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Flow Experiences and Media  

Paula T. Wang, Kylie Woodman, and René Weber

“Flow” originated in the field of positive psychology and describes an optimal psychological state obtained when skilled individuals face challenges that leave them creatively stimulated, attentionally immersed, and flourishing. It was introduced into the communication literature at the turn of the 21st century, when media researchers began to revisit enduring questions surrounding media use, selection, and behavior. At the time, the established uses and gratifications (U&G) framework offered limited explanatory power to address newer questions arising from the emergence of interactive media such as the proliferation of video game consoles and advent of early social media. Flow has since become increasingly adopted within the field of media research as an alternate approach that addresses many of the criticisms of the U&G framework. Flow is characterized by a single key antecedent—that participants engage in an activity that maintains strict balance between task challenge and user skill. Video games in particular offer the ideal vessel for flow because they most easily fulfill the required challenge–skill balance due to their interactive and adaptable nature. Attempts to advance the development of the flow construct have faced challenges stemming from conceptual ambiguity and operational inconsistency, resulting in findings that are difficult to consolidate across studies. Despite these contentions, nascent research has been largely focused on identifying the correlates and predictors used to measure flow across new behavioral, psychophysiological, and neurological avenues. The development of more robust measures of flow will allow researchers to resolve lingering conceptual ambiguities and answer new and emerging questions, such as the length, depth, and stability of flow episodes and the role of flow in promoting problematic gaming behavior and behavioral addictions.

Article

Virtual Reality Horror Games and Fear in Gaming  

Tammy Jin-Hsuan Lin

Fear is a basic human emotion important for survival and for staying alert to potential danger. In psychology, fear is defined as a discrete emotion to help humans adapt to the environment and serves as a signal for potential danger to help humans avoid or prepare for such threats. While fear is typically experienced through real-world threats as a natural response for survival, modern society also exposes us to fear through mediated content like movies and news. Interactive media, such as video games and virtual reality (VR), have emerged as new ways to experience fear because of their immersive environments. Researchers have discovered that people have similar reactions to both real-life and mediated threats. Previous studies have explored the reasons and methods behind how people experience fear through media. With advancements in technology, researchers have also examined the emotional impact of interactive media, such as video games and VR. This article examines fear elements, fear reactions, and coping reactions in video games and VR. Results indicate that horror games are the most likely to elicit fear responses in video games, and participants often experience greater cognitive than physical reactions. In VR, research has shown that elements that make players feel realistic inside the games, termed plausibility illusion elements, are most effective in eliciting fear. Players’ reactions toward the VR horror games include active approach strategies, or a constant reminder that the VR events are not real; directly disengaging physically and mentally; and other self-help coping strategies. In addition to immediate fear during VR-horror gameplay, some players showed residual fear on the day after they finished playing the game, indicating that the Tetris effect is strong in VR-horror games. Overall, the empirical evidence in existing gaming literature show that emotional responses are greater in VR than in non-VR video games. The literature also explores the appeal of horror games, and their mechanisms are reviewed. By understanding the fear responses of audiences in video games and VR, researchers and the industry can design effective intervention and training materials. Media-elicited fear, mediated fright, is reviewed, followed by the appeal of horror games. Game elements from the design perspective to discuss various elements in horror games that may elicit fear are also reviewed. Fear reactions, negative emotions experienced in horror games and other game-related elements such as music and soundtrack, virtual environment, game characters’ appearance, and their facial expressions, all contributed to the fear emotion among players. The discussion of unique affordances and traits of VR and its implications conclude the article.

