Meditate to Change Your State: MI Professor Publishes RelaxU App

Posted on: December 5, 2016

Just in time to help you keep your New Year’s resolutions, MI Professor Carrie Heeter has published a new meditation app.

RelaxU includes five 10-minute seated meditations: Calming, Favorite Place in Nature, Comfort, Releasing, and Stability. Each has been carefully designed, applying the tools of yoga (mental focus, breathing, gentle movement, and meditation objects) to help you change the state of your system in a desired direction.

relaxu1Three of these meditations were used in a research study by Heeter and colleagues on benefits of meditation for hospice and palliative health care providers. Significant, substantial changes were observed when these meditations were practiced regularly over a 6-week period.  For example, health care providers reported increased ability to manage stress, improved focus, heightened emotional awareness, and more listening to and trusting bodily sensations.

Heeter teaches user experience and serious game design. Since 2013, she has been studying and working with meditation expert/mind-body therapist Dr. Marcel Allbritton to design RelaxU and other cybermeditation experiences.

She values the humbling and sometimes hilarious privilege of working with a content expert who is also her meditation teacher.  Collaboration involves a certain amount of creative tension, exacerbated by the stress of deadlines. But in this case, it was essential to approach every aspect of creating the apps from an appropriate mental state. The state of mind of the creators colors the creation. So Heeter and Allbritton engage in “mindful wrestling,” rather than heated discussions. If she becomes agitated while programming or editing audio she stops (perhaps to do a mediation), resuming when her state is calm.

These meditations are simple tools for novice meditators that help you quickly change the state of your system (mind and body). Though simple, the meditations are highly refined, each on about the tenth iteration.  The designs draw from the science of yoga and meditation, Allbritton’s meditation expertise, Heeter’s user experience, game, and technology design background, extensive user testing, and scientific research.


The RelaxU icon

RelaxU meditations allow the individual to have their own experience. You move and breathe at your own pace, moving only as far as is comfortable. Subtle meditation design approaches such as synchronizing gentle movements with inhale and exhale can quickly change the state of the system. Meditation objects are also specific to the person. For example, in the Place in Nature meditation, you are guided to think about a favorite place in nature. The place each person thinks of will be unique to them.

The meditations on the RelaxU app are tools for changing the state of your system. The first time you do one, quite a bit of your attention will be on figuring out what to do.  Returning to that same meditation the next day, your experience can be more focused and deeper. Doing a meditation repeatedly over a period of time exercises and builds mental attention skills.

RelaxU is published by Heeter’s company, Mindtoon Lab. It is available for free on the Apple app store and on Google Play. To find it, search for “Mindtoon Lab” and then scroll down to RelaxU.

Mindtoon™ meditations are not medical interventions. They are potentially helpful tools designed based on Mind-Body Therapy principles, that may or may not be helpful to any particular individual.


By Carrie Heeter, PhD

Professor of Media and Information, Michigan State University

Director, Mindtoon Lab


By Savannah Swix

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New research explains the roles of social media communicators in organizational settings

Posted on: December 2, 2016

In modern day organizations, social media tools enable companies to gather and disseminate information, engage with their audience and create relationships with multiple communities.

Companies are hiring social media communicators to represent their organization, interact with the public, and speak and publish on behalf of the company due to its newfound necessity.

To understand the roles of social media communicators (SMC) in organizational communication efforts, Serena Carpenter Ph.D, assistant professor of Journalism Innovations in MSU’s School of Journalism, and Alisa Lertpratchya M.A., a doctoral student in MSU’s AD + PR department, applied a variety of research methods.

“I am fascinated with how people working within innovative roles navigate that role,” said Carpenter. “The internet and other new technologies have led to a number of workers working in newly created roles.”

Exploring roles

The first study conducted by Carpenter and Lertpratchya explored role stressors associated with SMCs and how they handled job stress in this recently created position. The purpose of the study was to assess how people holding innovative roles learn and navigate the responsibilities of often ill-defined jobs.

Carpenter and Lertpratchya drew results from qualitative interviews that investigated how this digital workforce contributes to the organization when their role is not well understood.

