prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Archive for the ‘research’ Category

Porn: a Threat to Public Health

Posted by prof e on April 11, 2016

The research is in, and the facts overwhelmingly support concerns that pornography is unhealthy, dangerous, and taking a toll on public health. According to a report published in the Washington Post, which cites 40 years of peer-reviewed research, porn “shapes how we think about gender, sexuality, relationships, intimacy, sexual violence and gender equality — for the worse.”

Another article, published in Time magazine, views porn through a different lens. According to this article many young men are finding that they are incapable of being sexually aroused by their partner because of years of exposure to extreme pornographic images. These are not moralistic crusades by puritanical killjoys.

These men, and the thousands of others who populate their websites with stories of sexual dysfunction, are all at pains to make it clear that they are not antisex. ‘The reason I quit watching porn is to have more sex,’ says Deem. ‘Quitting porn is one of the most sex-positive things people can do,’ says Rhodes. One online commenter, sirrifo, put it more simply: ‘I just want to enjoy sex again and feel the desire for another person.’

And if you’re a woman who thinks this is a guy problem, think again. The Time magazine article has a sidebar about the effects of porn on women. Women who use porn experience some of the same negative effects as do men. And for women, the often violent and abusive nature of pornographic sex makes women more likely to face similar behavior from their partners.

It’s time to take this matter seriously and recognize it for what it is…a multi-billion dollar industry that does great physical and psychological harm to its customers.

The Time magazine article ended with this poignant quote by a man who decided to cut back on porn: “When I think about it,” he writes, “I’ve wasted years of my life looking for a computer or mobile phone to provide something it is not capable of providing.”


Posted in ethics, media effects, media industry, research, websites | 1 Comment »

The Beat Goes On

Posted by prof e on September 20, 2015

A new report from Nielsen confirms that music is still an important part of most Americans’ lives. The Music 360 2015 Report found that 91% of us listen to music and we spend an average of 24 hours each week listening. That’s an average of 3.4 hours/day…that’s more time than college and university students spend on work and related activities (2.5 hours) and even more time than they spend on educational activities (3.3 hours) (link).

According to Nielsen,

Radio continues to be the No. 1 source of music discovery in the U.S, with 61% of respondents saying they find out about new music from AM/FM or satellite radio, a 7% increase over last year. Word of mouth is also important, particularly for teens: 65% say they discover new music through family and friends, well above the average of 45%.

music-360-chartAccording to another report from Nielsen, “On average, U.S. consumers report spending $109 each year on music. So aside from albums, what other types of music options are consumers spending their money on? Surprisingly, live events are gaining momentum, as they now account for more than half of total music activity spending each year.”how-we-spend-money-on-music-final

The chart on the right shows how American music consumers are spending (or not spending) their dollars to acquire music. As you can see, live concerts and CDs are the top two ways of purchasing access to music. While this chart may not describe your spending patterns, it is interesting to note that traditional means of acquiring music are still important. And you may also be interested in knowing that two albums alone sold a combined 7 million units last year…dominating album sales. “Combined, Taylor Swift’s 1989 and the Frozen soundtrack accounted for almost half of the year’s top 10 album sales.”


Posted in media industry, music, research | 3 Comments »

Rewiring my brain…this could take awhile

Posted by prof e on June 15, 2015

I’m approaching the mid-point of my year-long experiment. For 2015 I’m avoiding (as much as is professionally possible) all forms of electronic mass media. No TV news, no NPR or music on the radio, no podcasts, no Facebook or Twitter (except for an occasional post to the MCCNM department’s pages). Essentially I’m allowing myself print media. I resubscribed to the Pueblo Chieftain (newsprint edition) and have been reading a lot of books. (So far over 30, about 10,000 pages!) I continue to use email, course management software for classes, and I post content to various websites (this blog, YouTube, etc). I cannot turn off the switch entirely without taking a sabbatical from work.

I’m sure some of you may be wondering whether this constitutes professional malpractice for someone who is a professor in a Mass Communication department. Unplugging, while demanding that my students pay close attention to the media event or scandal du jour, may seem unfair or irresponsible. Perhaps you think that I’m just a curmudgeonly old fool, a closet Luddite, a technophobe, and a recluse. I can assure you that most (not all) of those assumptions are unfounded.

