Jesse Fox

Communication, singular

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Key books for grad students in Communication

IMG_1374I’m not going to get topical on you and list my favorite books on comm tech, which are for another day. These are the books that I find indispensable for graduate students in Communication. I’ll note that these are skewed toward my own practices and experiences (submitting predominantly to social scientific journals and using both quantitative and qualitative methods) but several will be useful for any graduate student in the social sciences.


Guide to Publishing in Psychology Journals edited by Robert J. Sternberg

My amazing faculty mentor, Dr. Brad Bushman, gave me this book when I asked some questions about feedback I had received on a rejected journal article. I devoured the whole book in two days, and in the end I was picking skull bits out of my ceiling because my brain had exploded. WHAT??? was my reaction to many of the chapters. I realized that, in six years of grad school, I had never really been taught how to write an article for publication. In grad school you get a lot of feedback on how to write lit reviews and front ends of papers in class, but often there’s not enough focus on the practical aspects of writing for journals. Highly, highly recommended for quantitative scholars.

The Compleat Academic: A Career Guide (2nd ed.) edited by John M. Darley, Mark P. Zanna, & Henry L. Roediger III

This book was another gift from my faculty mentor. Although this is mostly aimed at young faculty, this is a very useful text for grads as well with chapters on job searching, giving job talks, teaching, setting up a lab, grant writing, and managing department hierarchies and politics. It also has the same general chapter by Daryl Bem as the book above that has very useful points for writing empirical articles.

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.) by the APA

You can substitute whatever your area’s formatting tome of choice is here. Make sure you have the most current edition. I like APA because they provide advice on clear writing as well (and they endorse the Oxford comma as all rational people should.) Beyond that, you need to be familiar with the major format of your area because violating it can have consequences. Of course, if you don’t mind getting your papers desk rejected or held up for weeks because you don’t feel like learning the rules, then there’s no need to worry about a silly thing like formatting. Is it annoying that something as trivial as how you punctuated a reference can hold up science? Of course, but that’s the way it goes.

On a related note, if you’re on the academic path for a while, suck it up and buy the actual manual. Online resources are incomplete and often outdated, and you put yourself at risk of really annoying your teacher/advisor/research collaborator/first author when they task you with the formatting and you can’t seem to follow basic directions. (On the plus side, one day you too may be able to pass the formatting buck to a co-author.)

The Elements of Style by Strunk & White

I was raised by an English teacher. I have a degree in English with a focus on writing. I taught English and writing in several contexts. I have had several professional writing jobs. As you can probably tell from reading this blog, my PsychToday blog, or even this post, I am still far from a perfect writer. This slim volume will remind you how many awful habits you need to break. Best of all, Strunk and White (yes, the guy who wrote Charlotte’s Web) have peppered it with plenty o’ snark.

If you’re the grammar/style policing type, you will learn new things that will make your hair stand on end. I mention this before presenting you with the following rant: in the name of Strunk and White and all things holy, I implore you to stop using the word “utilize.” Face it: you learned that word in middle school and started inserting it into every social studies report and English paper thinking it made you sound smarter. BARF. You’re an adult now. Stop it.

Quantitative Research

Discovering Statistics Using IBM SPSS Statistics (4th ed.) by Andy Field

Dr. Field and I share a love for ruh-ruh-ruh metal and bizarre data examples, so I was warm to this book from the very beginning. It is the book I wish I knew existed when I was first learning SPSS. This won’t be the only stats book you need, but it is an incredibly useful synthesis of statistical tests and reasoning and using SPSS to execute said tests. Great screenshots and supplementary materials (sample datasets, syntax, and elaborations on the accompanying website). Even as a seasoned user I learned a lot of tips and tricks for using SPSS more efficiently. It also delves into the very necessary PROCESS functions (see below.) Make sure you get the latest edition as the SPSS interface has changed over the years, and older versions of the book don’t discuss PROCESS.

Introduction to Mediation, Moderation, and Conditional Process Analysis: A Regression Based Approach by Andrew F. Hayes

Speaking of PROCESS, if you are a quantitative researcher, you can’t live without it. Dr. Hayes’s book delves much more into the mathematical reasoning and equations behind these processes, so I recommend warming up with Field’s chapter on basic moderation & mediation so you have a good overview. Make sure you also have the downloaded materials that come with the PROCESS package handy as there are a lot of models there that are not illustrated in the book.

Qualitative Research

Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory (3rd ed.) by Juliet Corbin & Anselm Strauss

The Strauss lineage of books is a great place to start with qualitative research. I recommend the later editions as they delve more into the use of technologically-mediated sites for research and computer programs for analysis. Note: there is a 4th edition set to come out in fall 2014.

Qualitative Communication Research Methods by Thomas R. Lindolf & Bryan C. Taylor

Yes, I’m partial to this book in part because Dr. Lindolf is affiliated with the University of Kentucky and I get to see examples from all my former profs in here. This book is also a useful addition to the Corbin & Strauss volume because it is very helpful to see how qualitative methods are incorporated specifically in communication research. Occasionally I have trouble identifying with and extrapolating from examples from other fields, so it’s helpful to have a good in-house text. I also find the writing very lucid, which is refreshing when many methods books (both qual and quant) are unnecessarily obtuse.


