Research: Social media, Health, Political, Science
Ph.D. Texas Tech University, 2013
M.A. University of Texas San Antonio, 2009
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Dr. Gearhart's research interests aim to understand how people use media to form and express opinions. She uses a theory-driven, quantitative approach to examine the social/political uses, effects, and implications of digital technologies. Other areas of interest include the role of traditional and social media in civic and political engagement, strategic campaigns, and message framing. Given these interests, her scholarship sits at the intersection of mass media effects and public opinion.
Dr. Gearhart's research deals with understanding how audiences respond to and perceive media messages. In particular, public relations efforts, news media coverage, and social media. She examines this at both societal and individual levels to understand motivations, perceptions, and outcomes of exposure in a diverse media environment.
Although she has an underlying interest in the news, Dr. Gearhart is primarily driven by a fascination for understanding how people use the wide array of media that they have access to in order to form opinions, and how they go about expressing those opinions in both online and offline contexts. As such, her work often examines aspects of public opinion and media use, especially through application of the spiral of silence theory to online environments. This work has the purpose of assessing the tenability of the theory in new contexts while adapting measurement and pushing boundaries. This work is unique as it aims to further explicate the influence of selective media use and issue contexts as determinants of speaking out or remaining silent.
Specific areas of interest include social, political, environmental, and health issues. For example, recent work examines the influence of Facebook comments posted under news stories on controversial issues (e.g., climate change) on perceptions of media bias. Other studies have examined portrayals environmental (e.g., fracking; wind energy) and health issues (e.g., breast feeding; obesity; Alzheimer's disease) in news presentations.
Dr. Gearhart has also engaged in grant-funded work with the Native Health News Alliance, a non-profit multimedia news organization. She collaborated with the organization in a grant project funded by The Waterhouse Family Institute at Villanova University to support the first-ever media effects study of health news on Native Americans conducted at one of the nation's largest powwows.
Dr. Gearhart works across quantitative methodologies, with a specialization in survey-experiments, and has published work in outlets such as Communication Research, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Journal of Health Communication, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, & Social Networking, and the Sage Encyclopedia of Social Media & Politics, among others. She has led survey projects for both academic and industry research. Among her record of scholarship, she has published research on web-based surveys and their impact on completion rates and data quality appearing in Survey Practice. She has also published research surveying journalists serving diverse populations, appearing in Journalism Practice.
- Content Analysis
- Survey Experiment
- Social media
- Health communication
- Political communication
- Science communication
- Gearhart, S., & Zhang, W. (2018). Same spiral, different day? Testing the spiral of
silence across issue typologies. Communication Research, 45, 34-53. doi: 10.1177/0093650215616456
- Gearhart, S., & Trumbly-Lamsam, T. (2017). The scoop on health: How Native American
newspapers frame and report health news. Health Communication, 32(6), 695-702. doi:
- Gearhart, S., Trumbly-Lamsam, T., & Adegbola, O. (in press). Why isn't health a priority? A survey of journalists serving Native American news media. Journalism Practice. doi: 10.1080/17512786.2017.1363658
Teaching experiences at three universities have provided opportunities to teach a variety of courses, especially those related to quantitative methodologies and public opinion. These include courses taught at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, such as Mass Communication & Public Opinion (undergrad/graduate), Public Relations & Public Opinion (undergrad), Applied Research Methods for Public Relations (undergrad), Mass Communication Research Methods (undergrad), and Quantitative Research (graduate).
Other courses taught include Mass Communication Seminar (graduate), Principles of Public Relations (undergrad), Intro. to Electronic Media (undergrad), and Computer-Mediated Communication (undergrad/graduate).
Leadership & Awards
Research Chair for the Political Communication Interest Group for the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC).
Committee member - Inez Kaiser Graduate Students of Color Award Committee for the Public Relations Division (AEJMC)
College of Media & Communication
AddressTexas Tech University, Box 43082, Lubbock, TX 79409