Article

The Ethnic Heritage of Party Politics and Political Communication in Lusophone African Countries  

Susana Salgado and Afonso Biscaia

The processes through which ethnicity becomes visible are varied, and its impacts have not always been the same throughout history. Investigating the roles ethnicity played in Angolan, Mozambican, Cape Verdean, and São Tomé and Principean histories makes clear that colonizers themselves placed different emphases on the relevance and the role of ethnicity in these countries. Currently, partly due to the traumas engendered by decades of conflict in Angola and Mozambique, ethnicity is mostly a silent factor, operating in the ways people interact with one another but not overtly mentioned by politicians. The insular nations’ (Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe) history with ethnicity is different from that of their continental counterparts, – partly due to the influence of Creoleness – but is not devoid of tensions; nevertheless, politicians from both archipelagic countries tend to downplay the influence of ethnicity, even if its effects can also be occasionally but subtly felt. More recently, mainstream political discourses focused on the idea of the “unitary nation” are being paired with those of spontaneous movements advocating the valorization of local cultures and languages, which are being boosted by the use of social media.

Article

Cognitive Skills Acquired From Video Games  

Emma G. Cunningham and C. Shawn Green

Due to the massive engagement with video games worldwide in innumerable forms and iterations, researchers have sought to understand the impact playing video games might have on the human brain and behavior. Although research on video games resides in a vast array of disciplines, including social, developmental, clinical, and educational psychology, this work focuses on research specifically in the cognitive sphere. From early research providing sound evidence for the positive impacts of action games on perceptual cognitive skills, to recent work refining methodologies for differentiating the effects of a wide range of embedded mechanics within broader game genres, the field has addressed a number of increasingly complex and critical questions. Research in the field has explored the effects of many game genres’ unique mechanics and in-game goals. Specifically, studies have found that action games positively impact perceptual skills as well as higher-order attentional control and executive function skills, while game genres that utilize action-oriented mechanics including Action-Role Playing Games and Real Time Strategy games also induce similar effects, if to a lesser extent. These results have been observed both through correlational studies, where player status is an existing characteristic of participants, and through intervention studies, where novice participants are trained on a specific game to establish causality between game play and cognitive performance. Although less research has been dedicated to the effects of puzzle games, playing such games has been found to impact higher cognitive skills such as problem-solving and fluid intelligence. Building upon this body of work, future research should explore the cognitive impacts of a more diverse set of game types, in-game experiences, and cognitive constructs as well as the mechanisms through which they are impacted. This should include work dedicated to the effects of puzzle and mini games, and the impact of games on higher cognitive skills including planning, problem-solving, and fluid intelligence, where relatively little research has been dedicated in the past. Further, research should explore the differences in training outcomes from games, between immediate transfer of skills from training to test and the enhancement of the meta-skill of “learning to learn.” Together, such work will allow game play to continue to evolve from pure entertainment to a force for good.

Article

Alternative Media and Ethnic Politics in Kenya  

Susan M. Kilonzo and Catherine Muhoma

The history of the use of alternative media in Kenya’s politics shows evidence that it was in use in 2007, when the country came into the brink of a genocide; and, prominently in use, in the recent 2022 general elections. The development of fiber optic cable, and availability of Internet connection, with expanded use of mobile telephony in the country, is a direct link to the change in political dynamics, and increased use of social media. Subsequently, the availability of alternative media has revolutionized political engagements by enhancing participatory approach while connecting marginalized populations to the political elite. The new wave of alternative media also strengthens the arguments that politics and political processes are no longer for the elite. Further, the new wave of social media can also be used to explain changes seen in the use of ethnicity as a card for mobilization as well as demobilization in political processes surrounding elections. Campaigning and canvasing is no longer bounded by geographical spaces. Ethnic coalescing is not just a physical phenomenon. Mobile telephony and the Internet, which facilitate connection to alternative media platforms allows for virtual spaces for ethnic meetings and discussions. Anyone, even in remotest areas of the country, is able to participate in political debates and forums so long as they can afford a smart phone, and/or Internet connection. The former physical political processes and engagements, especially during campaigns, elections, tallying and acceptance or rejection of results, and which were perceived to be highly sensitive given the ethnic politics that has characterized the country for several decades, are now neutralized through virtual representation of facts as well as propaganda. The vibrancy of these activities present the research arena with a rich field of vignettes from alternative media accounts in the form of Twitter, Facebook and Blogs, to exemplify how ethnic groups align to their preferred candidates, specifically the Presidential contestants. This kind of approach allows for unveiling of an era of e-democracy and e-politics, developments that were otherwise impossible a few years back. Such platform allows for an exposé of a discourse that shows that, social media platforms may be possible tools for reducing physical violence and neutralizing extreme ethnicity as seen in the surprising calmness witnessed after the Supreme Court of Kenya upheld the contested 2022 election results.