This is a work in progress, so if you have any other suggestions, I’d be happy to hear them.

Romantic attachment and the dangers of social media, Part 2

As promised, here is the second segment on attachment and the dangers of social media. This article is focused on breakups and how people use social media (and perhaps need not to) in the wake of a breakup:

On the radio: techno-incompatibility in relationships

Just in time for VD (Valentine’s Day), I did an interview with CBC Radio’s Nora Young. We talk about how technology has changed the dynamics in romantic relationships and more specifically how techno-incompatibility can cause conflict between partners. Listen here.

Romantic attachment & the dangers of social media, Pt. 1

Here’s my latest post for Psychology Today on the role of romantic attachment in terms of technology use in relationships. Why is it that some people never have arguments with their romantic partner about what’s posted on Facebook, whereas it’s a constant source of tension and jealousy for others? It’s important to know your levels of anxious and avoidant attachment because they predict how technologies such as social media or texting can affect your romantic relationship at all stages. Read more here.

I’ll have a second post about attachment, social media, and breakups up closer to the end of the month.

How to Schedule a Meeting Efficiently

Scheduling a meeting with academics is like herding cats, which is why Doodle is magic. Use to schedule meetings rather than sending an endless chain of emails. It’s free and very user friendly. Here are tips for doing it right:

1. Designate 30 minute timeslots rather than time chunks.


9 am        9:30 am          10 am             10:30 am         11 am            11:30 am         12 pm

Not this:

9 am -11 am           11 am – 1 pm                1 pm – 3pm

The latter is very inflexible. I could be available 10-12 but have no options in the second poll that work for me. It is very unlikely with teaching schedules, meetings, etc., that you are going to find a great deal of overlap for a particular 2 hour time slot.

2. Use the “If Need Be” function, especially if you are trying to get several people in one place at one time.

In the advanced options, you have the option to give respondents 3 choices: Yes, Yes if need be, and No. Giving the “Yes if Need Be” option is crucial when dealing with professors, who are very keen time managers. If you ask me if I am available on a writing day when I am working from home, I will likely say no. Or, if I have a meeting already scheduled, I’ll say no. If there was no other possible option, though, I could come in or switch the other meeting—I would just prefer a more convenient time if at all possible. People have the power to indicate that with “Yes if need be.”—i.e., I’d rather not, but if you get desperate, here’s an option. This often prevents having to send out multiple polls.

3.  Consider the “hidden responses” option.

This is all about modeling and imitation. If one person sees that someone else has only selected 2 options out of 30, they may think, “Oh. I can be really picky with my times as well.” Or, they may assume it’s pointless to indicate any availability other than what previous people have entered, so they see their options as just the 2 out of 30 that worked for the person before them. To avoid any bias from other respondents, you might want to choose to hide poll responses.

Alternatively, you may be running a study, holding office hours, or some other instance where you don’t want others to see who has participated in the poll. In that case, hide others’ responses.

Just note that you have to be sure to keep the administrative link Doodle sends or you won’t be able to see the responses either.

4. Multiple attendees or one.

In the advanced options, you can also decide if you want to let everyone indicate every possible timeslot, or if you want to treat the poll like a signup sheet (i.e., after X amount of people sign up, that timeslot is closed and no one else can sign up.) This is very convenient for scheduling student meetings or research study participation.

Can a virtual environment make you an environmentalist?

Forest and chainsaw 2 panelCheck out my latest blog post on Psychology Today about prosocial uses of virtual environments featuring Dr. Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn’s work on promoting paper conservation and other green behaviors.

Managing technology use during the holidays

Check out my new post on Psychology Today about how to effectively manage and implement tech during your time together with family and friends. It can be done!

Reality check: Media misrepresentation of the sexualized avatar study

This morning started off with another media-induced facepalm. Thanks to Owen Good at Kotaku for drawing this to our attention.

One of the downsides to being a scientist is having your work misrepresented in the media. It’s bad enough when you can tell they write a report or story based on another story that’s based on another story. Worse is when they bring in “experts” to sensationalize it (especially when they don’t bother contacting the actual researchers for an accurate statement.) Fox News aired a segment on my recently published study on the negative effects of sexualized avatars. Here is what is wrong about it.

1. They say we studied “young girls” and the discussion is around children. We studied female adults (none younger than 18), which is clearly noted in the article.

2. At another point, they say we studied “gamers.” Video game play varied among this sample; participants reported playing between 0 and 25 hours of games a week (M = 1.29, SD = 3.70). Also, they were not asked if they self-described as gamers.

3. Participants did not choose avatars for this study; they were randomly assigned to assure the validity of the manipulation. (Read this if you don’t understand the importance and implications of random assignment for experiments.) I am researching choice in other studies because there could be a self-selection bias in play when it comes to gaming (e.g., women who self-objectify may be more or less likely to choose sexualized avatars).

