Faculty & Grads Research Projects

The Department of Communication encourages graduate students to become involved in research as soon as possible in order to develop conceptual and methodological skills. Such involvement frequently results in the co-authoring of grant proposals, journal articles, book chapters, and conference papers with faculty and fellow students. The following is a summary of some projects that faculty and graduate students are collaborating on.

Tamara Afifi; Norah Dunbar; Andrew Flanagin; Jennifer Gibbs; Amy Gonzales; Kristy Hamilton; Jennifer Kam; Young Ji Kim; Dan Lane; Andy Merolla; Dana Mastro; Miriam Metzger; Karen Myers; Robin Nabi; James Potter; Scott Reid; Ron Rice; Muniba Saleem; Cynthia Stohl; Michael Stohl; Joe Walther; René Weber

Tamara Afifi

I am working on three primary projects this year that test my new theory--the Theory of Resilience and Relational Load. My research team is working on a lab study with married couples that examines the impact of long-term relationship maintenance and communal orientation on executive functioning and attributional errors. The lab task involves several innovative features like hair cortisol, a computerized emotional stroop task, and a video recall procedure where they watch back a stressful conversation they have in the lab with each other and comment on their own and their partner's thoughts. After the couples leave the lab, we gather their perceptions of relational load and mental health over a four month period. The second project examines the impact of technology use on hair cortisol with 100 families with a father, mother, and adolescent (using online surveys over a one month period). The final project is one recently funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIA, specifically). We are working with Rendever, which is a virtual reality start-up company designed to help older adults in residential care communities maintain important family relationships and improve mental health. We will be using the VR as a form of reminiscence therapy with residents with mild cognitive impairment and ADRD (Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementias) and their adult children who live at a distance. The resident and adult child will travel back to the resident's childhood home using Google Street view maps inside the VR, travel to places they used to love to travel to and places they would still like to go, and view family photos and videos in the VR. They will experience all of this together from a distance, hopefully enabling them to better maintain their relationship and fostering a sense of vitality and positive emotional states.

Norah Dunbar

I am using this year to wrap up the analyses on two grants that are winding down from NSF and DoD. I am not taking on any new students for those projects at this time. My research is normally done in a laboratory, examining nonverbal cues in interpersonal interactions but since the labs are currently closed, I have to pivot to study online communication and new avenues for studying nonverbal cues. If you are interested in starting something new on deception, dominance, or nonverbal communication in the future using online methods or existing datasets, let me know.

Andrew Flanagin

I'm pursuing two avenues of work: 1) Studies exploring new connections between the constant availability of information in the form of the web and people's self-assessments, including evidence that the ready availability of info inflates people's beliefs about their own intelligence and related factors. Though these relationships have been shown in some new research, the underlying mechanisms explaining why this occurs are yet to be clearly established. I'm basically trying to figure out why this happens and am several studies into the answers -- though to date I've ruled out many more factors than I can find compelling evidence for. 2) Work using Construal Level Theory, which argues that people mentally represent (or construe) objects and events at different levels of abstraction depending on their psychological distance from them, to understand others' interpretations and opinions presented via various crowd-sourced tools (e.g., product reviews, political opinions in forums, etc.) online. The underlying question is to what degree the representations of others' opinions in mediated environments might influence one's own attitudes and behaviors, according to features in mediated communication that might alter the abstractness/concreteness of those views.

Jennifer Gibbs

My research continues to focus on technology and organizing in various global, virtual, and distributed work contexts. I am currently working on the following research projects: 1) the use of artificial intelligence in the legal industry and how AI is transforming legal work, 2) how constant connectivity norms and behaviors play out in global work that crosses geographical, temporal, and cultural contexts and how this impacts the well-being of global workers, 3) how control processes such as concertive control arise and are enacted in online communities, and 4) forced virtual work during covid-19 and how teams cope with the paradoxes that arise. All of these projects involve empirical field research in real-world organizational contexts.

