Over the last seven years, my program of research has focused on several topics but with a continuing line of interest in decision making. Primarily, my research area falls within the intersection of communication, media, psychology, law, and technology. Using theories from these disciplines, my research seeks to understand media and social interaction influence on decision making regarding the following topics: (1) stereotypes of IT professionals and cyber hackers, (2) the perceived risk and payoffs affiliated with cyber crime, and (3) various group dynamic situations.
The research that I conducted during my master’s thesis and doctoral dissertations focused on relationships of media and social interaction influence on jury decision making. Both of these projects broadly contributed to the research on framing theory, the story model of cognitive juror decision making, and small group deliberation. I introduce the concept of legal frames, upon which, I have a previous paper under review addressing how media portray criminal defendants in a pro-defendant or pro-prosecutionary light. My dissertation provided evidence showing that legally framed media were related to cognitive primacy effects on audience members over time. My dissertation also addressed how social interaction influenced group decision making. Juror characteristics that had significant effects on the deliberation were: perceived communicative influence (i.e., interpersonal persuasion), perceived participation, need for cognition, and motivation to process and discuss case evidence. These characteristics all affected how others in the group viewed individuals’ influential contributions in the deliberation. Last, in terms of discussing pretrial publicity in deliberation, group level trust in the jury system was a significant catalyst for discussing pretrial publicity in the deliberation room.
While in my postdoc at Arizona State University, I have developed a game theoretical model of decision making applied to the cyber hacking world. Government and defense agencies are very concerned with the current cyber infrastructure and the need for safety online. Thus, they have expressed the need for social psychological researchers to address hacker motivations and deterrence factors. In my current research, we are developing a model to measure environmental factors that affect hacker motivations, and thereby the perceived risk and payoff involved with hacking activities. Thus far, we have found that media (both news and entertainment media) have the potential to impact hacker activities. We have also found that social influence and ingroup persuasion is a strong and significant predictor of individual hacking behaviors.
In relation to creative practice, my primary goal as an instructor is to challenge my students while providing them with the best tools for success. I work hard to creatively incorporate my current research, as well as others, into my classroom. For example, while at University or Arizona, I was given the opportunity in my last year to develop my own class based on my chosen expertise. I developed a curriculum that focused on communication, media and the legal process. Students from communication, journalism, psychology, criminal justice, and pre-law enrolled in my class, and I taught them the legal process from initial client interviews and media engagement to jury decision making and appeals. From this experience, I learned how to adapt my teaching style to other disciplines, and how to incorporate major communication and psychological theory and past research to earn perceived credibility as their instructor and connect social science research to real life applications. As an instructor, I strive to make all activities applicable to students’ lives as future business people and/or researchers. This level of commitment to teaching requires considerable effort, flexibility, and creativity on my part. I strive to make the courses I teach engaging, interesting, and fun, while holding fair standards and a respectful relationship between students and myself.
I have also taught courses in Research Methods and Public Speaking. In all cases, I have exercised an honest working relationship with my students, giving fair grades based on their quality of work, and I am always willing to help students toward improvement when sought. I set a high bar for my students and expect them to earn their grade based on in-class participation, hard work, and outside of class studies. I feel it is important when teaching small classes to have in-class activities for all major concepts. Conducting hands on instruction and purposeful activities allows students to build a closer understanding of complicated concepts, aimed to develop a more successful learning atmosphere. When teaching Research Methods, I teach students how to collect and analyze data using Microsoft Excel. Excel is an incredibly useful tool for undergraduates, one that they are expected to know how to use when entering the workforce. While teaching Public Speaking and Communication and the Legal Process, I teach students the tools needed to capture an audience and tell a compelling/persuasive story, using visuals and language to transport their audience. I have found that balancing classes with both lectures and in-class activities helps to maintain student attention, and hold their attendance accountability to a high standard.
Future Research Goals
In my future research I hope to continue working with decision making models within several venues. First, I would like to investigate the decision making and motivational characteristic differences between organized cyber crime hackers and hacktivists. Prior research has shown that hacking for financial cause and hacking for socio-political cause have very different driving motives. However, most current research lumps the two types of hackers into one profile. That current profile is outdated and does not incorporate new-aged, and new media influences. I would like to test media influences on current motivations of both types of hackers.
A second line of research that I would like to explore is the decision making culture of women in STEM majors. As diversity in all fields has become so important, gender diversity in computing careers is a major focus of the National Science Foundation and of the United States in general. Other countries are outdoing the US in their representation of race and gender in STEM fields. We need to develop educational programs to entice capable females into the world of information technology, computer science, engineering and mathematics. My future research would explore how to increase motivation to pursue degrees and careers in those developing fields.
Third, I would like to continue my research in the legal process, and develop a model of jury decision-making that incorporates the media effect. Within my dissertation research I have established a construct called legal frames, grounded by the framing literature, to describe how media can emphasize certain aspects of a criminal or civil case in pretrial publicity, which in turn can affect public and juror perceptions of the case. I plan to continue this research to better able to predict who, in the jury pool, is more likely to use mediated legal frames to process and filter courtroom information, and use that information in the group deliberation.