Friday, October 22, 2010

Online Worlds and Compassion

    Cultivation Theory, Agenda-setting Theory, and the Spiral of Silence(1) represent some of the most salient theories for our current interests in media communication studies, with each of these theories representing a facet of influence that can direct research. Cultivation Theory as applied to video games and virtual online communities is interesting because it confounds the normal social roles and behaviors of the individual with unrealistic or hyperreal occurrences.  As Williams mentions, online worlds differ offline perceptions(2).  It may well change the way our society evolves.  In the vein of my interest, compassion potentiation, there is not much apparent “good news” that can be drawn out from competitive and violent games.  While the multi-player games that involve teams going on missions foster cooperation amongst their group, any outsiders are still seen as enemies.  It would be interesting to relate the concept of compassion fatigue to online worlds where there is no reward for compassion and no other need for any reciprocity of kindness.
     Much in the same way that Gerbner and Gross theorized that television caused an “enculturation” in the individual by changing their perceptions of reality to match those presented through television programming, the video games that individuals play may change the perception of the players.   This has implications for both negative and positive changes to human behavior.  Our virtual selves do not suffer the same consequences that our real-life bodies do, but the information that is presented to us in a virtual environment does make an impression on the way we think and interact with others in the real world.  Therefore, if negative actions are awarded in the virtual world, this can have an effect on the way we think, even if only to a small extent.  Conversely, if positive (prosocial) actions are rewarded in the virtual world, that may be able to reinforce those cognitive modes of kindness, empathy, and compassion in the real world.      

Griffin, E.M. A First Look at Communication Theory.  (7th ed., 2009) (Chs. 27, 28, 29)
Williams, Dmitri.  Virtual Cultivation:  Online Worlds and Offline Perceptions.  Journal of Communication ISSN 0021-9916.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Project Compassion

This past Friday the Dalai Lama came to Stanford for a colloquium called "Compassion, Science and Technology."  CCARE and Project Compassion presented research projects in a format much like sharing there findings with the Dalai Lama in his living room, but in front of 1500 or so people.  In my upcoming foray into research, the following findings and determinations will inform the design:  (a) in education modeling provides a methodology for teaching compassion and (b) we can experience a cognitive reappraisal of emotion that circumvents the "feeling" aspect of empathy to generate a direct pathway to compassionate behavior. 

I believe that in order to bring compassion and altruism into our daily conversation, we must integrate these prosocial ways of relating into the all-pervasive media we utilize every day.  In this way, our habitual behaviors become a way to strengthen our mental acumen towards a more positive dynamic.  Eventually, this overrides the standard goal-oriented (attachment-based) mentality in favor of a shared view of humanity.  Several possibilities exists for digital media based compassion potentiation.  Paralleling techniques for school curriculum, we can use the concept of modeling (in combination with using models that individuals wish to emulate) to change behavior.  People watching instances of selfless acts, generous moments, etc. enacted by models of similar status may follow those behaviors.  Similarly, priming for compassionate action is also an available role for digital media.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Integrating with Humanity

    One morning this week I went to go get coffee and while I was waiting for my large cappuccino I performed a small act of research concerning nonverbal communication.  At one of the tables near the sandwich refrigerator, a young man was talking to his computer quite animatedly using his hands to gesture at the screen (or the camera right above the screen).  He was speaking in Italian, so there were not many verbal cues that I could depend on, but I could decipher that he was emotionally aroused, debating with the person on the other end of the internet.  In deference to the medium, he was gesticulating within the visual bounds of the camera, really trying to get his message across without letting his hands fly too far away from the line of sight.  His intention, most likely, was to provide information to the other person and to accentuate his position, though I have seen a person driving, with a bluetooth headset, gesturing to the person on the other side of the phone.  In that case, the automaticity of talking with one’s hands overrides the practicality of the conversation methodology. 
    This, in one way, reflects the concept of expressiveness as defined by DePaulo and Friedman (1), a concept that is culturally dependent and runs in families.  DePaulo has also found that “expressive people are often regarded as more attractive than unexpressive people”, which feeds back to the man at the table, talking to the computer with his hands.  Is he more attractive than if he were just talking?  I will probably have to go back  some time this week to test that particular hypothesis. 
    The other interesting idea from the readings of this week concerns Bandura’s work on Social Learning Theory and the paper on “Imitation of Film-mediated Aggressive Models.” (2) I am not current on the aggressive modeling role of media, but I am interested in the degree of “compassion fatigue” that these communication methods engender.  Does someone who sees crime regularly in the media become jaded toward that topic in general?  Which intervening variables alter the system?     

