into false claims about elections, vaccines, and other topics. The similarities to the historic descent into fascism are chilling.


Unfortunately, government suppression of academic inquiry is not new in the U.S. Among its wide-ranging investigations, in 1959, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) subpoenaed 40 public elementary and high school teachers in San Francisco accusing them of being Communists. Despite having little prosecutorial powers, the stigma of being called before the HUAC ended the careers of many including some of these educators.

Even with tenure – a mechanism that is supposed to protect academics from losing their position because of their speech, publications, or research findings – there are many examples of legislative and political interference with academic freedom.

PEN America – a non-profit defending freedom of expression – has noted a growing trend in legislative actions around the country attempting to influence what can be taught in public schools, colleges, universities, and libraries.

In Florida, for example, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill requiring review of professors’ tenure every five years and is also proposing that trustees should be able to call for a tenure review at any time.

There is a long history of communication scholars, in particular, who have been targeted for their attempts to study media and communication systems. Some of them have been denied tenure at their institutions, others have been harassed, and some even received death threats.

One recent case includes Nicole Hannah-Jones being denied tenure in 2021 by the trustees (most of whom were elected or appointed by the state legislature) of the University of North Carolina over concerns about how her research depicted the historical record on slavery in the U.S. Another local example is that of Noam Chomsky, the MIT professor emeritus who researches linguistics but has also extensively criticized the U.S. media system – most notably in his book Manufacturing Consent – and is a political activist. Over the years, he has endured being harassed by the Nixon administration as well as “death threats, bomb threats, [and] hysterical accusations” by others.

At its best, communication research aids legislators in policy making. “Through all periods of research on the uses and effects of media,” note scholars Byron Reeves and James L. Baughman, “scholars actively studied questions that concerned the public, the communications industries, or government regulators and legislators, and the researchers expected that their efforts could in some form result in social change.”

Yet, when ideological differences exist in just what social change is warranted, conflict arises.

History tells us what happens when those who are clinging to power do not wish to sincerely debate the empirical evidence on what is best for the public:

  • They take control of the media, outlawing any news or programming not controlled by the government as when Adolf Hitler took power in 1933 or when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022.
  • Books are banned or burned, as occurred during the Nazi regime, to “purify” literature. Disconcertingly, in the 2022-2023 academic school year, book bans in U.S. public schools are up by 28%.
  • They manufacture evidence and block others from examining it.

Rather than harassing the academics who try to examine our media systems for the nature and effects of disinformation, legislators should be facilitating that research and utilizing it to develop evidence-based policy.

With the turn of the calendar to the 2023-2024 academic year, I look forward continuing my research on disinformation, supporting others with their own research efforts, and engaging with those interested in developing evidence-based communication policies.

Letter from the Director: December 2022

By: Michelle Amazeen

As the Fall 2022 semester wraps up, there is an impressive number of new faces and activities at the CRC to reflect on. We welcomed four new faculty research fellows: Dr. Nivea Cannali Bona, Lecturer, Media Science; Dr. Katy Coduto, Assistant Professor, Media Science; Dr. Pablo Miño, Assistant Professor, Public Relations, and Dr. Emily Saidel, Lecturer, Television Studies. We also welcomed 3 new PhD student fellows: Nicole Hash, Dongpeng Huang, and Yihan "Danny" Jia.

Given the University’s commitment to involving students in research, the CRC once again had a busy semester in facilitating fellows’ efforts to recruit students as research participants via our SONA research participant management system. The SONA pool gives students an opportunity to become involved with various research activities across COM while earning course credit for doing so. This semester, 17 studies were conducted, recruiting students from 26 different COM courses to participate in 24 research opportunities.

Our fellows have also been using the CRC’s biometric technology which includes devices for measuring heart rate, sweat levels in the skin, and eye movements. Our Lab and Research Manager, Lindsy Goldberg, has been certified by iMotions on use of this technology and has hosted numerous classes and individual students for demonstrations of our iMotions equipment. She has offered workshops on biometrics in media effects research with specific modules on galvanic skin response, facial expression analysis, and eye tracking. A quick primer on demystifying biometrics is available here.