The interviews revealed that SMCs did not experience conflict as a result of leadership holding multiple expectations of them. Instead, a large portion of SMCs experienced role ambiguity because management and coworkers did not fully understand what they did for the organization.

As a result, SMCs used several tactics and resources for guidance in learning more about their responsibilities. Results showed SMCs navigated the ambiguity by turning to search engines to get questions answered, having a mentor, networking, participating in seminars and training sessions and more.

“In the digital media environment, social media communicators addressed ambiguity by banding together with outside social media experts to help each other advance within their own organizations.” said Carpenter.

While jobs varied for SMCs involved in the study, SMCs overall saw the ambiguity of their role as empowering rather than stressful. In their respective companies, SMCs were regarded as experts because of their ability to use social media to improve campaign efforts, relationships and other communication tactics.

The study concludes that knowledge workers, or SMCs, must regularly learn and share their expertise to manage role ambiguity. But as a whole, the study deduced that social media communicators were not only adept and personable, they were digitally literate and self reliant, too.

Expanding understanding

Carpenter and Lertpratchya conducted a second study to create and define a set of social media communicator roles, leading to the creation of a measure that illuminates what these employees do within an organization.

“The study specifies the various functions of their position,” said Carpenter. “People working in such positions can better understand their job responsibilities and leadership can better understand how to manage digital media workers.”

To understand social media communicator roles, 10 SMCs were interviewed and asked 10 multi-part questions. Following the interviews, the researchers received feedback from social media experts that assessed validity and evaluated their scale. Additionally, Carpenter and Lertpratchya administered a pretest to eight professional communicators and surveyed experts to assess and adjust their questionnaire structure.

As a final step, the two researchers conducted a quantitative survey to professionals under the SMC role.

Roles is a sociological concept, and roles aid social scientists in understanding how multiple publics such as management, colleagues, audiences, and other social media experts influence how they define their role,” said Carpenter.

Defining these roles can help inform those unfamiliar with the various roles and responsibilities of SMCs. The results of this study showed five common general behaviors that describe the roles of SMCs: customer service provider, mobilizer, information disseminator, researcher and community builder.

Read more about the stressors associated with SMCs and the various roles of SMCs through a scale.

By Lily Clark

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Interdisciplinary team led by ComArtSci receives USDA grant to study retail purchase decisions

Posted on: November 14, 2016

vlcsnap-2016-11-11-13h26m20s268The answers behind purchase decisions may lie in the eye of the beholder according to a recently funded interdisciplinary study involving the Michigan State University departments of Advertising and Public Relations and Horticulture.

Beginning early 2017, Professor of Retailing Patricia Huddleston will join Professor of Horticulture Marketing Bridget Behe in leading a student research team that will use eye-tracking technology to investigate how people make product choices—in this case, plants. The two-year project recently received a Federal State Marketing and Improvement Program grant for $136,000 through the United States Departmehuddleston-pat-09132016-3032-2nt of Agriculture.

"I've always been interested in what happens at the moment of truth," Huddleston says. "It's fascinating to looked at what consumers do when they are actually picking a product off a shelf or a rack. The context here are plants, but you can apply this research to any type of product."

Huddleston explains that much of the success of retailing depends on getting things right—or the science of finding the right mix of product assortment, pricing and merchandising that attracts and entices consumers. The recently funded study, she says, will look at how merchandise—specifically selections of herbs or flowering annuals—ispresented at the point of purchase, and how information in displays affects consumer behavior.

The study will be conducted on campus the first year, then migrate to retail settings in mid-Michigan in 2018. Huddleston and Behe will construct displays that vary in product volume and complexity, and then enlist subjects to pick a particular plant for purchase. Participants will wear second-generation Tobii eye-tracking glasses during their retail experience, which enables researchers to gather and analyze data about what shoppers look at, for how long, and in what sequence before making their purchase decision. Participants will also complete a questionnaire to further assess cues and previous product involvement that may influence their decision.behe-bridget

Huddleston says it's exciting to capture physical evidence through the eye-tracking technology, and to translate the results for retailers. Both she and Behe
also say the research charts new territory since previous research involving visual gaze path analysis has typically examined highly-packaged products in boxes and bottles—and not minimally packaged products like plants, apparel, furniture and art.