This has been, and continues to be, an experiment. It is not unique…many others have run this experiment before, and for many different reasons. And with such a small sample (n=1) you know that this qualitative experiment will have very little generalizability in the end. But it will matter to me. One way or the other I expect to learn a lot about myself, my media habits, my thinking process (with and without the constant barrage of media shrapnel), and my relationships.

Our discipline has a long history of media deprivation studies. Usually a researcher looks for a naturally occurring interruption in media services and uses the occasion to collect data on how people respond and react to the loss of service. Strikes by journalists or union workers who drive the delivery trucks, extended power outages, and natural disasters are all sources of media outages. Self-inflicted media blackouts are another matter altogether.

The reason for this experiment is to see if there has been a slow and steady decline in my thinking and my thought process as a result of my media consumption behavior over time. Reading Nicolas Carr’s prescient essay, Is Google Making Us Stupid, when it was published in 2008 initiated my concern. In the essay Carr bemoans his own ability to read deeply…and to think deeply about what he has read. For an academic, this is NOT good news. When I assigned Carr’s essay to students in my Media & Society class, they complained that it was too long…thus supporting Carr’s thesis. Can’t I have my internet, my social media, my podcasts, my news sound bites AND an intellectual capacity to contemplate the big issues? Not according to Carr.

A friend of mine who works with people with addictions tells me that it takes three years to change the mental processes that frequently drive compulsive behavior.  The big question that remains for me is whether this one year of partial withdraw will be sufficient to see a significant effect. I’ll keep you posted…just not on Twitter or Facebook!

Posted in media effects, media industry, research, social media, tv | Leave a Comment »

MJ Advertising and the Case for Audience Research

Posted by prof e on March 18, 2015

I teach a course titled, Audience Research Methodology.  Over the years I have attempted, with varying degrees of success, to make the case for the importance and value of applied audience research. Audience research is happening all around us all the time, but it is often invisible to the average observer. But thanks to marijuana advertising, finding applied examples of audience research just got easier.

When Colorado passed Amendment 64 allowing for the legalization of marijuana they also created laws controlling the process whereby legal MJ would be cultivated, processed, marketed, and distributed. One part of the Colorado Retail Marijuana Code governs the advertising of MJ. For the sake of brevity I’ll cut to the chase. The legal requirement for advertisers is that they provide “reliable evidence” that no more than 30% of the consumers of said advertising are “reasonably expected” to be under the legal age (21 years). This provided a teachable moment in class last week when we discussed how audience research methodology might inform the issue of what percentage of a target audience falls within (or out of) a particular demographic range for various media products.

Some have questioned whether this part of the law would stand a legal challenge. According to a news report released March 17 by the Colorado Press Association, a legal challenge to the 30% requirement brought by the CPA and The Pulp (a local independent news magazine) was found to be without standing. In other words, the challenge on First Amendment grounds was dismissed because the parties bringing the lawsuit were unable to demonstrate that they suffered harm imposed by the legal requirement of no more than 30% underage readers. Claims that the law created a “chilling effect” were likewise dismissed.

Since this 30% requirement appears to be the law for the time being, any retail MJ establishment (or the media company hoping to sell MJ ads) will have to secure the services of audience research companies who can provide “reliable evidence” that can be used to meet the legal requirement. Companies such as the research giant Nielsen can provide data for TV and radio broadcasters and their Scarborough audience analytics for print media can provide reliable data (for a fee). According to the CPA news release, “the [Colorado Department of Revenue] found Scarborough research to be ‘reliable’” for the purpose of legal justification.

Mass Communications majors sometimes (and, I believe, unfairly) think of themselves as math-challenged. But understanding basic data analysis is not a luxury anymore. Nearly everyone working in or around the media industries will, at some time or another, be expected to make sense out of a spreadsheet or graph or table that contains or summarizes data. Quantitative illiteracy is not a reasonable alternative, and MJ advertising is just one example that brings that home.