With the assistance of Master Lecturer Anne Danehy, the CRC continued its Media and Technology Survey highlighting the expertise of several of our fellows. The questions were administered by Ipsos, the market research company, using their eNation Omnibus, a nationally representative online survey that measures attitudes and opinions of 1,000 adults across the United States. We fielded one survey about artificial intelligence in the workplace, led by Dr. James E. Katz along with two PhD students, Ekaterina “Katya” Novozhilova and Dongpeng Huang. The other survey involved public perceptions of climate change, led by Dr. Arunima Krishna and Dr. Chris Wells.

The CRC hosted numerous events this fall. Our Colloquium Series, which originated in 2009, consists of monthly research presentations that highlight current and original research of faculty in COM. Our Fall Colloquium Speakers were Dr. Patrice Oppliger (September) and Dr. Charlotte Howell (October). Every semester, the CRC also invites a distinguished scholar from outside the university to share their outstanding scholarship, expertise, and experience with the BU community. Our Fall 2022 DeFleur Distinguished Lecturer was Dr. Sarah Banet-Weiser (University of Pennsylvania).  The CRC also co-sponsored a panel with COM’s Career Services on Careers in Communication Research. The panel included COM alumni discussing their current research jobs and offered tips to students about how to enter the burgeoning field of communication research.

I am incredibly grateful for the commitment and hard work of our staff this fall. Lindsy has been nothing short of outstanding in managing the CRC. She has been involved in every aspect of upkeeping the center, offering workshops on our technologies, overseeing technology and facility reservations, promoting the news and accomplishments of the CRC research fellows and our lecture series, overseeing the creation of this fall’s newsletter, and much more. Sadly, we are saying goodbye to our longtime graduate assistant, Jenna Vigre as she completes her MS in Advertising this semester. She has been a tremendous asset to the CRC with her creative design skills and assistance in promoting and administering our events. We wish you the best, Jenna, as you embark upon your professional career!

Finally, I will be on a much-anticipated research sabbatical in the Spring 2023 semester. The CRC will be in the very capable hands of Interim Director, Dr. Michael Elasmar, with Lindsy continuing as Lab and Research Manager. I will return as CRC Director in the fall of 2023.

I wish you all a joyous and restful holiday season.

Letter from the Director: October 2022

AI: Cause to Rejoice or Frankenstein-like Foreboding?

Artificial intelligence (or AI) has moved from science fiction to mainstream computer science. No longer is it simply the lore of Frankenstein-like creations but rather something that people use in their everyday lives. For instance, web searches using Google rely upon AI. So do the recommendation systems in Netflix and Spotify. If we command Siri or Alexa to do something for us, it is AI that allows them to understand our speech.

As AI advances, the possibilities of its partnering with humans on everyday tasks or even outright replacing humans are becoming increasingly realistic (e.g. self-driving cars). A recent COM Media & Technology Survey examined how the American public feels about AI replacing humans in certain professions. To gain a better understanding of what AI is and what the survey results reveal, I’ve turned to CRC fellows from our Division of Emerging Media Studies. Dr. James Katz is the Feld Professor of Emerging Media and Director of the Division. Ekaterina “Katya” Novozhilova and Dongpeng Huang are PhD students with research interests in AI.

When I asked what AI is, and why it is of interest to communication researchers, Katz explained:

AI is designed to do things that people can do, only much faster and also has its own kind of creativity and learning activities. As such it has the potential to transform society, and therefore is of interest to those of us who study society and its communication processes.

For Novozhilova, AI systems have become frequent human interlocutors. “From children talking with Siri/Alexa to the use of chatbots in therapy by teenagers and adults to the interaction with social robots in senior citizens' homes -- AI might become our lifetime conversational partner,” she said.

One of the things that intrigues Huang about artificial intelligence is that “it is not a living organism, yet it exhibits life-like qualities. AI is able to transmit information and even create information, which makes it a communicator and a social actor.”

When asked what aspects of AI their research examines, Katz indicated, “I am interested in understanding how the public perceives the benefits and risks of AI, and how they might wish to see policy towards AI changed or improved.” Both Novozhilova and Huang are interested in how the public perceives AI in various workplace settings. “Our current study hopes to understand how Americans feel about replacing humans with AI for a variety of jobs,” Huang said.