"This project will push us a bit more in our learning because we will capture, manage and relate visual data in a more realistic retail setting," says Behe. "And what better products to explore the shopping process than plants? Besides, if we all planted more plants, the world would be a better place."


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Advertising professor works to eradicate bullying from schools and universities

Posted on: November 7, 2016

Bullying is a chronic issue for school administrators and instructors. With social media acting as an additional digital environment for students,alhabash-saleem-20150925-6588 the name-calling and destructive criticism has become even harder to contain.

Saleem Alhabash, Assistant professor in the MSU Department of Advertising + Public Relations, was invited to speak about his research studying cyberbullying and why people don’t report or take action against bullies online as a panelist for Defeat The Label, a social
movement that promotes inclusivity and acceptance in schools around the world. The group hosted its first community conversation about bullying in Novi, Mich. in October.

MSU’s partnership with Defeat The Label was orchestrated by an East Lansing local and longtime university employee Kevin Epling. Epling began advocating against bullying more than a decade ago after his middle school aged son committed suicide as a result of being bullied by fellow students.

“I’ve been doing some work on cyberbullying and Kevin tried to connect us with Defeat The Label,” said Alhabash. “We organized this community conversation that gathered school administrators from different parts of the state, school educators, students and parents and other people to try to talk about what can we do to promote non-bullying in our schools.”

Alhabash’s research focuses heavily on college students, emphasizing how bullying does not end when a student graduates high school and joins a college campus. He explained that 20 percent of Michigan State University college students report being bullied – in person and online – and 70 percent say they have seen someone else being bullied. He said it can be seen in greek life, dorms and in the classroom.

“It is still happening but no one is talking about it because there’s a big stigma that bullying is something for young people and we don’t want to chat about it,” said Alhabash. “The work that I’m trying to do now is trying to shift the discussion from the stigmatized bullying and cyberbullying and specifically talk about aggression and digital aggression.”

Alhabash recommends that system and software designers implement more strict policies to curb the prevalence of online bullying. More simply, he said, people can take action by reporting harmful content and speech as well as keeping a record of it.

“When you see something mean happening online record it. Take a screenshot,” said Alhabash. “Grab it any way because past experiences have shown that some of these aggressive behaviors online can turn into really bad things such as a person committing suicide or someone telling someone to commit suicide.”

At the panel, Alhabash said educators responded well to what he had to say, but they questioned how to promote kindness in the classroom when the current political climate of the presidential election is based on bullying.

“It’ll be interesting to see after this election campaign how the rates of bullying and cyberbullying go up,” said Alhabash.

By Savannah Swix

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Journalism scholars turn to social media to answer research questions

Posted on: September 30, 2016
Professor School of Journalism Rachel Mourao

Assistant Professor in the School of Journalism, Rachel Mourao

There’s no denying that social media affects news and storytelling. Recent research by two journalism scholars explores the depth and breadth of the impact of social media on news delivery, bias, and perception.

Rachel Mourao, a new ComArtSci faculty member and assistant professor in MSU’s School of Journalism, joined Shannon McGregor from the University of Texas’ School of Journalism, to research news coverage with three focus areas in mind: gender, elections, and social networks.

Mourao says the research began when she entered the Ph.D. program at the University of Texas; where she met McGregor and joined forces. When it came to journalistic coverage of elections, they questioned what has changed and what hasn’t changed since the addition of social media into the news cycle.

In their research, the team explored how journalists cover political events by examining the coverage of the U.S. elections, debates, and mid-term elections. Mourao says the research examined “old theories to see how things have or haven’t changed with the added technological element. A lot of times what I find is that nothing really changes. You’ve just brought in old norms and values and put them in a new place.”

Reliant on social media

While observing journalist’s patterns, Mourao and McGregor came to two conclusions. The first was drawn from Mourao’s dissertation research on Brazilian protests, and concluded that journalists often turn to social media as a source of information during breaking news moments.