4. The simulation was not a video game. It was an interaction with objects in a fully immersive virtual environment and a social interaction with a male confederate represented by an avatar. Further research with gaming variables is necessary because those sorts of elements change outcomes in unexpected ways, as my grad student Mao Vang and I recently found when we had White participants play a game alongside Black avatars.

5. What is most wrong is that their “expert” is not a scientist or even a gaming researcher, but a self-described life coach. I looked her up and she has zero notes on her website about her scientific education or experience. Rather, it is a business site populated with slogans like “Let’s Get it, #Go and MAKE THAT DOUGH!” (Random hashtags, arbitrary capitalization, and outdated slang all preserved from the original.) There’s no indication that she knows anything about science, virtual environments or video games, or girls’/women’s development or psychology. It’s clear from her interview that she did not read the article–I love that Owen Good at Kotaku points out that she swipes lines from another journalist’s writeup at Time.

Perhaps the most egregious transgression is when she puts words in our mouths with this gem: “But they say that this is, like, even worse than watching Miley Cyrus twerk.” NO, WE DIDN’T SAY THAT. NOR WOULD WE. EVER. That statement was made by the Time reporter and was rightfully not attributed to us.

Such are the frustrations of the scientist.

The consequences of wearing sexualized avatars

Given the recent media attention, I figured it would probably be wise to give a rundown of our experiment recently published in Computers in Human Behavior on the negative consequences of wearing sexualized avatars in a fully immersive virtual environment. Although several media sources are framing this as a study involving video games, there was no gaming element to it (although I expect the findings to apply to video games, there are different variables to consider in those settings).

A fully immersive environment. The user is in a head-mounted display (HMD) and can only see the virtual world, which changes naturally as she moves.

A fully immersive environment. The user is in a head-mounted display (HMD) and can only see the virtual world, which changes naturally as she moves.

This study was conducted while I was still at Stanford working in the Virtual Human Interaction Lab. I conceived the study as a followup to a previous study whose results had confounded me. In that study (published in Sex Roles), men and women were exposed to stereotypical or nonstereotypical female virtual agents, and we found that stereotypical agents promoted more sexism and rape myth acceptance than nonstereotypical agents. I was surprised because we found no difference between men’s and women’s attitudes. Thus, I wanted to investigate further to see how virtual representations of women affected women in the real world.

In the current experiment, we placed women in either sexualized  or nonsexualized avatar bodies. We used participants’ photographs (taken several weeks before for a presumably unrelated study) to build photorealistic representations of themselves in the virtual environment. Thus, when a woman entered the VE, she saw her face or another person’s face attached to a sexualized or nonsexualized avatar body.

Atomic II avatars

Avatars courtesy of Complete Characters database.

In the virtual environment, women performed movements in front of a mirror so that they could observe the virtual body and experience embodiment (i.e., feel like they were really inside of the avatar’s body). They had a brief interaction with a male avatar afterwards and then we measured their state self-objectification (through the Twenty Statements Test, which is simply 20 blanks starting with “I am ______”). Then, we told them they would be participating in a second, unrelated study. They were allowed to pick a number that “randomly” redirected them to an online study. All participants were redirected to “Group C” which was framed as a survey on social attitudes. The rape myth acceptance items were masked in a long survey with other items.

We found that women who embodied a sexualized avatar showed significantly greater self-objectification than women who embodied a nonsexualized avatar. Furthermore, and counter to predictions, women who embodied an avatar that was sexualized and looked like them showed greater rape myth acceptance.

This second finding was puzzling; I thought seeing oneself in a sexualized avatar would make participants more sympathetic. Our best explanation was that perhaps that seeing oneself sexualized triggered a sense of guilt and self-blame that then promoted more acceptance of rape myths.

Since this study I have conducted two other studies (both using nonimmersive environments to make sure that it is not just the high-end technology yielding these results) that support these findings. Feel free to contact me if you’re interested in those papers.

You can find media coverage of this study at the links below:

*Original story by Cynthia McKelvey for Stanford News Service (also posted at PhysOrg)

* Video Games’ Sexual Double Standard May Have Real-World Impact by Yannick LeJacq at NBC News

*How Using Sexualized Avatars in Video Games Changes Women by Eliana Dockterman at Time

*Using a Sexy Video Game Avatar Makes Women Objectify Themselves by Shaunacy Ferro at Popular Science

*The Scientific Connection Between Sexist Video Games and Rape Culture by Joseph Bernstein at Buzzfeed

So there’s that.

Interestingly, the media have just picked up on a study published earlier this year that I ran while I was still at Stanford. Co-authored with my advisor, Dr. Jeremy Bailenson, and undergraduate research assistant Liz Tricase, the study found negative effects for women who embodied sexualized avatars in a fully immersive environment. Jeremy saw the article online at and captured this screenshot. *facepalm*PhysOrg sexualized avatars screenshot(Note the ad to the right, telling you to “Create Your Hero Now.”)

The article itself is an excellent writeup by Cynthia McKelvey. Feel free to check out the study itself here.

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