“Consistent with previous research,” Novozhilova explained, the survey results indicated that “women, people with less income, and older citizens are less welcoming of AI in various occupational roles.” Conversely, Huang added that “Men, minorities, and higher income groups are generally more open to AI replacing human jobs.”

Among the several professions examined in the survey, “the public was most inclined to see journalists replaced by AI compared to other professions,” said Katz. “To me, this suggests that people have reservations about the quality of human-based journalism in the current environment.”

The survey also asked about AI replacing certain religious occupations such as spiritual advisors and leaders of religious congregations. “AI is currently being adopted in various forms by religious congregations” noted Novozhilova. For instance, she said, “robot priests have been recently introduced in Germany, Japan, and Poland. As such, one avenue from which the decisions regarding the controversial employment of algorithms is coming from is religious ethics.” Added Huang, “The spiritual dimension is something we often think of as exclusively human. We wanted to see what the public would think when such a boundary is broken.”

The results revealed that, “Although people have some interest in having AI play a role in their religious lives, there was not a high degree of enthusiasm” explained Katz. Furthermore, observed Huang, “We were surprised to find that whether people were religious or not seemed to have nothing to do with their views on AI replacing religion-related jobs.”

Yet, the fact they found any interest at all suggests an under-explored dimension of technology in society. “It will be valuable to see if over time new generations begin to heavily seek spiritual guidance from AI entities” said Katz. “If so, this will be an historically unprecedented change in religious life.”

Letter from the Director: September 2022


Welcome to the Fall 2022 semester at COM’s Communication Research Center! As our fellows embark on another academic year, generating new knowledge through research and theory building, the CRC continues to facilitate these efforts to address society’s communication-related challenges.

Given Boston University’s commitment to involving students in research, the CRC will once again administer its SONA research participant pool facilitating fellows’ efforts to recruit students. The SONA pool gives students an opportunity to become involved with various research activities across COM while earning course credit for doing so. Instructors who are interested in including their courses in the Fall 2022 SONA pool should reach out to our Lab and Research Manager, Lindsy Goldberg at lindsyg@bu.edu.

Our fellows also have access to the CRC’s biometric technology which include devices for measuring heart rate, sweat levels in the skin, and eye movements. We have software for the experimental design, execution, and analysis of these psychophysiological measurements. Lindsy has been certified by iMotions on use of this technology and will be offering training workshops for interested students and faculty. For a quick primer on demystifying biometrics, you can read more here.

As a means to help fellows provide thought leadership, the CRC will be continuing its Media and Technology Survey. Monthly survey questions are administered by Ipsos, the market research company, using their eNation Omnibus, a nationally representative online survey that measures attitudes and opinions of 1,000 adults across the United States. We piloted the program in February 2022 on the topic of media trust. You can read the results here. If you have an idea for a topic for a future survey, please email me (mamazeen@bu.edu).

To engage our community, the CRC will be hosting numerous events this fall. Our Colloquium Series, which originated in 2009, consists of monthly research presentations that highlight current and original research of faculty in COM. We are pleased to announce our Fall Colloquium Speakers:

September – Dr. Patrice Oppliger (Thursday, September 22nd at 3:30 pm)
October – Dr. Charlotte Howell (Thursday, October 27th at 3:30pm)
November – Dr. Chris Chao Su (Friday, November 4th at 3:30pm)

Every semester, the CRC also invites a distinguished scholar from outside the university to share their outstanding scholarship, expertise, and experience with the BU community. In recognition of the pioneering and inspirational contributions of Dr. Melvin L. DeFleur to the field of mass communication research and his service as a venerable and inexhaustible member of COM, the faculty members of the CRC have named the DeFleur Distinguished Lecture Series in his honor. We are pleased to announce that our Fall 2022 DeFleur Distinguished Lecturer will be Dr. Sarah Banet-Weiser who will be joining us on Wednesday, October 19th at 4:00 pm. More details about all our speakers and their topics are forthcoming.

We are also pleased to announce that the CRC will be co-sponsoring a panel with COM’s Career Services on Careers in Communication Research (Thursday, October 13th at 5:00 pm). The panel will include COM alumni discussing their current research jobs and offering tips to students about how to enter the burgeoning field of communication research.