The second conclusion came from surveying activity around U.S. elections. They concluded that during a staged event, old norms are transferred to Twitter, meaning that newspaper-like characteristics shift to fit social media guidelines.

Mourao says her research can be distilled into a single concept: during protests or breaking news events, technology is more relied upon compared to staged events, when traditional media is often the go-to.  

Gender and media

Their research delved into gender patterns on social media during election periods and observed how female and male candidates interacted with their audiences. The data was garnered from a sum of more than three-quarters of a million tweets relating to various candidates in the 2014 U.S. midterm elections.

Mourao and McGregor had one goal in mind when it came to assessing how genders are treated differently in the media: gaining predictive power. The two readily admit that men and women candidates are treated differently by the media, and set out to examine how that translated to social networks. Mourao said her research aimed to create conditions that enabled the prediction of race outcomes and were based on the genders running.

Mourao says the research is relevant to politicians since it may help them better use their social networks. And while her research may not be directly applicable to journalists, she says the findings illuminate patterns of biases in the conversations journalists are a part of.

Ethical social media reporting

Politicians and journalists aside, Mourao says her research has implications on teaching students how to make sense of, and ethically report on, social media.

“Similar to the responsibilities that come with printing a newspaper, there are also responsibilities that come with retweeting someone and putting your opinion out there,” she says. “I think my research informs my teaching in a way that asks how to train journalists in the most ethical way while finding a meaningful way to use these tools.”

Read the full research report to learn more about their findings.


By Lily Clark

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MSU professor documents medical students in Flint

Posted on: August 30, 2016

Geri Alumit Zeldes, an associate professor and graduate studies director in MSU’s School of Journalism, has a documentary in the works. “Flint Med,” the tentative title, is about third and fourth-year medical students in the College of Human Medicine who are participating in the Leadership in Medicine for the Underserved Program (LMU) in Flint.

Zeldes says, “The film will capture the students as they engage with the community and with residents devastated by the lead water crisis.”

The inspiration for the film, Zeldes said, came from it being a “unique opportunity to bear witness to MSU students who are on the ground and fulfilling our university’s land grant mission to serve Michigan’s vulnerable populations.”

This story hits home for Zeldes. As a Flint native, she exclaimed that Flint isn’t just a place that’s home to her family, it’s a place “rich in storytellers.”

Some of the students who will be featured in the film were discovered on a “Windshield Tour,” a bus tour of Flint narrated by a Flint local. The film crew was present, making it easier to observe and gauge interest in the opportunity. Three LMU students were chosen based on their charisma, recommendation and the interest they expressed in the film project.

The documentary will consist of sit-down interviews of LMU students, Flint residents and MSU faculty and staff. Additionally, the documentary will include footage of students in action with accompanying interviews.

Although the LMU students will be in the film, they will also be asked to keep a weekly video diary to keep track of their experiences and to learn some film production skills.

Zeldes said the biggest challenge in making the film has been distance since the travel time to Flint has to be worth it to cover the expense. To help fund the project, Zeldes said she will be “pitching units and organizations to help defray production costs.”

Zeldes hopes the documentary will reach a general audience interested in the subject of the film.

“I want to document this part of Flint’s history, and I hope the film will move its viewers,” she said.

By Lily Clark

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Journalism Professor Making an Impact on Concussion Research

Posted on: May 10, 2016

at Planet Fitness in Novi, Tuesday, August 13, 2013.  Planet Fitness   Kathleen Galligan/Detroit Free Press

By Joanne C. Gerstner, Sports Journalist in Residence, School of Journalism

The gravity of the moment hit me, a few seconds after I walked into the dramatic grand main hall of the University of Zurich’s Student Union. It was the first week of December 2015, and I was far from Michigan State University and my sports journalism students.

My new life, for a week, was about serving as a Jacobs Foundation Neuroscience Journalism Fellow and zipping around Zurich to different labs and offices for private meetings with groundbreaking researchers. I was the first sports journalist in the world awarded the prestigious Fellowship honor, given to journalists engaged in significant coverage of neuroscience.

