Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Moment to Pause in the Spring

It's just way too nice to think about communication or cognition today.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Viagra Coming Back to Television

Today I looked to my daily e-mail for blogging ideas. I wanted to write about the pulled Dr Pepper commercials that I was supposed to be able to see on, but they weren't really there.

So, story number two was about the return of erectile dysfunction drug ads to television. I am sure that you missed them dearly.

You may recall that the ads were pulled amid controversy. Seems they were too sexy. You know, I just cannot respond to that.

In a Steven Wright -- why do we park on the driveway and drive on the parkway -- kind of theme, why exactly is it OK to use sex to sell beer but not something that actually has to do with sex?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Early Start in Advertising Career

Today marked the start of spring quarter at The Ohio State University for me. I taught the principles of strategic communication class this morning, which I always enjoy.

During the first class, I usually make reference to the fact that I grew up in advertising, literally. When I was a little kid, I spent a lot of time in my parents' advertising agency. For a kid, this was the coolest thing. Advertising agencies -- at least small ones -- have the coolest stuff. Art supplies. Legal pads. And later, forklifts!

Here is a picture of me one weekend day outside the family's agency, then located in Kansas City, Kan. Although the employees probably got tired of me (I did get shrink-wrapped to a pole once as a teen-ager), I loved being there. Being an advertising professor is a great job, but one regret is that I don't have my own company in which my own kids can wander around while I take care of some extra work on the weekends.

It's a great introduction to the business.

P.S. That was not our car!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Violent Video Game Makes it Real

Since I study the cognitive processing of media, I try to avoid making prescriptions about ratings and what content should be allowed. As a good scientist, I believe that it is my job not to "have a dog in that race." I will leave it to policy-makers to interpret my results.

But a wire story in the Columbus Dispatch caught my attention today. The new "The Godfather: The Game" video game recently released by EA features controller feedback such that the player can "feel" a person's heartbeat as they strangle them.

Wow. Talk about first-person!

You can read more about first-person violent video games in: Schneider, E. F., Lang, A., Shin, M., & Bradley, S. D. (2004). Death with a story: The effects of narrative on cognitive and physiological responses to video games. Human Communication Research, 30, 361-375.

If you PROMISE not to violate copyright law, you can find the PDF to read here.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Perceptions of Crime Still Mirror TV

Many communication scholars spend a lot of time examining how television viewing distorts our perceptions of the "real" world. Crime is the most obvious distortion. When people are asked about crime, they give answers that are more in line with televised reality than actual reality.

I tried to dig up some crime statistics, but I gave up in frustration as the government's Web sites are about as helpful as a hammer to the temple. Here is one chart that gives you an idea of the rank of violent crime. The violent crimes are down at the bottom. They are least prevalent in federal court. But they are the most prevalent on television.

My Indiana University colleague James Angelini collected some data for me where participants listed thoughts associated with crime. It seems that I did not give good enough instructions for the participants because they did not do what I wanted them to do. Instead, they did some sort of free association task where they listed general words and concepts related to crime.

Fair enough. So my crack lab manager Jaimie Hardesty coded these data. I will find a purpose for them yet, but for now consider the chart above and then consider that:
  • Murder was listed by 61.6% of participants.
  • Robbery/Breaking and Entering, 51.2%.
  • Rape/Sexual Assault, 51.2%.
  • Shootings/Guns, 51.2%.
  • Theft/Shoplifting, 43%.
  • ...
  • White Collar Crime, 10.5%.

That's right. Far down the list were the more common -- but boring and usually omitted from TV -- white collar crimes. And even this was likely inflated by TV coverage, as 7% of the participants specifically mentioned Enron.

Once again, when people are asked about crime, they tell you about the TV's version ... not the real one. We continue to debate what it means ... and who it affects and how. But it remains interesting to me that time and again, when people are just asked to talk about the world, they talk about the mediated world.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

I Love Magazine Ads

In hindsight, I am surprised that I did not directly choose advertising as a career. I love ads. I love the Super Bowl ads, and I love magazine ads. I love the good ones, and I love the bad ones.

If you want to see a good collection of magazine ads, pick up the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. In addition to the obvious benefits, it is chock full of good ads. Advertising Age's Bob Garfield ripped the ads in this year's issue, but I disagree (Feb. 13, 2006 print issue of Ad Age).