Finally, the CRC has some new faces we would like to welcome. We have four new faculty research fellows:

Dr. Nivea Cannali Bona, Lecturer, Media Science
Dr. Katy Coduto, Assistant Professor, Media Science
Dr. Pablo Miño, Assistant Professor, Public Relations
Dr. Emily Saidel, Lecturer, Television Studies

We also have 3 new PhD student fellows:

Nicole Hash
Dongpeng Huang
Yihan "Danny" Jia

Returning on our staff this year with Lindsy is Jenna Vigre (MS in Advertising) as well as a new staff member Rachel Schlesinger (MS in Media Science).

Whether you are new to the CRC or a returning member we wish you a productive and satisfying semester filled with opportunities for growth and new learning.

Letter from the Director: July 2022

Letter from the Director: July 2022

Demystifying Biometrics

As part of our mission, the Communication Research Center offers state-of-the art technology to facilitate our fellows’ ability to advance theory and methods in addressing society’s challenges. Some of this technology involves psychophysiological measurement and analysis tools. To help explain and demystify this technology, I’ve turned to the CRC’s Lab and Research Manager, Lindsy Goldberg.

Amazeen: "Biometric technology" sounds very avant-garde as does "psychophysiological measurements." How would you explain this technology in layperson's terminology?

Goldberg: I’ve found that the best way to explain these is to start by deconstructing and contextualizing the word “biometric”. When researchers choose to use these technologies, they’re looking to measure something biological in human subjects. In these particular cases, the bodily attributes we’re measuring are physiological in nature, which refers to a function of living organisms. Psychophysiology refers to the study of how physiological measurements that are collected via biometric devices (like heart rate, sweat levels in the skin, or eye movements) can explain psychological phenomena (Potter & Bolls, 2012).

This technology uses sensors to detect physical changes and movements in the human body. These sensors are able to detect a variety of different physical changes and these technologies are used widely across many academic disciplines. Here at the CRC we have sensors that measure skin conductance (SCL or electrodermal activity), eye movements both on and off screens, and brain waves (electroencephalography).

Biometric research has been occurring in the communication field since the latter half of the 20th century, mostly in media effects research or as part of a specific subfield known as media psychology, but this is changing. For decades, these biometric sensors were more invasive to participants and conducting experiments using this equipment required extensive training, monitoring, and in-person resources. It is very exciting to have these newer versions that are so much less invasive and user-friendly.

We are excited to be able to offer the devices, software for experimental design, execution, and analysis to researchers who are interested in using the technology.

Amazeen: Can you give examples of how these types of tools might be used (for what purposes) for media research?

Goldberg: In a media research context, these devices are most effectively used alongside self-report measures to gain a more comprehensive understanding of how a stimulus elicits a response in a participant.

These tools are most useful in situations where participants might be more likely to adjust their behavior based on what is expected of them or lie on a self-report instrument. Some potential examples of such situations might include but are certainly not limited to:

Assessment of opinions on political candidates based on their ads, sexual attraction to potential partners on dating apps, or stress responses to horror film scenes.

These tools, especially eye-tracking, are also gaining ground in fields such as UX/UI research and design. User eye movements and click behaviors on web pages and app layouts are becoming increasingly valuable.

Amazeen: Are there any cool studies you've seen published that have leveraged this technology?

Goldberg: While CRC fellows have not yet published any studies that leverage these technologies, here are some of my favorites from other institutions:

Ansani, A., Marini, M., D’Errico, F., & Poggi, I. (2020). How soundtracks shape what we see: Analyzing the influence of music on visual scenes through self-assessment, eye tracking, and pupillometry. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 2242.

Millet, B., Chattah, J., & Ahn, S. (2021). Soundtrack design: The impact of music on visual attention and affective responses. Applied ergonomics, 93, 103301.

Ohme, J., Maslowska, E., & Mothes, C. (2021). Mobile News Learning—Investigating Political Knowledge Gains in a Social Media Newsfeed with Mobile Eye Tracking. Political Communication, 1-19.

Amazeen: Can you tell us about the certification you have and what that allows you to do?

Goldberg: With my iMotions certification, I am able to assist researchers who are interested in using biometric devices. This involves support and training in the iMotions software, which is digital experimentation software that allows you to run an entire experiment from one computer, including self-report measures.

I have the capability and knowledge base to not just assist in the use of devices, but also to train researchers on how to use the software and hardware, including helping to identify which psychophysiological measures may be most useful. I can also support data handling, visualization, and export.

