Recent Ph.D. Dissertations
Current and recent Ph.D. students are addressing a variety of media and communication-related concerns in their dissertations. To better understand the scope of our students’ research, the following are synopses of several recent and current students’ dissertation projects.
Human-technology relationality and the implications for identity emergence: An examination of player-avatar relationships in World of Warcraft
Driven by questions about the nature of human-technology relationships and the implications for human communication, this research examines how players of the online game World of Warcraft have relationships with their in-game avatars, how technologies influence those relationships, and how the dynamic contributes to identity construction in, around, and through the virtual world. I have crafted an approach to examining the Self as a network of coordinating personas that are, themselves, complex material-semiotic networks; this allows the application of sociological and network theories to examinations of individual identities. As a result, insights have emerged about the ways that Self-networks operate in ways similar to large social networks. After analysis of 600 survey responses and 29 in-depth interviews, initial findings point to a range of highly differentiated relationships influenced by game technologies’ affordances and constraints. Player-avatar relationships vary from “just pixels” and social network placeholders to sources of profound personal power.
Comprehensive health literacy assessment for young adults
Patient health literacy is an essential component for educated decision-making about medical care, and it has been identified by the Institute of Medicine as a potentially stronger predictor of a person’s health status over age, income, employment status, education level, and race. The standard health literacy measurement tools in use do not assess the more complex skills needed for effectively navigating the current health care system; have limited evidence of construct validity; are lacking in psychometric properties; and are not targeted specifically for the young adult population. In this study, the author has developed an updated, comprehensive assessment that encompasses the expanded concept of health literacy and is specifically targeted toward testing young adults. Health education experts reviewed the questions; the psychometric properties of the tool were analyzed; and the assessment was compared with a standard tool in use today to see which one better predicts health status and health behaviors.
Online consumer engagement: Understanding the antecedents and outcomes
Given the adoption rates of social media and, specifically, social networking sites among consumers and companies alike, practitioners and academics need to understand social media’s role in a company’s marketing efforts. Understanding how consumers perceive features on a company’s social media page and how these features may lead to loyalty and, ultimately, consumers’ repurchase intentions is critical when justifying marketing efforts to upper management. This study focused on this process by situating online consumer engagement between consumers’ perceptions about features on a company’s social media page and loyalty and (re)purchase intent. Because online consumer engagement is an emerging construct within the marketing literature, this study not only tested the framework of online consumer engagement but also explored the concept of online consumer engagement within a marketing context. The study refined the definition of online consumer engagement in an attempt to align the industry and academic definitions of the construct.
S. Cory Robinson
Consumer intent to disclose personal information in ecommerce: A comparison of Estonia and the United States
An online survey conducted among participants in the United States and Estonia examined willingness to disclose and perceived risks of disclosing personally identifying information (PII) in ecommerce, as well as attitudes toward disclosure in general and anxiety about disclosing personal data. Additionally, the study investigated how willingness to disclose and perceived risk of disclosing personal data were affected by demographic variables, trust in the Internet and trust in institutions, the Big Five personality dimensions found in the psychology literature (neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and extraversion), and four sets of perceived shopping benefits (opportunity benefits, bargain benefits, purchase benefits, and expected privacy benefits). Despite Estonia’s advanced adoption and progressive policies and practices toward the Internet, Americans were more willing to disclose, exhibited more positive attitudes, demonstrated less anxiety, and were less concerned about perceived risks. For Estonians, ecommerce experience, perceived purchase benefits, and trust in the Internet and institutions were significant predictors of willingness to disclose personal data. Americans who perceived purchase benefits were found to be the most likely to disclose PII, while Americans with lower levels of education were also more willing to disclose.
Reconsidering Randy Shilts: Examining the reportage of America’s AIDS chronicler
In this dissertation, openly gay reporter and author Randy Shilts’s (1951-1994) use of journalistic practices is examined, and he is placed on a continuum of traditional reporting roles as considered in the context of twentieth century philosophers Walter Lippmann and John Dewey. Reporter functions demonstrated by Shilts are examined, including those dictated by expectations of either strong journalistic influence over society and media consumers, or those more aligned with democratic practices where education and participation emphasize strong roles for society and media consumers. Using a biographical approach including 17 primary source interviews of former colleagues, critics, sources, and family/friends, Shilts’s work is found to be heavily influenced by his attitudes about disclosure of his sexual orientation from the start of his career and his desire to explain aspects of gay culture, and ultimately the AIDS crisis, to heterosexual audiences. Careful examination of the posthumous critique of Shilts’s work – including his construction of Patient Zero – is undertaken. The study concludes that Shilts fully engaged a Lippmann-esque approach embodied in an authoritarian role for journalism that sought to change the world, and did so perhaps most influentially during the earliest days of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in America.
Responses to conflicting scientific evidence in news reports: Effects of presentation format and hedging
This dissertation examines whether two journalistic reporting practices affect readers’ responses to conflicting scientific evidence in news reports, using active integration of conflicting information from the education psychology literature as a theoretical framework. Two journalistic practices used to report conflicting scientific information are conflict presentation format and hedging. Conflict presentation format is can manifest itself in two ways. The first is when a single news article reports on conflicting findings from two or more studies. The second is when a news article presents results from one study, and then a second news article presents results from another study that contradicts the results presented in the first news article. Thus, across the two news articles, conflicting information is presented. Hedging is the use of linguistic elements to signal limitations or tentativeness in the information being presented. By manipulating conflict presentation format (single vs. multiple news articles) and hedging (hedged vs. non-hedged information), the author examines readers’ perceived uncertainty about a conflicting issue, perceived source trustworthiness, and their explanations of why the conflict occurred.