There are many bad ads in the 2006 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. But there are some good ones, too.

There is a clever two-page ad for Las Vegas -- What happens here, stays here -- that uses lottery ticket like scratch off columns to pick arbitrary combinations of name, profession, and hometown promoting the "Be Anyone sweepstakes."

Multiple ads use the body painting that Sports Illustrated pioneered a few years back. We know that sex sells, but we all wonder about the seemingly random connection between sex and some products. The SI Swimsuit Issue provides the link. I mean, of course that's a naked (but painted) woman wearing a Dodge hat. Makes perfect sense, no?

There's the Budweiser 4-page centerfold with a model covered in a swimsuit of bottle caps: "There's one universal truth in this magazine: You can twist anything into a swimsuit.

OK, I've looked through the whole issue again. I was wrong. Garfield was right. The ads are pretty lame this year. But they're still fun to read. It's fun to see people try to be creative. Sadly for 2006, they failed far more often than not. Shoot. Guess I'll have to look at the swimsuits.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Real Man of Genius

The other day my colleague Ed Palazzolo comes into my office with a gift. It is a 3 compact disc set of all of the Bud Light's Real Men of Genius radio commercials.

It seems that Palazzolo just happened to show up at the Kroger grocery store when the guys who wrote and voiced the commercials were there for a promotion.

So he got me a set ... and it's autographed and personalized to me. How cool is that?

So, Mr. Accidentally Stumbled into a Promotion. We salute you as a Real Man of Genius. Now, I'm off to the convenience store for some Bud Light.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Old Friends May Be the Best Friends

OK, all friends are good friends. But old friends make you feel all nostalgic inside.

My 5-year-old, ChloƩ, has a class project where the kids are running a little post office, and they are collecting post cards from different parts of the country (and world) to learn about geography. Since graduate school made world travelers out of us, we have sent a lot of requests to our friends and family.

They have been great. My wife got the idea to ask our friend, Mike Kozeliski, for a post card. He is currently a Marine officer stationed in -- I believe -- Iraq. Kozeliski, or as we call his Koz, is a good friend from our undergraduate days at New Mexico State University.

Koz was the student body president when I was editor of the student newspaper. That should have made us enemies, but he was a stand-up guy, and I was an open-minded journalist. We got along so well that that Student Leader magazine even did a story about our working relationship.

Koz has a great future, and I think that he will be governor of New Mexico some day. But he put his career on capital hill on hold to join the Marines and do what he believes to be his part. At the end of his first term, he tried to re-enter the private sector, but he felt he still had more to give. So he is back.

When ChloƩ came home from school today, she told us that our friend wanted to send a postcard but they didn't have postcards where he was stationed. So he wrote her class a note on the bottom of a cardboard box and mailed it. At first Emily was confused -- as you might imagine -- but then she figured it out ... Koz!

Here he is in the middle of a war, but he still had time to write a "postcard" to the daughter of a old friend -- a daughter who he has never met. Exactly 10 years ago, Koz was coming up the end of his presidency of ASNMSU. A decade has past. He has gone to work in congress and off to war. I've gone to graduate school and become a professor myself. But I am moved that the old bonds still tie.

It's a pretty cool world we live in, you know.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

More Reasons to Study Communication

When I was an undergraduate, I thought about majoring in business. It just did not seem for me. Both then and now, it seemed a little peculiar to me than most people who go into "business" actually go into a business that does something. That is, nobody that I can think of runs a business for business' sake. Instead, they operate airlines, manufacture cars, and administer hospitals.

So the thing that they do is not really business; business is how they do what they really do. As an analogy, I am a scientist. But I do not have a Ph.D. in "science." Instead, I have a Ph.D. in mass communication and cognitive science because that is what I really do. Science is just how I do it.

I mention this today because Advertising Age is reporting that "the [M.B.A.] is not only worthless, it can work against a marketer, according to a survey of marketing executives from 32 consumer-products companies by consulting firm Ken Coogan & Partners."

This is admittedly a journalist glossing over research, but the point remains: underperforming companies had more M.B.A.s on staff than outperformers.

Interestingly, only companies judged to be outperformers had executives on staff with master's degrees in something other than an M.B.A.

At Ohio State, we teach research methods and theory to our master's students. Although this may be tedious for someone straight out of industry, if done right these types of courses teach valuable critical thinking skills.

