The Digital Communication Methods Lab, an initiative of the RPA Communication, renewed its support to a series of innovative research projects focused on substantive and methodological development for communication science research in partnership with Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR) members.

After a successful round in 2018, three new projects have been selected to receive seed funding for 2019 and complement ongoing activities at the lab.

Augmented and Virtual Reality Applications

VR in it together: The role of embodiment and interaction on hedonic and eudaemonic social VR experiences

dr. Jeroen Lemmens, dr. Sindy Sumter, Hande Sungur, MSc

Several studies have shown that experiences become more enjoyable and meaningful when they are experienced together. Virtual Reality offers immersive opportunities to engage in all sorts of social experiences without physical or geographical constraints. However, little is known about the factors that may enhance the feelings of connection with a virtual partner or the perceived enjoyment of social VR. In general, VR is known to produce a strong sense of embodiment, the sensation that one’s physical body is replaced by a virtual representation. Embodiment with an individual’s digital self-representation can activate an assimilation effect, where the perceived attributes of the avatar will be absorbed into the user’s personality, leading to possible changes in attitudes and behavior. Our aim is to determine whether manipulating users’ sense of embodiment (e.g., age, sex, race) drives the effectiveness of social VR experiences and how similar manipulations of the virtual partner interact with these relationships.

Media Exposure

Out of control? How users interact with news recommender systems

dr. Judith Moeller, Felicia Loecherbach, MSc., dr. Damian Trilling and dr. Wouter van Atteveldt (VU)

Recently, there has been a heated debate about the consequences of filter bubbles and online echo chambers for the public sphere and democracy at large. Two solutions have been proposed to overcome potential biases in algorithmically curated news feeds. First, the algorithm itself can be adjusted to recommend more diverse content. The second option is to increase user agency by providing tools to tweak the algorithmic selection. To test the success of the two options, we will carry out an experiment in which approximately 200 users engage with our own news recommendation service (3bij3) for the period of two weeks.

Measuring exposure to consumer recommendations on websites with eye tracking

dr. Ewa Masłowska

The project investigates how we can reliably measure which elements of websites consumers are exposed to, in order to advance our knowledge about the effects of these elements on consumer information processing and decision making. The project will develop eye-tracking measurements for exposure to online content that are predictive of consumer behavior and examine to what extent those measurements correlate with other (digital) methods (e.g., mouse-move tracking). By doing this the project aims to create a stepping stone to understand the broader theme of consumer engagement. Furthermore, it aims to develop methodologies that will be applicable to other context of online communication than the online consumption context.

Measuring media exposure with mobile experience sampling

dr. Lukas Otto

With “the end of screentime” due to digitalization, personalization and hybrid media environments in mind, communication scholars are desperately searching for new ways to assess media exposure. Digital devices could be part of the solution when it comes to the measurement of news media usage. Within this project, we use the mobile experience sampling method (mESM) to assess people’s exposure to political communication online and offline. We use short questionnaires on participants’ Smartphone to measure news media exposure as well as political discussions directly after the reception situation several times per day. By using different mESM designs, we do not only try and improve self-report measures of communication exposure, but also advance the development of intensive longitudinal methods in communication research.

The future of sleep: the influence of digital media on sleep

dr. Sindy Sumter & dr. Susanne Baumgartner

Sleep plays an important role for physical and mental health. Therefore, it is worrisome that many people today experience sleep problems. Among college students, sleep problems are common with a quarter to a third of first-year-students reporting sleep problems. Smartphones are considered one of the main culprits for these sleep problems among young people. Smartphones are frequently used by young people when already in bed and have become an integral part of their evening routines. There is cumulative evidence that suggests that (nighttime) smartphone use is related to later bedtimes, more sleep problems, lower sleep quality, and morning depletion. This project investigates the effects of smartphone use on sleep among emerging adults by using an innovative research design. A field study will be conducted in which smartphone use as well as sleep are tracked automatically and continuously with the use of wearables and smartphone log data.