Finally, we are very fortunate to have a relationship with iMotions and their brilliant customer support team, who are all researchers themselves. If there is a question I cannot answer or a request beyond what I can support, we have external resources that can also help.

Amazeen: Relatedly, does the CRC have any plans for offering training workshops for those interested in using this equipment?

Goldberg: Yes! I am currently working with iMotions to determine a training program design that fits our students and faculty. This equipment and software does take time to learn and requires a fair amount of diligent effort to execute a high quality experiment, but we do have plans to offer training sessions. Stay tuned!


Source: Potter, R. F., & Bolls, P. (2012). Psychophysiological measurement and meaning: Cognitive and emotional processing of media. Routledge.


Letter from the Director: June 2022

With the summer season upon us, I am reminded that college professors are often the envy of our non-academic friends who think we “get the summer off.” In reality, many of our CRC fellows work just as hard – if not harder – during the summer. To be sure, the summer months may have fewer demands, allowing us more time for reflection, data analysis, and writing. At the same time, some fellows do teach during the summer months, and many of us travel so we can share our research and see what others are working on. For instance, several fellows recently attended the International Communication Association annual conference which was held in Paris, France from the 25-30th of May. You can see a list of fellows’ research presentations in the CRC’s Spring newsletter.

As a major research institution, we are committed to involving undergraduate and graduate students in scholarly research so that they may understand the importance of generating new knowledge at Boston University. We are fortunate at COM to have our communication research participation pool that is managed by an online system called SONA. This software allows researchers to post available research opportunities for students who can learn about the various studies and decide whether they want to sign up. To encourage participation in research, faculty can either require their students to earn a certain amount of research credits as part of their grade or offer extra credit to their students for participating.

In order to conduct research involving human subjects at COM, proposed studies must be approved by either BU’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) or one of COM’s two internal review boards: the COM Research Review Board or the COM SONA Research Review Board. A description of when to use each of the review boards is available on the CRC’s website here. I would like to thank the faculty, staff, and grad students who volunteered their time over the last academic year by serving on these internal review boards: James Cummings, Michael Elasmar, Lindsy Goldberg, Lee Hair, Alexis Shore, Briana Trifiro, Chris Wells, and Denis Wu. These reviewers enable CRC fellows to collect research more quickly than the cumbersome and lengthy ¬ yet necessary – IRB process, while still abiding by the necessary standards. To maintain this research opportunity at the CRC, we will be looking for more volunteers this fall.

As we plan for the future of the CRC, two activities are in progress. First, all faculty and grad student fellows were invited to participate in our annual Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Survey. Data analysis is underway so that we can assess what is going well with the CRC and where we need to improve. Secondly, the CRC is planning to resume its monthly omnibus surveys with Ipsos in order to give fellows opportunities to survey US residents on timely topics of significance related to their research. This will foster opportunities for fellows to engage in newsworthy topics, enabling them to offer thought leadership while elevating public understanding on important issues. Results from our pilot survey are available here. Going forward, survey data will be made available on the CRC website (using your Kerberos password) for all CRC fellows.

To all affiliated with the CRC, I hope that the summer months offer you many sunny days with time to revitalize and refocus.

Letter from the Director: April 2022

The Dark Side of Comedy

When the Boston University Communication Research Center was first organized in the late 1950s, some of its earliest research involved the study of comics.

Fears were so great in the U.S. about the potential harms of comic books on youth that Congress created a subcommittee to study their effects on juvenile delinquency.

Unlike the comics in books, newspapers, and magazines, a separate type of comics – the stand up kind – emerged as a phenomenon of study. Encompassed by the field of “humor studies,” researchers examined the psychological and physiological effects of humor – positive or negative – on individuals or groups of people.

