Six Department of Communication undergraduates from UCSB received a Top 3 Paper Award at the 8th Annual Undergraduate Scholars Research Conference that was held on Saturday, February 19 in Monterey, California. Britney Craighead, one of the student researchers, reported that being presented with a Top 3 Paper award “was an extremely exciting moment for all of us research assistants. I felt honored that our paper was selected as one of the top papers in the Western United States.”

USRC is an extraordinary opportunity for undergraduate scholars and researchers to showcase their work and receive feedback from experienced scholars. The Undergraduate Scholars Research Conference is sponsored by the Western States Communication Association whose purpose is to unite people who have an academic or professional interest in communication and who want to promote their mutual educational interests.

Britney Craighead, Callie Hargis, Joseph Kim, Ted McCrea, Georgina McNerney, and Vanessa Werkheiser submitted a paper entitled The Effectiveness of Word Completion Tasks as a Measure of Aggressive Cognitions. Many papers were submitted for review, and only 36 were accepted. Due to the competitive nature of this conference, the UCSB students were accepted because of their exceptional hard work and dedication to the project. Additionally, the students received a Top 3 Paper Award, which is an outstanding achievement.

Dr. Rene Weber, Professor in the Communication Department, brought the students together in 2010 as research assistants and challenged them to create and implement a study relating aggression and interactive media. The students spent roughly ten weeks preparing for the study and another ten weeks conducting an experiment using video games and the implementation of a word completion task as a measure of aggressive thoughts.

Overall, the students felt that writing the paper and conducting a full scale experiment enhanced their academic careers at UCSB. They enjoyed applying all that they have learned in the classrooms to a real world problem. The students agreed that the most interesting part of conducting the experiment was observing how much emotion some subjects displayed after being criticized over something as trivial as a video game strategy. They also realized exactly how hard it is to conduct academic research but were able to learn from their mistakes and grow as both students and individuals. After presenting the study, student Britney Craighead reported that attending the Undergraduate Scholars Research Conference helped her see the importance of effectively communicating research findings to others. She also enjoyed learning about the projects that other undergraduate students across the Western United States have been working on.

The question of whether violent media leads to aggressive thoughts and behaviors has been a controversial topic over the last decade. More specifically, Dr. Weber has ventured to determine how the interactive nature of video games affects levels of aggression compared to other forms of non-interactive media. Dr. Weber and his students sought to add to the body of research on this very topic. After being randomly assigned to play a video game condition that varied in both violence and levels of interactivity, subjects were then asked to write an essay on the game-play strategies they employed. The students’ essays were criticized, which served as an insult, and following this, the students were asked to perform a number of tasks, among them a word completion task to measure aggressive thoughts. No significant interaction was found between levels of violence, levels of interactivity, and the number of aggressive vs. non-aggressive thoughts in the word completion task. However, additional analyses revealed a number of serious problems with the word completion task as a measure of aggressive cognition that were not addressed in previous studies. As a conclusion, Dr. Weber’s students recommend a revision of standard word completion tasks used in media violence studies.

The UCSB Communication Department is pleased to see its students going above and beyond what is required in the classroom and applauds these students for applying their knowledge and contributing to academic research in the communication field.


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