Posted in 1st amendment, print, regulation, research | Leave a Comment »

Facebook’s Social Experiment

Posted by prof e on July 6, 2014

BigBroYou may have heard by now that Facebook cooperated with researchers from two universities to study emotional contagion. The question that they wanted to answer was, does the emotional tone of others’ posts on your Facebook wall affect the tone of your posts? To find the answer they conducted an experiment…on nearly 700,000 Facebook users. The methodology was fairly straightforward; they began by using software to analyze posts in order to categorize them as either negative or positive. Then, they manipulated which posts were more likely to show up on the wall of certain Facebook users. By analyzing those users’ posts they were able to determine if they became more positive or negative as a result. Sounds like an interesting experiment for those of us interested in social science and the effect that mediated interactions may have on our personal disposition or behavior.

Here’s an excerpt from the abstract:

Emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness. [snip] In an experiment with people who use Facebook, we test whether emotional contagion occurs outside of in-person interaction between individuals by reducing the amount of emotional content in the News Feed. When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks.

Unfortunately for Facebook, this little experiment (conducted in 2012 and published last month) will likely become a PR case study of what NOT to do to your social media subscribers. The issue here is one of “informed consent.” In a nutshell that means that human participants in any study must be given sufficient information about the potential risk/harm/benefits of a study before being asked to give their consent to participate. Only after giving consent are human participants subjected to the experimental procedures. In this case the researchers said that Facebook users had already given consent for their data to be used by Facebook in a variety of ways–including research. Facebook’s TOS (Terms of Service) do make reference to using users’ data for research purposes, but according to some sources that clause was added AFTER the experiment was conducted.

While all the negative attention is certainly a problem for Facebook, it is noteworthy that this little scandal has drawn attention to a much larger issue with much more sinister implications. Social media users need to be aware that their data are being used for a variety of purposes…the most obvious being marketing, advertising, and research. Personal privacy is but a mirage and signing up for any of these services constitutes selling oneself on the open market. I hate to be too pessimistic, but short of complete disconnection any hope of control of one’s digital destiny is mere wishful thinking.

You can read the study at


Posted in interactive media, media effects, new media, PR, research, social media | 3 Comments »

Mining Mountains of Crap

Posted by prof e on April 14, 2014

SADYOUTUBE_4This blog post is prompted by a segment that I heard recently while listening to the On the Media podcast from NPR. On this particular segment (you can listen to the 8-minute segment at Hunting for YouTube’s Saddest Comments) TLDR hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman interviewed Mark Slutsky, a filmmaker behind the website

In the segment Slutsky mentions the idea that archeologists frequently gain an understanding of ancient cultures by excavating their garbage dumps. Supposedly we can learn a lot by examining the discarded refuse of ordinary life. Of course the local dump is where all of our refuse is collected in one nice convenient place. If the world is still around in a few millennia I’m sure that our landfills will yield equally compelling artifacts of what we value and what we don’t.

But what does this have to do with comments on Youtube? Or, you might ask, what do archeologists and communication scholars have in common? Simply that there is a lot of garbage in Youtube comments…and an occasionally gem as well. Slutsky is mining the comments for gems, and saving them for the future. Tough work. But after listening to a few of the gems I can understand what keeps him going.

Posted in interactive media, new media, research, social media, websites | Leave a Comment »

16 and Not-So-Pregnant

Posted by prof e on January 13, 2014

16 and PregnantFinally some good news about teen pregnancy as reported today in the New York Times. If we can believe a study that is being released today, teen pregnancy is down and one factor may be (drum roll please) the media. Yes, you heard correctly. If the study by the National Bureau of Economic Research is to be believed, teens who watch more of 16 and Pregnant on MTV are less inclined to become teen moms. According to one quote presented in the NYT article, “people just don’t understand how influential media is in the lives of young people.”

The study compared Nielsen ratings and birth records to discover that teenage pregnancy was declining faster in areas with higher ratings for this and similar reality TV shows. The researchers also found that social media activity and internet searches related to contraception also showed positive correlations to broadcasts.

Critics of these types of shows argue that they glamorize teen pregnancy and give tacit approval to risky behavior. Because of the counter-intuitive nature of these findings, this study should be reviewed carefully and replicated by other researchers. If reality TV really is teaching teens what is and isn’t acceptable behavior, there should be more examples of shows that are having a positive effect on this demographic by showing the negative consequences of poor choices.

