We think it is important to discuss the fact that human nature influences all research. While some researchers might argue that their research is objective, realistically, no research is totally objective. What does this mean? Researchers have to make choices about what to research, how they will conduct their research, who will pay for their research, and how they will present their research conclusions to others. These choices are influenced by the motives and material resources of researchers. The most obvious case of this in the physical sciences is research sponsored by the tobacco industry that downplays the health hazards associated with smoking (Frisbee & Donley). Intuitively, we know that certain motivations influence this line of research as it is an example of an extreme case of motivational factors influencing research. Realistically though, all researchers are motivated by certain factors that influence their research.
We will highlight three factors that motivate the choices we make when conducting communication research: 1) The intended outcomes, 2) theoretical preferences, and 3) methodological preferences.
One question researchers ask while doing their research project is, “What do I want to accomplish with this research?” Three primary research goals are to increase understanding of a behavior or phenomenon, predict behavior, or create social change.
Case In Point
The Evolution of Anti-drug Commercials
In 1987 an anti-drug campaign, Your Brain on Drugs began to air on television. Wikipedia writes, “The first PSA, from 1987, showed a man who held up an egg and said, “This is your brain,” before picking up a frying pan and adding, “This is drugs.” He then cracks open the egg, fries the contents, and says, “This is your brain on drugs.” Finally he looks up at the camera and asks, “Any questions?”
After careful examination, researchers quickly discovered that this ad campaign was not effective, as it actually made the frying of an egg appealing, especially to those people who were watching the ad that were hungry! Thus, in 1998, they revised the PSA to make it more dramatic.
Scholars who study health campaigns are interested in finding the most effective ways to help get accurate health information to people so they can act on that information.
Here are some anti-marijuana advertisements the millennial generation may be familiar with:
There is this anti-marijuana commercial that tries to bring about the fears of smoking marijuana. Seth Stevenson states the commercial brings out two fears: “1) the fear that nonsmoker friends, or lovers, might find them tiresome and pathetic, and 2) the fear that they might be growing dependent on the drug.”
The same can be said for this video. In the video a pet dog tells what looks to be its teenage owner to quit smoking weed. This is supposed to evoke guilt upon the owner and carry out to the viewer. Both campaigns “effectively [pick] at both of these insecurities” that anti-drug campaigns attempt to associate with smoking week.
Do you find any of these effective? Why or why not? Think of anti-drug campaigns that would be effective for teens/young adults today.
A great deal of Communication research seeks understanding as the intended outcome of the research. As we gain greater understanding of human communication we are able to develop more sophisticated theories to help us understand how and why people communicate. One example might be research investigates the communication of registered nurses to understand how they use language to define and enact their professional responsibilities. Research has discovered that nurses routinely refer to themselves as “patient advocates” and state that their profession is unique, valuable, and distinct from being an assistant to physicians. Having this understanding can be useful for enacting change by educating physicians and nurses about the impacts of their language choices in health care.
A second intended outcome of Communication research is prediction and control. Ideas of prediction and control are taken from the physical sciences (remember our discussion of Empirical Laws theories in the last chapter?). Many Communication researchers want to use the results of their research to predict and control communication in certain contexts. This type of research can help us make communicative choices from an informed perspective. In fact, when you communicate, you often do so with the intention of prediction and control. Imagine walking on campus and seeing someone you would like to ask out. Because of your past experiences, you predict that if you say certain things to them in a certain way, you might have a greater likelihood that they will respond positively. Your predictions guide your behaviors in order to control the exchange at some level. This same idea motivates many Communication researchers to approach their research with the intention of being able to predict and control communication contexts. For example, in the article The Fear of Public Speaking, Sian Beilock, Ph.D explains prediction and control in action.
A third intended outcome of Communication research is positive critical/cultural change in the world. Scholars often perform research in order to challenge communicative norms and effect cultural and societal change. Research that examines health communication campaigns, for example, seeks to understand how effective campaigns are in changing our health behaviors such as using condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases or avoiding high fat foods. When it is determined that health campaigns are ineffective, researchers often suggest changes to health communication campaigns to increase their efficacy in reaching the people who need access to the information (Stephenson & Southwell).
As humans, researchers have particular goals in mind. Having an understanding of what they want to accomplish with their research helps them formulate questions and develop appropriate methodologies for conducting research that will help them achieve their intended outcomes.
Remember that theoretical paradigms offer different ways to understand communication. While it is possible to examine communication from multiple theoretical perspectives, it has been our experience that our colleagues tend to favor certain theoretical paradigms over others. Put another way, we all understand the world in ways that make sense to us.
Which theoretical paradigm(s) do you most align yourself with? How would this influence what you would want to accomplish if you were researching human communication? What types of communication phenomena grab your attention? Why? These are questions that researchers wrestle with as they put together their research projects.
As you’ve learned, the actual process of doing research is called the methodology. While most researchers have preferences for certain theoretical paradigms, most researchers also have preferred methodologies for conducting research in which they develop increased expertise throughout their careers. As with theories, there are a large number of methodologies available for conducting research. As we did with theories, we believe it is easier for you to understand methodologies by categorizing them into paradigms. Most Communication researchers have a preference for one research paradigm over the others. For our purposes, we have divided methodological paradigms into 1) rhetorical methodologies, 2) quantitative methodologies, and 3) qualitative methodologies.