And you don't have to take my word for it, the data are in. I think the same could be said for a master's degree in cognitive science, sociology, or even anthropology.

With that varied background, you will bring something fresh to the intellectual table. Perhaps these marketing M.B.A.s are so busy trying to think "outside of the box" that they do not realize that they are all from the same box.

That said, friends of mine have M.B.A., and I do not really believe it is a bad thing. Instead, I think that anyone wanting to make a difference in the job market should make themselves as distinct as possible. I believe that graduate training in alternative fields offer that possibility.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Salina, Aviation Make More News

Chances are that you have never been to Salina, Kansas. It's a medium sized city along I-70 in the middle of Kansas. Before I was born, my parents operated a successful Top 40 radio station there, KLSI-AM. Then the Air Force base closed. Then the young people left. You can imagine what happened to Top 40 profits.

In the glory years however, the radio station ran a promotion. My mother, then Joanna Hawk, became the first woman to take her first flight lesson and fly solo in the same day. May 7, 1967. Although it was years before I was born ... and before they were even married, I have always been proud of her for this. Way to go, mom! It was even covered in the New York Times. Here she is the day after for what my dad called a souvenir photo. He also pointed out that she did not fly in the dress.

Salina marked another aviation first this week. The Associated Press reported that, "Adventurer Steve Fossett said Friday that he had broken the record for flying farther than anyone departing and landing at the same spot, traveling more than 25,000 miles (40,225 kilometers) in three days." He landed at Salina Municipal Airport., the former Schilling Air Force Base where Joanna is pictured above.

Photo credit: Associated Press

Almost 40 years between Salina aviation firsts. And my bet is that all institutional memory has been lost. No one at the Salina Journal can probably even remember 1967.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Irony in Return Trip to Bloomington

On a day when I wrote about returning to Indiana, I found out that I will be making an unexpected return trip in two weeks.

My awesome advisor, Annie Lang, nominated me for the program in cognitive science's dissertation award. And my dissertation committee must have written amazing letters because somehow I won.

Normally I will not use this forum for patting myself on the back, but in this instance I wanted to express how excited I am to be returning to my intellectual roots. Indiana University is an amazing place, and I had the chance to learn with amazing scholars. I cannot say enough about the place.

We left Bloomington in late June, 2005, and we have not been back since. Several of our friends have visited us here, but it will be fun to be back there. If done properly, the Ph.D. is a process of amazing growth. So, the award is flattering. It is nice to have some recognition of communication scholarship in a larger forum. But mostly it is an excuse to have some fun with old friends, and that is always welcome

For the Love of Mathematics

I did not intend to take the weekend off. It just happened. And it's not that I was goofing off. I was lost in mathematics.

If I have one regret about my education, it is that I did not study more mathematics. And by that, I do not mean the boring wrote mathematics that the word conjures up. Instead I mean the fascinating kind of math I learned in Larry Moss's Q520 -- Math & Logic of Cognitive Science -- at Indiana University.

One of the tools we explored in that class was Latent Semantic Analysis. It's a pretty fascinating tool that uses the statistical regularities within texts to extract meaning. So Saturday was lost to writing the code in MATLAB to run LSA (which is an application of Singular Value Decomposition of a matrix). And most of Sunday was lost to playing with the program I had written.

I grabbed 6 stories about Iraq and 6 stories about the NCAA tournament and played with the LSA algorithm. LSA can be used to cluster concepts, and this did an admirable job. Concepts such as "Baghdad," "soldier," and "killed" clustered together.

And the algorithm was able to sort these concepts from the basketball concepts such as "Duke," "Blue," "Devils," and "rebound."

There were not enough stories for the algorithm to do anything really cool, but I kept thinking I was on the verge of something cool, and I would write about that. It needs more time, and there are too many other projects demanding my attention right now.

But I encourage you to read up on LSA when you get a chance. It's pretty cool. If I win the lottery, I am going back to Indiana for another Ph.D. in mathematics of cognitive science. (Note the irony that the lottery has been called "a tax on people who are bad at math").

Friday, March 17, 2006

Brands Like Us

I know, I cannot stop writing about this. It really does fascinate me. Here is a scatterplot illustrating the relationship between attitudes toward brands and identification with brands. As the dashed trendline illustrates, there is a tight fit.