I was nervous as I walked into the University of Zurich, as the other four Fellows – two Americans and two Brits – were all involved in award-winning scientific and medical journalism. I was the wild card, the American sports journalist/college prof who covers concussions and sports neurology as a specialty for NPR and The New York Times. It soon became clear that not only was I warmly welcomed by the professors, doctors and fellow journalists, it turned out they were extremely intrigued by my world of sports and neurology.

My upcoming book, “Back in the Game: Why Concussion Doesn’t Have to End Your Athletic Career,” co-authored with noted sports neurologist Jeffrey Kutcher MD, talks to youth parents, coaches and athletes about brain health. We’ve spent more than three years researching and writing the book, and can’t wait for it to be released by Oxford University Press on September 1, 2016.

The impact of concussions is changing the way we play and think about sports. This led me to that incredible week in Switzerland, representing Michigan State as a proud sports journalist. I learned a lot about neurological development and saw how cutting-edge technologies are revealing the brain’s secrets. I have taken that knowledge back to my Michigan State students and my journalistic endeavors.

The power of journalism, present every day in what we teach at the MSU School of Journalism, is also demonstrated in how we lead the public discussion of sports neurology. I wove in some neuroscience into the spring 2016 semester of our senior-level sports journalism class, as well as into the frequent public speaking I do on concussions and sports.

Concussions aren’t going away in sports, but having a better-informed discussion – hopefully led by Spartan journalists – will go a long way to helping all of us be safer in athletics.

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Studying the Effects of Advertising for Benefit of Common Good

Posted on: May 9, 2016

saleem_featureSaleem Alhabash recognizes that when it comes to advertising, some people love it and some people don't. The Assistant Professor of Public Relations and Social Media also admits he's so fascinated by the advertising discipline that he's committed to studying its persuasive effects.

As Co-Director of the Media and Advertising Psychology (MAP) Lab through the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, Alhabash oversees research and analysis driven by the psychophysiological changes and eye movements that occur when people view mediated communication. And while that sounds a bit abstract, the overarching mission of the lab is simple.

"We're trying to understand how advertising is effective by studying it as a process," Alhabash said. "We want see the kinds of effects it has on people, and then address questions about those effects within an ethical and legal context."

Since the MAP Lab opened in 2014, Alhabash has been the principal investigator of several studies that have collected data via high-tech devices to measure physical responses like heart rate, respiration, facial expressions, skin conductance and eye movement.

In his most recent research, social networking sites and other social media platforms are being put under the MAP Lab "microscope" as Alhabash leads teams of faculty collaborators and students to unlock how new communication technologies influence attitudes and behaviors.

In one study, Alhabash seeks to understand how particular responses to alcohol advertisements can predict drinking behavior among students college age and younger. Findings show that exposure to alcohol ads on sites like Facebook and Instagram, as well as the number of likes, shares and comments an ad receives, affects drinking behaviors and perceptions.

"The moment people want to like, share and comment, the likelihood of them drinking increases significantly," Alhabash said. "We found that the marketing effects are more pronounced on students in low- to moderate-risk groups, which has great implications for regulations."

Currently, alcohol advertising on social media isn't regulated like it is through traditional media and is left to the discretion of the advertiser and social media venue.

"You have all these messages coming to underage people, showing them how cool it is to drink, which might quicken the onset of drinking," Alhabash said. "This doesn't just apply to alcohol, but to other harmful behaviors like drug use, unprotected sex or cigarette smoking. It can form an expectation of what the social norm is."

A targeted outcome of the study is to discover the strategies and tactics used to create effective, behavior-changing ads, and then to use those methods to create counter messages.

"Think about how easily messages are accessed on mobile phones," Alhabash said. "We want to find out what advertisers do that works, how those messages prime memories and create expectations, and then apply those tactics to convince underage people not to drink."

In addition to this research, Alhabash is collaborating on a MAP Lab study that examines impulsive or deviant behaviors on social media. Part of the research will focus on cyberbullying among college-age populations, another on more general causes of digital aggression across the life span.