Amy Gonzales

I continue to do research on digital and social inequalities. For example, I am currently working on projects on: mobile phone use in police encounters; the coinciding rates of cell phone adoption and phonelessness; and strategic online networking by low-income People of Color. I am also conducting both qualitative and quantitative studies on digital access during the pandemic and its effect on a variety of well-being outcomes, including student success, coping with unemployment and overall well-being. I am also interested in how digital access shapes receipt of remote healthcare during the crises and beyond.

Kristy Hamilton

I use experimental approaches from cognitive and social psychology to study strategic media skill—when and how to use digital technology to accomplish our memory goals. I am currently expanding my research in three inter-related areas: strategic encoding (which cognitive strategy should I use?), metacognition (am I monitoring my environment appropriately so I can make accurate decisions?), and technological bias (which aspects of media enhance or constrain my ability to monitor my environment?). I have projects at various stages that I would love to collaborate on: projects that are one study deep, projects that have only a study design, and projects that are only at the brainstorm stage. These projects ask questions like: How does searching for answers online influence my memory for those answers later? How does the nature of the cues I generate to search influence the strategies I use to recall that information later? I am newly interested in trying to understand how artificial intelligence (like adaptive text completion) influence memory and decision-making. If you want to be an expert in more than one of the following areas, let’s chat: memory, cognition, metacognition, strategic decision-making, digitally-mediated behavior, artificial intelligence, experimental methods. I am particularly interested in working with students who come from diverse backgrounds and who will ask research questions that apply obviously to issues of inequalities in use. All are welcome. Her Media Skill Research lab (https://www.kristyahamilton.comm.ucsb.edu/media-skill-lab/) uses experimental approaches to understand how aspects of our digitally-mediated environment enable, constrain, and alter strategic decision-making surrounding our media use.

Jennifer Kam

Jennifer reports three areas: 1) Over the past two years, my team and I collected survey and interview data to examine the stress, coping, and thriving of college students who are undocumented immigrants. One paper, for example, focuses on students' perceptions of effective allyship from peers, professors, and staff. Another, considers the factors that motivate or inhibit students from talking to an on-campus mental health professional. There are numerous papers to be developed/completed from the data. 2) This year, I will collect data with Latinx parent and adolescent-child dyads to examine the support that parents provide to their children upon learning of their children's experience with ethnic/racial discrimination. My research assistants and I will survey the dyads, and we will video record conversations between Latinx parent-child dyads as they discuss their experiences with discrimination. Afterward, we will code the videos for supportive communication and many other interaction variables. 3) This year, I will collect daily diary data with undocumented immigrants who range in age from early adolescence to young adulthood to understand changes in their stress, coping, and thriving over time. Dr. Kam is also the Founder of The Communication & Empowerment Collaborative (https://cec.comm.ucsb.edu/). Using a social ecological model of resilience, the CEC’s research focuses on four primary areas: (1) undocumented immigration, (2) language brokering, (3) immigrant family separation and reunification, and (4) communication-focused substance-use prevention.

Young Ji Kim

I am interested in understanding features and dynamics that make groups/teams effective based on concepts like collective intelligence and transactive memory system, especially for groups using technology and human-machine teams. Besides wrapping up some old projects, I’m currently working on developing a framework for studying (and planning studies about) cognition (e.g., shared mental models, transactive memory systems), communication, and collective intelligence of human-machine teams. I’m also analyzing some data to examine how group composition and communication processes jointly affect group performance. Another project in the preparation stage involves developing and testing simple improv-based interventions for improving group collective intelligence, which was originally planned for a physical lab study but is now being converted for a virtual setting. I’m also collaborating with Nitzan on a study about the effect of ecological factors on virtual teams in the context of COVID-19 and with Chengyu on a project that explores team adaptability of e-sports teams.