Each black circle in this plot represents one brand. Those in the upper right corner are the most liked and the most identified with. Those in the lower left have some work to do with today's college students.

This has strong implications for brand advertising. Identifying with the brand is not only an important variable is persuading consumers, it appears to be the key variable. And this strong indentification has another side benefit, which my advertising guru father pointed out, "If a brand is 'like you,' it is going to take a big push to make you change."

These are the Lovemarks that Kevin Roberts talks about. Brands can develop loyalty beyond reason.

If you're curious, the most loved brands here were Disney, Nike, and BMW. The least loved were American Express and Citi. College students may use credit cards, but they do not like them.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

All Hail the Semantic Differential

To my knowledge, the most extensive writing about the semantic differential came in 1957 with The Measurement of Meaning by Charles E. Osgood, George J. Suci, and Percy H. Tannenbaum. (Learn more about the semantic differential here.)

Factor analysis is one tool that can be used to help interpret results of the semantic differential. In our most recent study, we asked participants 31 questions about 32 brands. Factor analysis helps break down the 31 questions into a smaller number of dimensions. For example, the good-bad question appears to tap the same underlying attitude as pleasant-unpleasant. In our case, the factor analysis suggested that these 31 questions were measuring five basic dimensions.

In their seminal work, Osgood, Suci, and Tannenbaum found three persistent dimensions: evaluation (we call it valence), activity (we call it arousal), and potency (we call it dominance). In our brand study, the first two dimensions held up, but there is no reliable potency dimension.

When used in this way, factor analysis helps us understand how the meaning of things is represented in the mind. The focus is on the questions (i.e., the semantic differentials) and not so much on the things about which the questions are asked.

However, one might want to know something about that, too. Since we study strategic communication in this lab, we do care about brand attitudes. In addition to learning about the measurement of meaning, we want to know how people think about brands.

The second phase of data analysis was to see what mental representations these participants had for Apple, Dell, UPS, FedEx, Ford, BMW, Corona, Miller Lite, and the other brands we used. In this case, we want to do the opposite of factor analysis. We want to see how the brands group together in cognitive space.

To do this, we can use cluster analysis. This involved taking the average score for each of the 31 semantic differentials for each brand. So we stripped away everything about the brand. Coke was no longer a familiar red logo. It was no longer from Atlanta. Instead, it was 31 numbers that ranged from 1 to 7 -- the average score for good-bad, arousing-calm, and so on.

The question is whether those 31 numbers could partition the 32 brands into a meaningful space. Since we are supposed to be measuring meaning, is the meaning there? Cluster analysis shows which things go together mathematically. Did the math find the meaning?

The answer is a resounding yes. When the numbers were submitted to a cluster analysis, the results show that the semantic differentials did a pretty good job representing the brands in a meaningful way.

The cluster analysis revealed that FedEx was most like UPS. American Express was most like Citibank. Coke was most like Pepsi. Samsung, Sony, and Microsoft clustered together. That sounds obvious until you think about how this really occurred. The cluster analysis algorithm had no access to any information about these brands beyond whether they were good-bad, old-young, static-dynamic, passive-active, and so on. That's it.

And from that, the algorithm uncovered the credit card product category, the soft drink category, and the technology product category.

The results were not perfect. The clustering algorithm stubbornly put Nike with BMW instead of Adidas. Here, it appears the image of the brands was driving the association.

Likewise, Dell was right between UPS and the other technology brands. One can only speculate whether this is a spurious finding, or whether these participants mentally represent Dell differently because the brand is shipped rather than purchased at a store like Samsung and Sony.

For good or bad, product category leaders such as McDonald's and Budweiser did not cluster. Instead, they stood out. I can alternatively convince myself this is a good or bad thing.

Apart from the market leaders, the algorithm did not know what to do with KFC, Smirnoff, and Ford. This suggests that these brands lack a clear identity in the minds of college students, at least.

We tend to forget about the roots of the semantic differential. It is often used to measure attitudes and even persuasion. The instrument was intended to measure meaning. And these results show that it does a pretty good job of that. From these 31 adjective pairs, a mathematical algorithm could discover that soda pop is a unique kind of thing. To me, that's just way cool.

Findings such as these are why I go to work with a smile every day.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Terror Numbers Make One Wonder

I am working on a new project with colleague Ed Palazzolo. The project is just beginning, but we are looking at the semantic networks of "terrorism" in American media using computational modeling.

