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Robertson School students, professor conduct study on police violence

Dec 20, 2016

Posted in: News

By William Lineberry

A research team of faculty, undergraduate and graduate students from the VCU Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture and VCU Psychology have begun an experimental study that seeks to better understand how viewing videos of police violence—as well as reading social media comments on these videos --  impacts emotional and mental health of media consumers.

The study is being conducted in the Robertson School’s Meditrina Lab located in the Temple Building. The research team--made up of four Ph.D. students and faculty members Paul Perrin from VCU Psychology and Karen McIntyre, Ph.D., from the Robertson School--will be using state-of-the-art equipment that tracks participants’ physiological responses while observing the videos and comments.

Director of the Robertson School, Hong Cheng, Ph.D., goes for a test run using the lab equipment for the study.
Director of the Robertson School, Hong Cheng, Ph.D., goes for a test run using the lab equipment for the study.

While wearing the monitoring devices, participants will watch a video of an African-American man being tased by a police officer that resulted in his death, McIntyre said. After this, while still wearing the monitors, participants will then read the corresponding social media comments posted about the video. The comments range from statements containing racial micro-aggressions, to messages with pro-social and constructive themes.

“We want to gauge the responses to the videos themselves, but we also want to see how these comments (both negative and positive) impact the viewers, too,” McIntyre said. “Do comments elevate the emotions from the video? Do they help mitigate some of the negative effects of the video? Can pro-social Facebook comments serve as a coping mechanism? These are what we want to answer.”

Through monitoring participants’ physical responses such as heart rates, facial movements and skin responses, the research team is able to capture reactions that most likely could not be documented through a self-reporting study, McIntyre said.

"Dr. McIntyre's study addresses an extremely important topic in our time," said Hong Cheng, Ph.D., director of the Robertson School. "The findings she is aiming to obtain through this social scientific approach taken in the Robertson School's Psychophysiology Lab will have strong practical implications for journalistic coverage of policing.”

The catalyst behind the study ranged from current events to a general academic concern about how graphic news videos and public commentary on these videos are impacting news consumers, McIntyre said. The team wanted a study that sought not to measure only negative responses, but also any positive responses that might come from pro-social comments written on social media.

 “At this time, there is a lot of heated online debate going on not just about police incidents like this, but also with the election,” McIntyre said. “I think it’s really important to look at how these online debates are affecting people.” 

In addition to the Ph.D. students and VCU faculty members involved, a group of undergraduate students from the Robertson School will also be involved with the study by assisting the faculty advisers and Ph.D. candidates with equipment set up and conducting the research.

After this initial study is conducted, McIntyre said, she is certain that several academic papers will emerge from the research results.