Dan Lane

I study how people and groups use communication technology to create social and political change. This work spans the areas of political comm, intergroup comm, & comm tech. Along with several grad students, I started the Digital Political Inequality Lab (https://www.dpilab.org/), where we’ve been working on collaborative projects focused on various dimensions of political inequality in online spaces. We have several on-going projects including a panel survey of behavior and attitudes during the 2020 election season, a systematic analysis of research on political expression on social media and a set of experiments look at “expression” effects in digital media. Separate from the DPILab, I’ve been working with colleagues in the department on a set of studies look at how racial identity is used by political communicators (White Identity Ownership).


Andy Merolla

I am working on projects that examine the link between everyday interpersonal interaction and well-being. I'm primarily working with data collected through experience sampling whereby we collect several in-the-moment reports each day of people's communicative, emotional, and cognitive experiences. We look for momentary and cross-time relationships between variables. The data are collected through SMS or a dedicated app on participants' smartphones. In the coming year, I'm working on a new project that integrates experience sampling and an intervention component. One of the project's main goals is to enhance well-being and perceived relational connection during everyday interaction.

Dana Mastro

My research focuses on the influence of media on intergroup dynamics, including stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination, and issues of identity. For much of this year we will focus on analyzing the data from & writing up several studies that we completed over the last year. To highlight a few: One study experimentally examined physiological responses (EMG) to common immigration narratives in the news and the distinct effects of different emotions on support for/opposition to immigration policies. Another study experimentally investigated parasocial contact with outgroup members from a stereotype content model perspective. We also have two content analyses for which we just completed coding. The first examines interracial/interethnic interactions on television to determine the nature of these exchanges. We are coupling human coding with text analysis to provide a comprehensive documentation of this content. The second is an analysis of race/ethnicity and health risks in teen films. We have a variety of other projects at different stages that will continue throughout the year and we will also launch new projects later in the academic year. 

Miriam Metzger

My current research focuses on various projects having to do credibility and privacy in the online context. Within those focus areas I am studying how emotional states play into credibility evaluations when seeking information online in such areas as health and/or politics; people’s belief in misinformation and motivations for sharing fake news; and the use of cognitive heuristics surrounding privacy and disclosure decisions in social media. 

Karen Myers

Camille Endacott, Dajung Woo (former advisee) and I are working on a project related to onboarding new workers during the COVID pandemic. We are comparing socialization that normally occurs in face-to-face situations to remote socialization. We ask about the process, their levels of satisfaction and whether they believe they will need to assimilate all over again once they enter the physical context. Additionally, I am still working on a book with coauthors that offers an approach to the communicative constitution of organizations. Our model, based on elements of structuration theory, argues that organizations are constituted through four discursive flows: membership negotiation, reflexive self-structuring, activity coordination and institutional positioning.

Robin Nabi

My research spans multiple projects related to the use of media to promote psychological and physical well-being; emotion and social media experiences; emotional flow and narrative influence; and the emotions associated with message framing, particularly hope. This year, I’m working on an edited book on emotion and new media, analyzing data from 2 studies on the use of media to cope with the stress of COVID-19, and designing interventions using media to mitigate stress.

James Potter

Over the past decade I have shifted my research focus away from generating data from surveys and experiments and towards analyzing patterns of ideas in the published research to answer questions such as: How much do we really know about media (digital as well as traditional) and how they affect individuals and institutions? Why do scholars gravitate to certain topics and ignore others? How can we accelerate the construction of knowledge?

Scott Reid

I am interested in evolution and in group processes. Recent evolutionary topics include the role of voice pitch in aggressive intention signaling (low pitch voices make stronger males aggressive), Dark Triad traits and their facilitation of deceptive reproductive strategies for people with fast life histories (i.e., harsh, unpredictable childhoods), and costly signaling mechanisms for a range of phenomena. As far as group process work goes, I have been working on subjects such as political partisanship, political correctness, and political deliberation.