We started playing with the data this afternoon with stories in the New York Times that mentioned "terror" or "terrorism" during calendar year 2000. This is a year before the Sept. 11 attacks.

The most frequent word during the entire year (excluding words such as "the") was Bin Laden.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

We Still Like Ourselves

Today was spent on preliminary data analysis for the ongoing brand attitudes study. In this study, we showed participants 32 different brands (16 per participant) and asked them to answer 31 semantic differential questions about their attitudes. These are 7-point scales that are something like:

good __:__:__:__:__:__:__ bad

where you indicate your attitude by selecting one of the 7 points. Among those 31 questions, there were questions about how positive the ads were, how arousing the brands were, and the extent to which participants identified with the brands (e.g., like me / not like me).

What surprised me during pretesting is that the degree to which we thing a brand is good cannot be separated statistically from the degree to which we think it is like us. If it is like me, it is a good brand. Now we 53 actual research participants in the computer, the same results hold. If we compare the attitude toward the brand scale (alpha = .92) to the identity scale (alpha = .83), we see a correlation of .67.

To see what this looks like, here is a scatterplot of the two scales. Note the correlation between the two variables. The barely visible trend line helps a bit.

To me, the implications of these results are fascinating. We don't just use Tide because it cleans well. We don't just use Tide because our mom used it (mine does!). Instead, we come to see Tide as like us. Think about that for a moment. We assign (or accept) some sort of personality to a brand, and then we come to see that personality as like our own. I'm no personality psychologist, but this must be similar to what we do with our friends. I could introduce you to my friend Johnny or my friend Starbucks.

Intuitively, this feels right. If you say bad things about Starbucks, I will defend it. Crazy, huh?

Monday, March 13, 2006

More Evidence for Separate Systems

In my community of like-minded scientists, we believe that human emotion and motivation is best characterized by two separate systems, one appetitive and one aversive.

We have accumulated a good body of evidence supporting two systems. Particularly interesting are the cases where you engage one system and then call for a response from the other system.
For example, in one study designed by my advisor, Annie Lang, we showed people emotional photographs. During these emotional photographs, we sometimes presented audio tones. Participants were told that they should push a button when they hear the tone.

We stress that the tones are the secondary task. Viewing the pictures is stressed as the primary task. Lang theorizes that some people are more likely to be oriented toward appetitive action, whereas some people are less inclined.

When looking at how quickly these people press the button (a secondary task reaction time, or STRT), those with a tendency toward the appetitive were across the board faster at pushing the button. In writing up these results, we theorize that the button push is an appetitive task, and therefore people predisposed toward appetitive action should be faster.

In a current study in my lab, we tested audio recognition for emotional television material. Participants heard audio snippets from TV they saw and from TV they did not see. They had to say whether that clip was from the TV they saw.

I will save the overall results for another day, but I want to point out the results of the response latencies. Here I am talking about how long it took participants to correctly indicate whether they heard a given clip.

Rather than a simultaneous button push, this recognition task occurred 30 minutes after initial encoding. If our theory holds, people should have been faster at correctly recognizing material from positive content since the recognition cue should -- to a degree -- activate the motivational state at encoding. If that state at encoding was positive, the participant should be shifted toward an appetitive state after the recognition cue. This should make the decision faster since it requires a mouse click, or appetitive action.

This means that our participants should have been faster at correctly recognizing positive content. Further, it would be nice if this difference increased as the clips became more arousing, as extremely arousing clips should induce greater appetitive and aversive activation respectively.

In the chart above, the green line represents correct recognition response latencies from negative television. The blue line represents positive television. On the horizontal axis, the content goes from least arousing (left) to most arousing (right).

Across the board, latencies are fastest for positive content; however, this difference is especially magnified at the greatest level of arousal. Although it would have been nice to have seen this across a gradation, this is nonetheless a nice addition to our ongoing theoretical development.

As a footnote to those who really care, these latency data were cleaned by replacing values that fell outside the range of two times the interquartile range beyond the quartiles. Approximately 3% of values were replaced.

Colleague Begins New Sports Blog

There are too many things to do in the day, but some sure are more fun than others.

My friend and colleague, Johnny Sparks, started a new sports Weblog and asked me to contribute.

