Hidden away in the depths of Franklin Hall’s basement is the Institute for Communication Research (ICR). If you venture down there, you will likely find Sharon Mayell, assistant director and research associate with the ICR, ready and willing to give you a tour of the facility, but it is helpful to make an appointment first.
Research groups at the ICR and media research groups across the country are attempting to measure how society interacts with different kinds of media.
“We measure people’s responses to media, so we are trying to quantify and draw conclusions,” Mayell said. “It’s a branch of science where you learn by experience and empirical evidence.”
The ICR uses several methods to measure these responses and has spaces dedicated to these methods. There is a data analysis room equipped with analytics software, as well as one for content analysis, the process of analyzing the content of a collection of media. There is also a survey room with individual cubbies for independent surveys and experiments.
A space resembling a comfortable living room is reserved for interviews and other activities that require an organic setting. One research group uses this room to measure how video games requiring teamwork or competition affect friendships among players.
Another room with a large table with a dry-erase top in the center and a TV on the wall is set up for focus groups. This room is currently used by a research group measuring emotional reactions to TV clips of refugees.
There are four rooms with psychophysiology equipment that measures the body’s reactions to emotions, brain activity and other stimuli. This equipment can be used to record things like heart rate, facial expressions, and eye movement. Using these bodily reactions, researchers can interpret attentiveness, emotion, and focus.
One research group is currently using this technology to study how we watch media in groups. Videos of IU basketball games are designed to have particularly dull and exciting moments. One group watches this video next to a friend, and the other while alone, but Skyping or texting a friend, who is watching the video in another room.
The ICR supports media research initiatives from topics ranging from studying how media affects childhood development to analyzing gender representation in media.
“I think most people, when they think about it, realize media have a profound effect on people’s behavior in the world, but also how the world is being presented to us,” Mayell said. “We’re affecting it, and it’s affecting us.”
For those interested in learning more, the ICR has meetings open to the public each 11:15 a.m. each Friday in Franklin Hall 017. They consist of informal presentations by research teams and a discussion for other teams to share their experiences and advice. The meetings are great learning experiences and opportunities to get your feet wet, Mayell said.
Graduate students, Ph.D. candidates and professors lead most ICR research groups. However, when help is needed, Mayell said research groups appreciate assistance from undergraduates interested in the field.
Mayell said any undergraduates interested in getting involved need only reach out. The doors to the ICR are always open, she said.
“Come to the ICR,” Mayell said. “I’ll give you the tour.”