Bryan McLaughlin, Ph.D., associate professor of advertising & brand strategy, received the TTU Chancellor's Council Distinguished Research Award. The award, as described by the Council, recognizes outstanding research, scholarship, and creative activity of faculty members in the developmental stages of their careers.
McLaughin's research interests include the construction, communication, and interpretation of social identities, the relationship between intergroup conflicts and mediated messages, and political narratives from many different approaches. McLaughlin had three papers published in 2019 alone, appearing in journals such as Media Communication and Society and Media Psychology. In 2021, more than 100 different researchers cited McLaughlin's findings in their own research, and he has been cited nearly 500 times since 2017.
Although flattered, McLaughlin has never needed an award to motivate his thirst for knowledge.
“My research is concerned with knowing people, understanding people, understanding how they work, and trying to see things from their perspective,” says McLaughlin. “From a practical perspective, this is helpful if you're trying to reach people and communicate with them. But in terms of a positive outlook for society, this kind of research can help us understand motivations and reasoning, which can help us to not blame people so quickly for acting one way or another.”
McLaughlin found himself drawn particularly to the political realm of media and communication through a series of fortunate coincidences.
On a research project with graduate students, McLaughlin sought to investigate how viewers become absorbed in movies or TV shows, to the extent of becoming disconnected from the real world for brief periods. Meanwhile, another project had him investigating political narratives in emails.
“It became really clear to me that emails are designed to draw readers into these exaggerated depictions of the political world, or to make them see the other side as a threat,” says McLaughlin. “This idea really resonated with me in terms of why people care so much, the way in which people tell these elaborate stories about politics, and why they get so worked up about it. I think it has a lot of explanatory power.”
By combining his thoughts about a narrative's ability to consume viewers with the exaggeration of political narratives and symbols, McLaughlin tapped into an area of communication perhaps more relevant than any other as bipartisanship grows in America.
“There's been a lot of work that's showing when you get sucked into narratives, you can engage in perspective-taking, seeing other people's perspectives. So, there's some ways in which narratives can be used to kind of lessen some of the bad stuff.”
As for the award itself, McLaughlin was honored and excited to be recognized while remaining expectedly humble in the process.
“It felt a little weird to have all these important people in the university honoring me, plus all the other really accomplished people getting their awards,” says McLaughlin. With a laugh, he adds, “I'm happy for the recognition, of course, but I was also feeling a little shy and nervous about it.”
Meanwhile, Sherice Gearhart, Ph.D., associate professor and associate interim dean for research and sponsored programs, shared in the praise for McLaughin's hard work.
“I was especially impressed by the scholars around the country who wrote letters in support of Dr. McLaughlin,” says Gearhart. “A group of internationally known scholars described Dr. McLaughlin's work as ‘groundbreaking, unique, impactful, far-reaching, and consequential for citizens,' all of which are qualities that are among the highest compliments to receive from one's academic peers.”
McLaughlin's research agenda remains busy and promising. He's currently examining “news addiction” and the potentially problematic relationship audiences can develop with news. He is joined by Melissa Gotlieb, Ph.D., associate professor of advertising & brand strategy, as well as Devin J. Mills, Ph.D., assistant professor of family, community, and addiction sciences.