Since I often miss the days of being sports editor of the Las Cruces Sun-News, this is a great outlet for me.

If you care about sports, check out Sparks Sports.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Power of Identification

Perhaps the best part of academics is hanging around with interesting people. Over the years, my colleagues have shared their passions with me. Usually at the time, the passions do not overlap, but time is a funny thing.

When I was a master's student at Kansas State, my friend Manish Gupta was interested in emotion. I was not. Now I am an emotion theorist.

When I first arrived at Indiana University as a doctoral student, my friend Mija Shin was interested in narrative. I was not. Narrative ended up being a key component of my dissertation.

Later at IU, my friend Johnny Sparks was interested in identification. I was not. Now, identification is following me around.

We are finishing (today!) an experiment that includes brand identification. We asked people many questions about their attitudes toward brands. We are trying to tease apart what underlies these attitudes. And perhaps the most amazing thing to me is that the degree to which people rate a brand as "good," "likeable," and "pleasant" is almost perfectly correlated to how much that brand is "like me."

Think about it. Sure, you drink Coca-Cola. But is it really like you? To rephrase the question, "In exactly which ways are you like Coca-Cola?" It seems absurd, but this pattern is clear through 24,800 data points. You like a brand when you identify with it. This is not groundbreaking, but it's a pretty powerful trend. I'll keep you posted as we learn more about it.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Fun with the Startle Probe

I need to take a quick moment to say all of the things that I forgot to say in lab meeting on Friday:
  • A big "thank you" to Jaimie, Monica, David, and Tim for all of their hard work over the past two weeks. This experiment is ALMOST done!
  • Congratulations to David Hutchinson for successfully defending his master's thesis proposal.
  • Congratulations to Heather Lamarre for successfully getting a workable impedance reading on her first facial EMG electrode placement.
  • Thanks to David Hutchinson for letting me repeatedly startle him without calibrating the decibel level.
  • A special thanks to lab manager extraordinaire, Jaimie Hardesty, for all of her hard work scheduling these past two weeks.

It was great to do some training during lab meeting, and we are getting close to facial EMG placement. The IRB application is filed to do an extension of my dissertation, so happy days are almost here. We should be up and startling by the first week of April.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Naive Views on Probability

There are people who study human perception of probabilities. We are pretty bad at it, actually. That's why we cannot make random numbers. We try to balance things out. If we simulate a coin flip, we never have enough heads or tails in a row. Along these lines, we tend to "see" patterns where they do not exist.

In the lab, there always seems to be one experimenter who always gets stood up. Conversely, there also seems to be one experimenter who could not buy a no-show for a million dollars. You might think that we never want a no-show, and in the abstract, you'd be right. But in the middle of an experiment, when you've run 3 in a row and 8 in 3 days, you're just burned out. You'd kill to have a free two hours.

On the other end, sometimes you need just 5 more subjects to complete your experiment. Usually in this case, you have 7 people scheduled, and you sweat it out.

During my dissertation experiment, I was always getting stood up. However, my good friend and colleague, Sung Kyoung Lee, never had a no-show. We'd laugh about it. We formed naive views about probability. When the rare no-show happened to SK, we dismissed it as a fluke. Instead, that fluke was evidence of probability in action.

The same thing is happening in the Communication & Cognition lab. One experimenter is fuming about no-shows, whereas two others have perfect attendance records. In the end, it will even itself out, although surely there is some relationship between the times of day when these experimenters are available and when flaky people tend to sign up.

In the meantime, we will continue to blame it on the cruel hand of fate :)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Bad, Noisy Luck Almost Humorous

There seems to be a rule in the universe that says that any media research lab must be plagued with noisy construction. I hear, for example, that they are tearing out walls again in iceman Hall, making things noisy for the Institute for Communication Research at Indiana University.

Things have been noisy here, too. For the last two weeks, they were tearing up the concrete driveway next to my lab. Today a cement truck has set up show directly below my window. I never really knew how loud a cement truck could be. Luckily, a wall and some high quality headphones separate our participants from all this noise, but COME ON PEOPLE!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Another Thought on What Matters in America

The other day I surmised that most people probably care more about pop culture than politics. Although I will not do any actual fact finding to prove this, I point the interested reader to the fact that approximately 11 people voted in the 2004 presidential elections.