Posted in media effects, research, tv | Leave a Comment »

Violence and Media

Posted by prof e on February 16, 2013

Correlation does not prove causation. That is research-speak that calls into question the claim that watching violent movies or playing violent video games makes the player a more violent person. But despite the difficulty of finding causal links, the events at Newtown and other  scenes of gun violence will likely increase  funding for research that attempts to uncover connections between violent media consumption and violent behavior.

Here’s a video clip that frames the issue…

Even though most gun deaths are suicides and gang-related shootings, it is the mass shootings, such as the ones in Aurora and Newtown, that focus the public’s attention on violent video games and movies.

However, despite concerns about the media’s contribution to gun violence, most of the response from politicians has focused on certain types of guns and large-capacity magazines…much to the chagrin of 2nd Amendment absolutists. There are several reasons that may explain this. The first is because the media-violence link is still not conclusive in the minds of many researchers. And the other reason is something called the 1st Amendment and Freedom of Speech. Attempts to limit speech (content of TV, movies and video games) results in some pretty difficult legal challenges. Even before you consider the competing interests of the 1st and 2nd Amendments this is a difficult issue.

Posted in 1st amendment, media effects, research, videogames | 12 Comments »

Would Narcissus have a Facebook page?

Posted by prof e on March 18, 2012

Narcissism, named after the Greek god Narcissus, is defined as, “inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity.” Narcissus, according to legend, saw his image in a reflecting pool and was so captivated by himself that he was unable to leave  the pool and eventually died.

While the story of Narcissus may be fiction, we all know people who suffer from the affliction of self-love and vanity. According to an article in The Guardian newspaper, a study recently published in the  journal Personality and Individual Differences suggests that there may be a link “between the number of friends you have on Facebook and the degree to which you are a ‘socially disruptive’ narcissist.”

People who score highly on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory questionnaire had more friends on Facebook, tagged themselves more often and updated their newsfeeds more regularly.

Two constructs measured by the researchers–exhibitionism and entitlement–appear to be connected to the number of Facebook friends and may be related to educational trends that have emphasized self-esteem at the expense of other values.

Because social media is still in its infancy many more studies will likely be undertaken in an attempt to better understand what appears to be the dark side to this quickly expanding phenomenon.

Posted in interactive media, media effects, new media, research, social media | 35 Comments »

Your Mom’s Gonna Hate This

Posted by prof e on January 21, 2011

Electronic Arts has taken an edgy and controversial approach to marketing Dead Space 2, a videogame described as a, “third-person horror survival game in which players must battle an alien infestation” by “strategically dismembering” necromorphs. In a viral marketing campaign, [see clip below], 200 “moms” were invited to participate in “market research” that turned out to be a way to collect their on-camera reactions to some of the most horrific scenes from Dead Space 2.  Here’s the clip:

In case you missed it, the VO said, “A mom’s disapproval has always been an accurate barometer of what is cool.” But wait, this video game is rated M the by the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board), meaning it is to be sold only to buyers age 17 or older. Last time I checked that crowd wasn’t overly concerned about what their moms liked or didn’t like. Is it possible that EA is actually marketing a game rated “M” to kids younger than those allowed to buy it? This marketing campaign is going to give more ammunition to critics of video game violence: people like Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC, who, according to Wired magazine, was quoted as saying that “the videogame industry’s self-regulatory efforts around the marketing of violent video games to minors are still ‘far from perfect.’”

There’s another issue here that centers on ethics of research. According to the video, “over 200 moms were recruited to participate in market research, only this wasn’t market research.” Obviously the moms were asked to sign a release form that gives EA’s market researchers permission to use the video from the hidden cameras, but the breach of standard research ethics is obvious and appalling. Beyond that, the moms may have legal recourse based on the emotional and psychological distress that they may have experienced in the process. I’m sure EA has a large legal team, but they may be well advised to “lawyer up” in order to defend this controversial example of ambush marketing.

Posted in 1st amendment, advertising, interactive media, media effects, media industry, new media, research | 29 Comments »