Article

Dark Participation: A Critical Overview  

Thorsten Quandt and Johanna Klapproth

The profound sociopolitical transformation processes that characterize the second decade of the 21st century have also led to a focus on new topics and a reconsideration of previously established approaches in communication studies. In particular, the academic discussion of online communication has drastically changed in tone and focus. While the new possibilities of online participation were initially described from a predominantly optimistic perspective stressing the high potential for deliberative democracy, work in communication studies at the end of the second decade of the 21st century paints a rather dystopian picture of the online world. The growing attention paid to problematic forms of user participation has led to various new concepts describing phenomena such as toxicity, disinformation, or hate speech. The concept of “dark participation” introduced by Thorsten Quandt takes up the profound change in perspective with a systematization of negative forms of participation in a unifying umbrella model. This generalistic model delineates the variants of dark participation according to five dimensions: the actors, the reasons for their behavior, the targets or objects of their participation, the intended audiences, and the structure of the process. In addition to this systematic categorization of negative participatory forms, the term dark participation also serves as a rhetorical device for commenting on the observable change in perspective: The original publication encourages a process of critical reflection on normativity in the discussion of participation and, by calling for more balance in the analysis of online participation, warns against reducing complex social communication phenomena to a one-sided positive or negative perspective. Since its initial publication, the concept of dark participation has served as a theoretical point of reference for various empirical studies. Due to its use as a rhetorical device and the critical examination of previous participation approaches, the original publication also stimulated an intensive discussion about the proposed concept. In addition to the critique regarding the theoretical assumptions and the distinction between “dark” and positive participatory forms, some authors also demand an extension, a different contextualization, or an elaboration of specific details. As a universal concept with a deliberate openness to such further delimitations, dark participation can serve as a starting point for theoretical extensions, especially in the research field of (digital) journalism and social media, and as an impulse for transfers to other related fields.

Article

Aging Grandparents and Grandchildren and Communication  

Quinten Bernhold

Grandparents and grandchildren report their relationships with one another are meaningful in many respects, including having the opportunities to exchange affection, receive support, and learn new things from one another. Since 2000, theoretically grounded communication research on grandparent–grandchild (GP–GC) relationships has notably increased. This research has been largely centered in three theoretical domains: research using affection exchange theory (AET), communication accommodation theory (CAT), and communication theory of identity (CTI). AET is a bioevolutionary theory that holds that giving and receiving affectionate communication help facilitate viability and fertility. Consistent with this theory, grandparents have reported better mental health when they express more affectionate communication for their grandchildren, and grandchildren have reported better mental health when they receive more affectionate communication from their grandparents. Researchers can advance the study of GP–GC affectionate communication in the future by examining if affectionate communication is indirectly associated with health outcomes via certain indices of relational solidarity (e.g., shared family identity, relational closeness, perceived availability of social support). CAT is an intergroup and interpersonal communication theory that describes the adjustments speakers make during interaction, as well as the ramifications of those adjustments for receivers. Receivers might interpret a speaker as overaccommodating them (i.e., going too far in the adjustment necessary for appropriate interaction, such as patronizing talk) or underaccommodating them (i.e., not going far enough in the adjustment necessary for appropriate interaction, such as engaging in painful self-disclosures). When grandchildren receive more overaccommodation and underaccommodation from their grandparents, they report more negative prejudicial attitudes toward older adults as a whole. Future researchers should examine how perceptions of accommodation and nonaccommodation in GP–GC relationships are associated with other types of prejudice, such as religious prejudice. Finally, the CTI posits that people hold four frames of identity: personal identity (how people internally view themselves), enacted identity (how people behave or perform their identity), relational identity (how people perceive that their relational partners view them and how people define themselves as in relationships with others), and communal identity (how large social collectives are broadly defined, such as in the mass media). These identity frames can contradict one another, creating identity gaps. Both grandchildren’s and grandparents’ identity gaps (personal-relational and personal-enacted identity gaps) have been indirectly associated with lower intentions on the part of grandchildren to provide care for their grandparents via grandchildren’s reduced communication satisfaction. Future researchers would be well served to examine identity gaps between three or four frames of identity. In sum, many insights have been generated by GP–GC communication research informed by these three theories, and there are numerous ways to continue these lines of research in the future.