Last night, I was watching the Duke vs. North Carolina basketball game. If you're no sports junkie, let me assure you that this game is a big deal. In fact, I bet that more Americans can name one of the two coaches than can name a member of Bush's cabinet.

I know that sports are a big deal -- I used to be a sports editor after all -- but sometimes I am surprised by how big of a deal. In flipping channels, I noticed that the game was on ESPN and ESPN2. The only difference was the camera angle. Yes, that's right. The game was so big, that at least two camera angles were available to viewers. Toward the end of the game, they showed a graphic outlining what was next on each of the ESPN networks following the game. ESPN Classic was showing a classic game in the rivalry immediately after, and ESPN-U had been showing something called "Cameron Crazies Special: North Carolina vs Duke," which may have been another camera angle.

That's how big a deal that sports is. Now, for a moment, imagine a network carrying a presidential speech with a different camera angle. Or, imagine how many viewers would tune into a classic presidential speech.

As Exhibit B, I offer all of the Academy Awards pre-game coverage that I saw today.

Friday, March 03, 2006

26 Participants Run Through Protocol

The first full week of research has completed in the Communication & Cognition lab, and I am impressed with the progress. We have completed 26 participants, with 3 lost to no-shows and 3 lost to power outage. That's a pretty good percentage!

More importantly, the students working in the lab are awesome. They are working hard, and I am proud of them all. Despite this bird flu now clogging my lungs, this is turning out to be a great quarter.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Power Outage Darkens Day

I have been impressed by the low no-show rate among Ohio State undergraduates. We are making some progress since they show up.

In fact, one nice young gentleman was participating in the experiment when I got a call this afternoon that something broke, and the power was going out in the journalism building at 1 p.m. The time was 12:55 p.m. This gave me just enough time to confirm the rumor, free the participant from his windowless and soon to be pitch black room, and power down the computers. On schedule the power went off.

Given that the lab is on the third floor, and now not even the emergency lights are working in the stairwell, it is no surprise that the 2 p.m. participant did not show up. The next experiment is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m., and the power is supposed to be back on by 3 p.m.

All of this refreshes memories of fire drills and jackhammers in Eigenmann Hall!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Power of TV, Pop Culture

Human beings are frustrating little creatures. You cannot force them to care about something. If it does not motivate them, then no matter what you do, it will not motivate them.

When I was teaching ad writing at K-State, one example always stuck with me. In a campaign aimed at teaching teens to buckle up, the ads kept trying to drive home the fear appeal of death. But, you see, the fear of death does not motivate most 16-year-olds. They don't think they can die. Then one clever copy writer got the idea. They showed two teen-agers on a date in the back seat with a set of parents driving. You see, teen-agers may not be afraid of dying, but they are mortally afraid of losing their license and having their embarrassing parents drive them around. Those ads changed behavior.

When I picked up my Columbus Dispatch this morning, there was a story that basically said that Americans, on average, can name more members of the Simpson family than they can protections afforded by the First Amendment.

Of course, underlying the entire study was the normative assumption that you REALLY SHOULD CARE ABOUT THE CONSTITUTION, BILL OF RIGHTS, AND GOVERNMENT. You really, really SHOULD. But you don't. And all the hand wringing of well meaning government pushers will not change that.

You see, I am a former political science major with a minor (although NMSU left it off my transcript) in constitutional law. So, you see, I really should care that you care. But I don't.

In turn, I know that you probably do care about popular culture. You watch American Idol both because it is entertaining and because you might need to talk about it over the water cooler tomorrow. And it's way more important not to be socially inept than to know that you have the right to "petition the government for a redress of grievances." I'm not a normative guy. I'm not going to spend a bunch of time worrying about how things should be. There's enough work just figuring out how things are.


P.S. Here's one of the reasons I am not a normative guy. The First Amendment begins, "Congress shall make no law ..." Now, one would think that the word "no" would be among the easiest to interpret in the entire constitution. So, I think, all First amendment cases should go something like this:

Justice: Does it abridge the freedom of speech?
Attorney: Yes.
Justice: Is it a law?
Attorney: Yes.
Justice: Did Congress make it?
Attorney: Yes.
Justice: Unconstitutional.

Seems pretty simple, right? D'oh!

In fact, only two justices in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court, William O. Douglas and Hugo Black, have taken this literal stance. So, if they cannot get "no law" correct, then I wash my hands of the whole ordeal.