"Is it the problem of the system of social media that makes people feel less restrained and more inclined to be aggressive? Or is it a certain type of person?" Alhabash asks.  "We're trying to come to a level of understanding about the precursors of digital aggression and why it happens."

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Measuring the Impact of Mediated Communication

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map_labFew would argue that media and advertising affect human perception.

But what one particular lab through the College of Communication Arts and Sciences is exploring is the immediate effect that media and advertising has on a person's cognitive, emotional and physiological responses, as well as subsequent behaviors.

Founded in 2014, the Media and Advertising Psychology (MAP) Lab is set up to observe and analyze the effect of mediated communication delivered through social media, television, advertising, print or multi-screen venues. Studies through the MAP Lab measure and collect data using the latest technology in psychophysiological and eye-tracking research.

"We're among the few labs in the country that combine the study of human psychology and physiology as it relates to media use," said Saleem Alhabash, MAP Lab Co-Director and Assistant Professor of Public Relations and Social Media. "What also makes us different is our intense focus on advertising, marketing and social media."

Housed in the Communication Arts and Sciences Building, the MAP Lab consists of a room for researchers and a room for research participants. The experimental room interfaces with devices that track measures like heart rate, pulse, respiration, electrodermal (skin) activity, and facial electromyography (muscle activation) and eye movements. The participant area comes complete with a recliner, TV, books and a large viewing screen – similar to a modern living room.

Researchers collect psychophysiological data using the BIOPAC MP150, while eye-tracking measures like gaze and gaze path, fixation, and duration are collected using the Tobii TX300 (a stationary device equipped with a 22-inch screen) and the Tobii Glasses 2 (a wearable eye tracker).

"By taking measurements as things are viewed, we can see a person's processes related to that particular message," Alhabash said. "For instance, did they pay attention? Did the message activate pleasant emotions? The notion is to see how these processes are linked to consumption behaviors later on."

Currently, MAP Lab Co-Directors Patricia Huddleston, Anastasia Knonova and Ashley Sanders-Jackson and more than two dozen graduate and undergraduate students are conducting multidisciplinary research through the MAP Lab in areas that include health communication, advertising, marketing, social media, retailing and media multitasking. The MAP Lab is funded by the Department of Advertising + Public Relations.

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Students provide IT solutions to local clients

Posted on: May 3, 2016

The ITM 444 (I.T. Project Management) Capstone is concluding on Thursday, April 28, 2016. This year, 16 organizations (9 sponsoring the I.T. Minor) participated and afforded our students experiential learning opportunities that related to web design, database development, social media communications, and video production.

Students in ITM 444, the capstone course for those pursuing a minor in Information Technology, spent their semester working with local clients to develop high level technology products for local businesses and organizations.

The class of 60 was broken up into 16 teams, and each team was given a client with a unique technology challenge related to web design, database development, social media communications and video production. Clients interested in working with students submitted an application and were hand selected.

John Donohoe, an account services specialist for Ciesa Design, a small design firm located in Lansing, heard about the class in an MSU Today update and decided to submit an application. Ciesa Design was looking for a new promotional video.

Donohoe is also a member of the MSU College of Arts and Letters Alumni Board Awards Committee, and submitted another application for the creation of a digitalized grant application process.

“I was involved with two groups and they both delivered professional products,” Donohoe said. “The Arts and Letters group listened to what we wanted and developed an interactive web tool that will make it easier for students and administrators in the grant application process.”

The team at Ciesa Design was also impressed with the promotional video and plan to show it at an upcoming a development conference.

“I definitely gained a lot of insight in how projects are managed and worked on in the real world, said Kyle Kulesza, a senior Media and Information student. “Working in groups on class projects is one thing, but the external client part really helped me learn skills I'll use in the future.”

The course is taught by Associate Professor Constantinos Coursaris and Assistant Professor Wietske Van Osch, both Media and Information faculty members.

By Victoria Bowles, senior Journalism major and ComArtSci Editorial Assistant

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