Sample Research Program Statement: Paul Bolls

Sample Research Program Statement: Paul Bolls

Paul Bolls, associate professor, Missouri School of Journalism

The primary goal of my research program is to produce knowledge concerning how individuals cognitively and emotionally process mediated messages. My scholarship is part of a line of research in which investigators attempt to pry into human emotion and cognition to reveal processes the human mind uses in attending and responding to different forms of media messages. The forms of media messages I investigate can be categorized in terms of content (i.e. fear appeal, sex appeal) and production style (i.e. presence of cuts and edits). I have conducted experiments on messages produced for traditional media (radio and television) as well as interactive media.

One specific line in my research program has focused on studying processes and effects associated with cross-sensory modality processing of media messages. This work initially involved conducting experiments on mental imagery evoking content in radio advertisements. The results of these experiments have been published in Communication Research and Media Psychology with forthcoming articles in the Journal of Advertising and Journal of Radio Studies. A major finding from this work is that listening to a high-imagery radio advertisement appears to involve visual sensory processing. Thus, radio messages have the ability to engage cross-sensory modality processing by activating both auditory and visual cognition. The forthcoming articles report the results from two experiments designed to investigate the effects of cross-sensory modality processing on memory and attitudes toward radio ads. An experiment in progress is designed to investigate how the emotional tone of radio messages influences cross-sensory modality processing engaged by listeners during exposure to high-imagery ads. Ultimately, I hope to expand on existing models of how people process mediated messages. Models such as Lang’s Limited Capacity Model currently do not involve a theoretical consideration of processes and effects involved in the interaction of sensory modalities during exposure to mediated messages.

A developing area of research has to do with examining how emotional features of mediated messages engage cognitive/emotional processes. This line of research is grounded in a motivated cognition theoretical perspective. Under this perspective, cognitive and emotional areas of the brain are believed to interact in determining appropriate responses to environmental stimuli such as media messages. Thus, experiments I have conducted in this area involve a systematic consideration of how human attention and emotion interact in processing emotional media messages. A manuscript presently under review at Journal of Communication reports the results of one such experiment. This experiment examined the interaction of fear appeal and disgust evoking scenes in televised anti-smoking ads on attention and recognition. This line of research will also include a deeper consideration of individual differences in cognitive/emotional processing of mediated messages. A recent experiment funded by the University of Missouri-Columbia Research Council examined how differences, due to age, in the ability to cognitively regulate emotional response affects processing of highly vivid images of threat in substance abuse prevention messages. I hope that this line of research helps build theory on the role of emotional features of media messages in persuasion.

Methodologically, most of my research involves the collection of psychophysiological measures. These measures enable the observation of cognitive and emotional processes during real time exposure to mediated messages. My research has enabled me to gain a level of expertise in the collection and analysis of these measures. One of my goals is to increase understanding of how psychophysiological measures can be used to study cognitive and emotional processing of media messages. I am in the process of co-authoring a book on this topic with Rob Potter of Indiana University that will be published by Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates.

Results from my research are primarily applicable to advertising in general. However, I have begun to focus more of my work into the area of health communication. The aforementioned experiments on anti-smoking ads and other substance abuse prevention messages are examples of this focus. I am also a co-investigator on a pilot experiment on how African American women cognitively and emotionally process videotaped stories told by breast cancer survivors. This experiment is funded by a grant from a National Cancer Institute Center for Excellence in Cancer Communication Research. I am seeking external funding opportunities to support my movement into health communication as a research area. I am lead investigator on an R01 grant under review at the National Institute of Drug Abuse. This grant is to support a large follow up experiment to the work I have done examining how adolescents and young adults differentially respond to threat components in substance abuse prevention messages. I am also a co-investigator on a small methodological grant under review at the National Cancer Institute. I desire to have my research provide insights concerning the design of persuasive messages to advertising industry professionals. I also have a more specific interest in producing knowledge concerning the design of messages that effectively communicate health related information.

Throughout my research program, I have attempted to incorporate a significant amount of outreach in order to boost the impact of my work. In addition to attempting to publish the results of my experiments, there are two specific forms of outreach activities I incorporate into my scholarship. The first involves mentoring both graduate and undergraduate students in the process of conducting research and helping to develop their critical thinking skills. I strongly believe that research experience adds tremendous value to a student’s undergraduate education. Therefore, I have made a special effort to involve undergraduates in my research program. This effort has led me to become involved with the Missouri University Undergraduate Research Scholars (MUURS) program. Students involved in the program work with a professor to develop a research proposal leading to a competitively selected paid research internship with the professor. Within the past year, three of my undergraduate students have been selected to participate in this program. One of my MUURS students presented her study on political advertising to the Political Communication division of the International Communication Association in June 2006. The second form of outreach involves seeking out opportunities to exchange ideas with media professionals. This outreach includes research presentations to professional groups such as the radio division of the National Association of Broadcasters, Danish National Radio, and Seattle Advertising Federation. It also involves consulting activities with organizations such as the United States Air Force broadcasting services. I have also recently been contacted by Pfizer to consult on the production of televised direct to consumer prescription drug ads. Ultimately, building close relationships with students and media professionals as part of my research agenda helps me conduct a theoretically sound and practically relevant program of research that will hopefully have impact beyond published journal articles.