Ron Rice

Long-term project on media mastery, the extent to which people learn to master multiple new media, and/or the extent to which media master people; literature reviews, typology, focus group comments. Revising papers with graduate student dissertations on their scientific uncertainty, and on media multitasking. Several projects with a Finnish professor on flexible work, enterprise social media and knowledge sharing, organizational use of new ICTs, and affordances of ICTs. Literature review on environmental communication aspects of plastic and microplastics (Mostly in the oceans). Trying to learn some new methods. I also organize the Rupe BiAnnual Conference (https://www.comm.ucsb.edu/news/annual/arthur-n-rupe), a venue for research and practice on media, environmental, and science communication issues.

Muniba Saleem

My research examines how the media influences intergroup relations between racial, ethnic, and religious groups using theories from social psychology, communications, and political science. Recent work focuses on three areas: 1) how racial, ethnic, and religious minorities' social, psychological and political outcomes are affected by the media they consume, 2) how users respond to hate content on social media sites, and 3) communicative and psychological challenges that arise in race and race-related dialogue.

Cynthia Stohl

My continuing projects revolve around issues of corporate social responsibility in the new media environment. 1) I am exploring global corporations’ social media policies and the social/communicative implications of these policies. 2) I am working with Michael Stohl , Paul Leonardi, Claartje ter Hoeven (Erasmus University), and Mikkel Flyverbom (Copenhagen Business School) on two interrelated projects which concern “The Management of Visibility.” We are interested in utilizing our newly developed Information Visibility Scale in a variety of national and organizational contexts and exploring the relationship among information visibility, transparency and other important organizational and network variables.

Michael Stohl

I will continue working on “The Constructions of Terrorism Project,” which centers on the question of how the media constructs the terrorist threat and terrorist organizations and what difference these difference constructions and presentation frames have on the audience and the implications for constructing counterterrorism policies that not only provide security but also reduce fear and anger. 2) Cynthia Stohl, Paul Leonardi, Claartje ter Hoeven (Erasmus University), Mikkel Flyverbom (Copenhagen Business School) and I have two interrelated projects which concern “The Management of Visibility.” During this year we will test our newly developed Information Visibility Scale with a Dutch sample and compare the results with the American sample that was used in its development. Secondly, we will work on a theoretical piece which will explore the implications of considering communication as the management of visibility.

Joe Walther

I’m exploring a new theory of online hate – racism, sex-based, ethnic, and political hate messages, etc. – and how social media promote them. It focuses on motivations and gratifications of seeking and getting social approval from other like-minded people online, and the social media symbols and responses that convey that approval. The research involves computational analyses of hate messages’ linguistic and thematic aspects, experimental work on the effects of social approval on perceptions, and, tentatively, social network analyses. In Winter 2023 I’ll lead a graduate seminar about online hate, and I’m always looking for students—graduate and undergraduate—to help the research. More information on the CITS website.

René Weber

The Department’s Media Neuroscience Lab prioritizes the following interrelated topic areas at the moment: (1) Narratives and Morality; (2) Persuasion Neuroscience; (3) Attention, Flow, and Cognitive Control; (4) Media-Multitasking Behavior and ADHD; (5) Sex Differences in Media Effects Research; (6) Diversity and Inclusion in Media Effects Research (especially in Hollywood’s film industry); (7) Computational Methods and Big Data; and (8) Advanced Network Analytics for Brain Imaging Data. The Media Neuroscience Lab is a collaborative lab. This means that it is important for all its members that we share our scientific values, work on interesting and innovative research projects together, and support each other when things get difficult. If this sounds appealing to you, get in touch with us. You can find more information about the Media Neuroscience Lab's research interests, projects, and philosophy on the lab’s general website at https://medianeuroscience.org or at one of the lab’s project websites, e.g. https://mona.medianeuroscience.org (MoNa stands for the Moral Narrative Analyzer Platform, a research platform from the Media Neuroscience Lab).