At this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, audiences witnessed the dark side of comedy when Best Actor nominee Will Smith assaulted comedian and awards host Chris Rock on stage after he ad-libbed a joke about the hairstyle of Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

Given that CRC Fellow Dr. Patrice Oppliger is an Executive Board Member and Past President of the International Society for Humor Studies – and has even co-edited a book called The Dark Side of Stand-Up Comedy – it seemed fitting to get her perspective on how communication research can help us understand this media spectacle. Oppliger told me, “In putting together our book, we framed the contributions from academics and professional comedians focusing on the communication model components: sender (comedian’s background), message (type of jokes), channel (venues), and receiver (audience reception).” She explained,

These factors can also be used to analyze the “Oscar slap” heard ‘round the world on March 27, 2022. Issues of race and gender complicate matters as do the backgrounds of the players involved. Will Smith’s PTSD from not being able to protect his mother from his abusive father and Jada Pinkett Smith’s battle with an autoimmune condition and the loss of her hair culminated in Smith slapping Rock after he joked about her resemblance to the title character of the 1997 film G.I. Jane.

Talk radio and social media have been rife with mansplaining/whitesplaining about how the joke was harmless. There is perhaps more to the joke given the history of the actors involved. Years earlier, Rock made a disparaging remark about Jada’s #OscarsSoWhite boycott of the 2016 Oscars, joking that she had not been invited in the first place. Rock noted the 2022 joke was “a nice one.”

Aside from Netflix comedy specials, stand-up is generally performed in an intimate setting – in front of a live audience who have access to the performer. In The Dark Side of Stand-Up Comedy, we include stories of audience members attacking comics. Thus, assaults on stand-up comedians are not unprecedented. The juxtaposition of the Oscar slap highlights the difference between film comedy, where scripted lines go through several layers of editing, and the free-style stand-up stage (reports are that Rock improvised the line). There is also a tradition of roasting audience members at award shows. For example, earlier that night, Regina Hall made a humorous reference to Will and Jada’s open marriage. While her comment did not draw an assault from Smith, it may have primed his reaction.

Beyond the live audience (most of whom gave Smith a standing ovation after his Best Actor win), social media lit up with “Team Will,” “Team Chris,” and “Team Jada” tweets. The one-minute exchange presents fodder for academics and armchair analysts alike that will be debated for years to come.

Indeed, as evidenced from students in my CM180 “Understanding Media” class, their reception of the situation was decidedly mixed. We discussed the controversy on the day that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that Smith would be barred from attending the awards ceremony for 10 years because of his “harmful behavior.” When eliciting feedback from students, they shared the following observations:

Student A: “10 years is too much. That’s a little extreme. 1 year would have been better.”

Student B: “On the one hand, 10 years is a long time. On the other hand, if we do not give the situation a proper punishment, those who observed the violence conducted by Will Smith will think that it’s okay to use violence to solve problems.”

Student C: “Will other actors be treated the exact same…like, is this the standard going forward?”

Student D: “I think there’s other people the Academy should also ban. There’s people in the Academy who have committed domestic violence –who have been prosecuted – and are still there.”

As clearly demonstrated by Smith’s reception of Rock’s joke – and the mixed reception of audiences wide and far to Smith’s response – humor studies and communication research can offer nuanced insights into the effects of humor on individuals and groups of people.

Letter from the Director: March 2022

Disinformation Warfare in Perpetuating World Tensions

The unfolding, grisly war in Ukraine has made clear that in 2022 – nearly a century after communication theorist Harold Lasswell’s dissertation on propaganda – battles take place not only with physical confrontations, but also continue via information warfare designed to win the hearts and minds of observers. Communication researchers play a special role in helping to understand this process.

In the first days of the Ukraine invasion near the end of February 2022, I heard a live interview on the BBC Newshour where host James Menendez interviewed a member of the Russian Federal Assembly, Vitaly Milonov. For four minutes – with minor pushback from Menendez – Milonov parroted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s talking points, including that “the UK, European Union, and United States have provoked the invasion, that Ukraine's president lacks public support, and that Russia has valid rights to keep Ukraine under its influence.” This interview was followed by another with former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul who proceeded to tear into Menendez for airing “nonsense” from a Russian MP. McFaul asked,

…if it was September 1st, 1939, would you put on the air a member of the Nazi Party to try to explain this ridiculous, absolute falsification of history and information that we just heard from Mr. Milonov? Because this is complete, utter nonsense what he just said, and I’m wondering if we’re doing a service to the world by giving him a voice on the BBC?

