Media Effects Research Group

Posted by on Nov 15, 2017 in Cover Stories, MEL Notes Blog | 0 comments

The Media Effects Research Group is a team of faculty and students with the dual purpose of teaching the students research skills and producing scholarly work in the field. The two students, Stephanie Whitenack and Chelsey Hutchins discuss their experience with the group and give details on why they joined.

Stephanie is a third-year Ph.D. student who studies entertainment media effects with a focus on disabled groups. She received her Master’s in Communication from the University of Cincinnati. Chelsey is a second-year master’s student who is also interested in media effects. She received her bachelor’s degree from Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi. She also works in the office of the graduate school. The two faculty advisors are Dr. Meghan Sanders and Dr. Chun Yang.

Could you explain what your research group is about?

Stephanie: It’s basically a group where people of different interests, specifically media effects, meet and try to come together and think of a topic that we are all interested in. A lot of us are experimentalists so we like to run experiments. But for the most part, everyone has a say in what we do, and have some sort of aspect that they’re interested in as far as working on specific topics of projects.   

Chelsey: We speak with each other about our interests, short-term and long-term goals, to determine what direction we want to go in because the idea of research projects is to design a study or several studies that kind of cater to everyone’s interests. So if there is a theory you are interested in or certain variables you are looking for, you want to make sure you are addressing all of that in your work


What is the role of the professors in your group?

Stephanie: They act as mentors. They help us push the project along if it’s lacking or if we are stalling in some areas. They help facilitate it.

Chelsey: I definitely knew that I wanted to work with Dr. Sanders since she’s considered to be an expert in media effects research. And that’s the way I look at her in the group. She has gotten her Ph.D. and she went to Penn State. When I sat down with her initially she was able to talk about certain books or works that I might want to look at if I am interested in media effects research. My experience so far is that there are just certain things in research as far as designing experiments where they need to guide us. Observing the professors, because we also have Dr. Yang, in what they do and how they strategically plan out projects step by step, that has served so much of a purpose to me.


What is the process for developing a new project? 

Stephanie: We come in with the ideas of what we’re interested in as far as media effects go, and we pick different topics that we’re interested in and we hash them out. So we throw ideas out and go from there. And if we pick one specific topic we try and figure out how everyone can contribute as far as their research goals.

Chelsey: Dr. Yang, Dr. Sanders, and Stephanie are all really good about saying what do you think. Like no one at any point tries to pressure you to go in one direction even when we are looking at the operationalization and our variables in the study, of course, there are so many ways you can look at something, for example, stigma or persuasion.


Could you give us a sense of the project you’re working on this semester?

Stephanie: Right now we’re working on narrative forms and mental illness and how people process narratives. And how they engage with narratives to see how they feel about mental illness in general. We’re working on a video stimuli right now that will hopefully pilot soon. Basically, we’re trying to find how different narratives and introducing that a character has mental illness and see how participants respond to mental illness in general and to see if they feel they can identify with them. And if it creates this atmosphere where there is less social distance


Was there anything particular that motivated you to study that topic?

Stephanie: Dr. Sanders is doing a chapter right now on mental illness stereotypes. I particularly look at media effects with a concentration on disability and mental illness at the moment. So we knew going into it that those were some of our areas. But I kind of threw it out there at an initial session and Dr. Sanders and Dr. Yang were able to say you know what I am kind of interested in that because I can throw my research objectives in there as well.

Chelsey: When I say I am interested in media effects I have so many research ideas in my head. Because I think the important thing that people need to realize especially here in 2017 when you have new forms of technology that are coming out pretty much on a regular basis, it’s important we know how this is affecting us as individuals but also how does this affect our conversations or learning processes. How does it affect the way that we see the world? So whatever comes to mind for people when it comes to media effects, I’d encourage them to think of something much bigger. So specifically with mental health, I see that as a big deal because the level of transportation or engagement for the audiences that could shape one’s outlook on an individual they’re interacting with on a daily basis. Even just with so much information being unfiltered as far as how it’s coming through, on things like social media. And you have all of these different statements and ideas being put it out that we definitely need empirical research on topics of this nature.


How does MERG use the Media Effects Lab?

Chelsey: The sessions for this particular study are being conducted in the Media Effects Lab. I haven’t dealt with the actual software which I am really looking forward to doing when we get more into this experiment. So we can use eye tracking and any other features or software that’s available. I’d even like to use them in my personal research.


What is the most challenging part of being in the research group?

Stephanie: The time commitment. It’s not like an extra class but it is in a way. I teach and I have three other classes that I am taking, so it is extra time. But it’s something that’s fun because it’s what you want to do. You’re not sitting in class and doing things that professors make you do, research project wise. So it’s something fun that you can get involved in that will allow you to pursue your research goals. So it’s fun, but it’s a time commitment absolutely.

Chelsey: I’d say finding an appropriate balance with the work that’s required with the group but also in your classwork because you want to make sure that you’re getting the most out of it. Even if it’s a research group because like I said that’s really where you get those skills that you probably won’t learn about in research methods. And making sure that you’re processing all of that information at a decent pace.


Given that students have limited time what is your best reason why they should join a research group?

Stephanie: It gives you a chance to work with people that you wouldn’t normally work with. And it also allows you to do what you’re interested in. Especially with professors, you may not have worked with yet, or students you may not have worked with that know about your area of interest. Or you might learn new things about different aspects of your research interests. So, it’s a great way to get involved with more people but it’s also a great way to get more work published and work more at conference deadlines.

Chelsey: I think that hands one experience is the biggest deal. Also, you’re surrounded by someone who is an expert in that specific field, whether that’s media effects or that’s political communication or with digital advertising, they are an expert. So you get to hear from them, and you get to learn from them. I think it really pushes you to do more than just the norm, like showing up to class and going to your assistantship. There is only so much you can get there, and I would encourage anyone to take that extra step, the extra initiative to learn more and to be more involved in your department because another thing – it really might push you or encourage you to submit papers to the conferences so that it’s published at some point. You don’t know what you don’t know until you are surrounded by people who have ten or twenty years of experience in this field. There are just some things that would have never crossed my mind before joining this group.


Is there anything else you would like to add about MERG?

Stephanie: I wish we could get more students interested. I am one of very few students in the Ph.D. program in the Master’s program that works with media effects. I think that’s because they don’t know what it is. But in media effects, you can have a political aspect to it, or you can have a health aspect to it. Were not just entertainment psychology people. We can use media effects for any area of interest. So I would like to see it branch out to more students and get more students interested in it because I think media psychology is really cool. I’d say to come and try it because it’s a really fun group!



If you are interested in joining MERG, please contact:

Dr. Meghan Sanders –

Dr. Chun Yang –

Original photo by Thomas William.