2010 Texas Tech Integrated Scholar
Associate Professor of Advertising;
College of Media and Communication
"We look at how the mind processes messages, and we don't rely a lot on self-report. People will tell you a lot of things about why they like Coca-Cola, why they like M&Ms, why they like Texas Tech. Those stories are often good stories, but they don't seem to correlate very well with their purchase behavior, so we do a lot to try to get below the layer of that surface."
What is your research objective/interest(s)?
I'm interested in the cognitive processing of media. The vast majority of the human experience has been without mediated communication, yet today's young people spend more hours staring at screens than at other people. How does the brain make sense of this hyper-mediated world? What captures and holds our attention amid clutter? What do we remember? What moves us emotionally? I ask not only these questions but also those surrounding the cognitive processes underlying this behavior.
How do you feel your research impacts the globe?
The social media "revolution," if you will, is the next logical progression of what began with the Industrial Revolution. This information globalization affects everyone, and how people process information in this new world may profoundly affect the future of society.
Where do you get your inspiration?
The human mind represents the most complex entity in the known universe. Solving that mystery is my passion. The quotation, "If the human mind were so simple we could understand it, we'd be so simple we couldn't" drives me. The source of the quotation is disputed, but the logic is elegantly beautiful. No individual, starting from scratch, could ever understand the mind. Together, however, we have a chance.
What type(s) of service projects do you enjoy doing?
For me the common thread is interesting problems. If someone's up for tackling an interesting problem, I'm usually jumping to go along for the ride. My service activities vary greatly, but the core always comes back to an interesting problem.
What are you currently working on?
Right now we're working on a centuries old problem: how does the human mind—in real time—decide truth from falsehood? Almost everything consumed through television and film is fiction, yet audiences go along for the ride but balk when something seems too contrived. Most likely, you've never seen police really raid a meth lab, but you have surprisingly strong notions about what would and would not happen in that given scenario. Where does that come from? How do the media distort your perspective of judging what's real? This fascinates me.
What advice do you have for new faculty members on balancing the components of an integrated scholar into their careers (academics, research and service)?
If you look at the faculty job as a division of research, teaching, and service, you've already lost the first battle. Parsing out job functions, to me, is not helpful. One hopes that faculty members endured those many years of education because they have an unquenchable passion for something. Let that passion be your guide. The best thing that you can have happen is for your students to want to know what you know. Show them. Illuminate your subject. Let them see your passion. This ignites the classroom and their curiosity. When you're bringing the latest knowledge to the students, you're giving them a "scoop" that the rest of the world does not have. How can that not be amazing? The same is true in serving the community. Whether you're advising a student group or peer reviewing an academic journal article, you're helping to drive the field you chose. In some small way, you're making an impact on the world and nudging it a little closer to your vision of the perfect world. Those aren't three separate things; they're one mission.
I grew up around a family advertising agency in the Kansas City metropolitan area. When my dad would work on the weekends, I'd sit in the art room laying out my own newspapers and ads. The day it was legal for me to work, I began working in the mailroom. By high school, I was conducting research on the effectiveness of their advertising. College was an addictive experience for me. I love to learn, and I never wanted to leave. When I found out that I could blend my shared passions of the media and human psychology, I was hooked. A joint doctoral degree in mass communications and cognitive science from Indiana University was intellectual heaven. Now as associate professor and assistant chair of the department of advertising, I try to bring my passions and experience to my students. They energize me every day, and I tell anyone who asks that being a university professor is the greatest job on the planet.