Herein is another exemplary case where the gatekeeping and framing responsibilities of journalists is crucial amidst a tidal wave of propaganda. Adding to the complex decisions traditional journalists must make when reporting on wars is the ascendance and accessibility of social media platforms. Citizens are now able to help narrate the first draft of history, highlighting the heroism of everyday Ukrainians as they resist and fight back against the Russian military. Of course, the danger is that this digital front is also vulnerable to propaganda and outright disinformation campaigns to demoralize or deceive Ukrainians and the wider world.

To help make sense of this complex environment, I turned to two of the CRC’s Research Fellows with expertise in international communication.

According to H. Denis Wu, Professor of Communication, “International news about wars has been immensely critical to people’s surveillance of the state of the world because of the nature of the subject matter as well as the information about it.” He explained,

The news about wars is more impactful for people and inevitably riskier, harder, and more expensive for the media to deliver. The coverage of Ukraine so far reflects what communication researchers have long indicated: it shows what has happened as well as the emotions behind the stories. The news has covered not just the military activities and economic sanctions – which is extremely important – but also the bravery, resistance, and resilience of the Ukrainians who face an almost insurmountable enemy. The former category of news belongs to the first-level agenda while the latter is affect-based, thus second-level agenda. It is crucial in shaping the sentiment of audiences and their actions, as illustrated in Image and emotion in voter decisions: The affect agenda.

Of course, shaping perceptions of wars has a long history. Michael G. Elasmar, Associate Professor of communication provides some of this background:

Shortly after the end of World War II, the United States, under the auspices of UNESCO, launched a major research initiative for determining the conditions that affect international understanding, intergroup perceptions, and support for military conflict among nations. It was called the World Tensions Project. The overarching goal was to determine what can be done to preempt a repetition of the devastation witnessed during World War II. The initial World Tensions Project resulted in numerous studies that examined the role that communication and media play in contributing to how other countries and people living in those countries exist in our minds. It is worth noting here that, at that time, the field of communication science did not yet exist, and the study of media impact was scattered across sociology, psychology, education, and other classical disciplines. Interest in conducting this type of research waned and mostly disappeared after the 1960s when there was a growing belief that another world war was no longer a probable event.

I asked Elasmar what the knowledge gained from the original World Tensions Project tells us about the likely changes in the reaction of Americans over time to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He explained,

Studies conducted in the two decades following the launch of the World Tensions Project taught us that news and entertainment media play an important role in creating, reinforcing, and/or modifying the images of countries in our heads and these images can influence attitudes toward other countries and support for military action. And that pre-existing information about a country will determine which portions of the new information about this specific country the human brain will focus on and retain in its memory. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, surveys of Americans conducted in 2020 by the Pew Center for the People and the Press (PCPP) and by Gallup in early February of 2022 have consistently found an unfavorable opinion of Russia among a vast majority (70% and 85% respectively) of survey respondents. Between 2007 and 2020, PCPP found that favorable opinion of Russia among Americans had fallen by 25%. Gallup found that favorable opinion of Russia dropped from 51% in early February of 2012 to 15% in early February of 2022. These patterns show that the preexisting information about Russia’s government was already overwhelmingly negative prior to its invasion of Ukraine.

Applying what we learned from the World Tensions Project, we can predict that the images of atrocities and destruction stemming from the Ukraine invasion will strongly reinforce the pre-existing negative information about the Russian government held by Americans. One direct implication of this effect is that American consumers might shy away from traveling for leisure to Russia and/or consuming Russian-made goods and services for a long period after the Ukraine war no longer dominates international news. Another indirect implication is that the images of destruction and atrocities emerging out of Ukraine might interact with other negative factors prevailing in the minds of Americans in ways that no one could have predicted just a few weeks ago. The longer the war in Ukraine goes on, and the more its effects are felt in their daily lives (through price increases of everyday necessities, threats of cyberattacks, news about the potential of nuclear bombs by the Russian military, predictions of a recession etc.) the more likely will Americans demand for and support a direct military intervention to end what they perceive as a Russian threat to their safety and the safety of their families. Americans will want to hold the Russian government accountable for destroying a modern European country and committing atrocities against civilians, and to punish the Russian government for a war that is causing an impending economic recession and stifling American optimism about the end of the pandemic.

As the war in Ukraine drags on, our CRC Fellows continue to monitor the important role of mediated communication in forming, changing, and reinforcing perceptions of war, countries, governments, and people around the world.