(1) DePaulo, B.M. & Friedman, H.S. (1998). Nonverbal Communication. In D. Gilbert, S. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (eds.) Handbook of Social Psychology, 4th edition. Boston: McGraw Hill, Vol. II, pp. 3-40.

(2) Bandura, A., Ross, D. & Ross, S.A. Imitation of film-mediated aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1963, 66, 3-11.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Implications of Implicit Cues for Cognition

    Social Judgment Theory as it applies to real-world applications is one of those theories that makes sense to the average person, and has intuitive value.  It says that when we experience an instance of communication, we judge the source of that communication, placing it on a spectrum of trust.  Coupling that with the priming factors in our daily life brings to light a wider range of implications.  If we are constantly exposed to stimuli of a certain valence, we bring those biases subconsciously into our everyday activities.  Noticing this correlation can inform how we go about interacting with others without bringing awareness into our actions.
    Bargh, et al. studied behavior with initial priming as well, researching if activating thoughts of the elderly has participants walk more slowly after towards the door. Race attitudes have also been studied. Being able to test subconscious beliefs using experimental trials has provided some non-intuitive trends.
    This also feeds into and draws from the Elaboration Likelihood Model, in that we are uncovering central versus peripheral effect, though in the case of priming, the peripheral communication is implicit rather than explicit.   The amount of cognitive load someone is willing to undertake reflects their attachment to that issue and/or a generalized “need to know.”  Following the central route of comprehension and influence creates strong changes in the participants, whether for the positive or negative  of the argument.  However, implicit information and cues circumvent the central route and have widespread implications. 


Griffin, Em.  A First Look at Communication Theory, Seventh Edition. The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc, 2009, Chapters. 14, 15.

Petty, R.E. & Cacioppo, J.T. Motivational approaches (Chapter 5). In Attitudes and Persuasion: Classic and Contemporary Approaches. Dubuque, IW: Wm. C. Brown, 1981 (pp. 59-94 & 125-161).

Bargh, J. A., Chen, M., & Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype priming on action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 230-244.

(Beneficial Priming?)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Symbolic Convergence Theory and the Osgood & Schramm Circular Model

    One of the most useful convergences that Griffin describes in chapter three of his Theory of Communication is the overlap of objective and interpretive metrics for gauging the validity of a theory (1).  While this Venn diagram reminds me of the connections between these two apparently disparate approaches, another diagram also comes to mind, Osgood and Schramm’s circular diagram with communication forming a looping process that travels between two individuals (2).  One key element that was introduced in that work was that each piece of information travels through an interpreter.  Language, of course, provides a wonderful opportunity to practice methods of helping divergent thought processes find a common path, often through interpretation.       With a little semantic openness, objective theory’s qualification of “explanation of data” becomes interpretive theory’s “understanding of people.”  Similarly, the scientific need for “relative simplicity” becomes a more nebulous sounding desire for “aesthetic appeal”, but they do of course refer to the same thing.  Convoluted, overly pedantic work is not appealing to a reader and reveals a certain pompousness and/or dearth of expressive ability.  
    Using Ernest Bormann’s symbolic convergence theory as an example also helps the reader to partially define where their theoretical allegiances lie and gives the creative mind a chance to defend or negate some of the constructs, depending on the perceived importance of validity gaps. 

N. B. On a side note, symbolic convergence theory reminded me of inside jokes and the way they help a group bond.  I am sure they form a subset of Bormann’s “fantasy chains.”     

(1) Griffin, E. M. (2009). A first look at communication theory (7thd ed.). NY: McGraw-Hill.
(2) McQuail, D., & Windahl, S. Basic models, pp. 13-37. In Communication Models for the Study of Mass Communication, New York: Longman, 1993.