Article

LGBTQ Youth Cultures and Social Media  

Olu Jenzen

Research has established that access to the Internet and social media is vital for many lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer + (LGBTQ+) young people. LGBTQ+ social media youth cultures form across platforms and are shaped by a range of media affordances and vernaculars. LGBTQ+ youth use social media for self-expression, connecting with other LGBTQ+ young people, entertainment, activism, and collecting and curating information. Through a digital cultural studies approach, the essay discusses themes of LGBTQ+ youth identity work, communities and networked publics, and youth voice to explore how digital and social media imaginaries and practices produce new forms of socialites. It situates LGBTQ+ youth social media practices in relation to the affective economy and algorithmic exclusion of platforms, as well as in relation to neoliberal paradigms of gender and sexuality and homotolerance.

Article

Development and Effects of Internet Addiction in China  

Qiaolei Jiang

Internet addiction is a growing social issue in many societies worldwide. With the largest number of Internet users worldwide, China has witnessed the growth of the Internet along with the development and effects of Internet addiction, especially among the young. Originally reported anecdotally in mass media, Internet addiction has become an issue of great public concern after more than 20 years. The process of Internet addiction as an emerging risk in the Chinese context can be a showcase for risks related to information and communication technologies (ICTs), health, and everyday life. The term Internet addiction was first coined in the Western context and has since been recognized as a technology-driven social problem in China. Plenty of anecdotes, increasing academic research, and public awareness and concerns have put the threat of Internet addiction firmly on the policy agenda. Therefore, for prevention and intervention, research projects, rehab facilities, welfare services, and self-help programs have spread all over the country, and related regulations, policies, and laws have changed accordingly. Although controversies remain, through the staging of, and coping with, Internet addiction, people can better understand China’s digital natives and contemporary life.

Article

Media Literacy and Communication  

Erica Scharrer and Yuxi Zhou

Media literacy refers to the ability to interact with media from a position of active inquiry, carefully considering media texts, the forces and factors that shape those texts, and the ways in which audiences interpret the texts or otherwise respond. Media access, use, creation, analysis, and evaluation skills are considered essential for citizenship in the contemporary world. Media literacy education encompasses efforts to advance media literacy within a group of individuals and spur their motivation to apply media literacy skills and perspectives in interactions with media. Yet, there are barriers that impede the widespread adoption of media literacy education in various global locations. There is disparity, for instance, in the degree to which local, regional, or national policies support media literacy education in schools as well as in the training, funding, or other resources available to educators. Considerable variability in the assumptions and objectives that scholars and practitioners bring to media literacy education has been identified. Some of that variability reflects differing emphases in Communication and Media Studies paradigms including whether media literacy education should be considered as a means of protecting children and adolescents from the potential for negative effects of media. Sometimes positioned as an alternative to a more protectionist approach, media literacy education can be viewed as a platform from which to encourage young people’s creative self-expression and to emphasize their (and others’) agency rather than vulnerability. The ways in which media literacy education is carried out and how and what is assessed to determine what such education can achieve differs, as well. In spite of these differences, there are overarching commonalities in media literacy conceptualization and empirical evidence that media literacy education can build skills necessary for citizenship in an increasingly media- and information-rich world.