Fifth Brown Bag of the Semester – April 3, 2015


Rachelle Pavelko, PhD Student, and Jessica Gall Myrick, Assistant Professor, Media School

That’s so OCD: The effects of disease trivialization via social media on user perceptions and impression formation

Informal discussions of mental illness take place every day in social media. In the case of obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), in particular, widespread use of the hashtag “#OCD” indicates that social media users often trivialize the disease. The present study used a 3 × 2 × 2 between-subjects fully factorial online experiment (N = 574, recruited from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform) to test the impact of trivialized framing of this disease on perceptions of social media users who employ such language, as well as on perceptions of people with OCD as a group. Additionally, this study tested the effects of the gender of the Twitter avatar and self-identification in the avatar biography as an individual with OCD on these perceptions. Three-way analyses of covariance (ANCOVA) assessed the impact of the manipulations (i.e., content frame, gender of the avatar, self-identification with OCD). Results indicate that language use, gender, and self-identification influence impression formation in a social media environment.


Teresa Lynch, PhD Student, Jessica Thompkins, PhD Student, Irene van Driel, PhD Student, and Niki Fritz, MA Student, Media School

 An analysis of female game characters over time

A well-documented gender imbalance exists in the professional and fan culture of video gaming. For instance, women comprised only 22% of employees in the video game industry in 2014 and women report frequent instances of sexual harassment when playing online games. Critics have argued that one consequence of this gender imbalance is that male interests have guided the creation of video game content for over two decades. This presentation will share the results of an analysis of in-game content from video games released between 1983 and 2014 (n = 571). Analyzing content over time allowed us to determine how closely patterns of female character portrayals align with recent feminist movements in the industry (e.g. #1reasonwhy). These findings complement earlier analyses of video games by examining variables such as sexualization over time and expand on previous work in this area by considering the in-game, playable character as a unit of analysis.


That’s Ms. Professor Doctor Ma’am To You

By Niki Fritz

There is a little notice in the liquor section of the CVS on College that states if you appear to be under 25 you need to provide two forms of ID in order to purchase your natty ice…. or Barefoot Cab in my case. I chuckled a little when I saw this warning, remembering fondly my days of undergrad at UW-Madison when 25 seemed like the mythical age of “grown-ups,” and I could never imagine not getting carded, not to mention ever being called ma’am.

And yet here I stand, two feet back in college, solidly planted in “adulthood,” well past 25 and yes, now routinely getting called ma’am by everyone from bag boys to waitresses to my overly polite students. I’ve got to admit, it kind of bugs me.

It is not that I mind being a grown up. I actually quite enjoy my decreased car insurance rates and the fact that I will never ever drink Fleichman’s ever again. I just can’t get used to the quasi-southern use of ma’am to refer to any woman over the age of 25 in Indiana. Maybe because I can’t quite wrap my mind around what ma’am means. Is it a respect thing? Or is it an automatic response thing? Or is there this mythical line in the sand in Indiana, where a girl suddenly becomes a ma’am? Is this thing quantifiable? I know I shouldn’t take offense to it but, because I don’t understand what it means, and because ma’am is definitely not something we routinely use in Wisconsin, I just can’t help but feel a twinge of old every time a checkout boy asks me “Do you have your Kroger card ma’am?”

Not even that ma’am is the oddest thing I’ve had to get used to being called since moving to Bloomington. I’m only 2 semesters in to my master’s and I already get the awkwardly titled “Dear Dr. Fritz” emails. Occasionally these emails give me a twinge of excitement for a day when that may be a proper email greeting. But usually it just reminds me how not much I’m not Dr. Fritz.

Of course in addition to Dr. Fritz, I’ve quickly gotten used to my students in T101 calling me professor, even though it is a heavy and inaccurate title that makes me feel like I’m somehow tricking my students every time they make this guffaw. I often get emails from my students directed to Professor Fritz; although my favorite emails are the ones addressed to Professor Niki, like my students can’t decide to be casual or formal, whether they are on a title or first name basis with me.

To be honest, I empathize with my students’ confusion. Grad school is a limbo of sort, a beautiful, carpel-tunnel-creating, brain-expanding, exhausting, confusing limbo. I often find myself confused about whether I should be formal or informal, Ms. Fritz or Niki, girl or ma’am, student or teacher. This confusion is also why most days you will find me wearing leggings with a blazer, caught in between undergrad and academia, not yet sure if ma’am is a compliment or not.

When I got to the register at CVS with my $5 bottle of wine, the checkout woman smiled in that cheery genuine Indiana way and said “Hello darling. Can I see two forms of ID?” Two forms of ID?! Two Forms?! “Bless her heart,” I thought, my mind turning giddy. “This woman may actually think I’m under 25!” To be fair, I had just come from the gym and she may have mistaken my sweat for a “youthful glow,” but still I was ecstatic, probably overexcited for a mere 3 year underestimate.

Still I proudly produced two forms of ID. She looked them over, smiled and said “Thank you ma’am” as she handed back my IDs. I sighed in defeat. I guess I’ll just have to get used my new titles in limbo.

Niki Fritz, Feminist, Among Other Things

By Edo Steinberg

Niki as feminist icon Rosie  the Riveter on Halloween (photo courtesy of Niki Fritz).

Niki as feminist icon Rosie the Riveter on Halloween (photo courtesy of Niki Fritz).

“There are other parts of my personality other than feminism,” Niki Fritz declares towards the end of an interview about her membership in feminist organizations and her feminist writings. “Sometimes people assume that because you’re a feminist, that’s all you’re interested in. For me, feminism is definitely an underlying belief and value system that I have, but I also have a lot of other interests.”

For instance, she was a member of the storytelling community in Chicago. “I miss my storytelling community more than I miss my feminist community, because I can find my feminist community online, but with storytelling, you very much have to be present. It’s not something you can do over social media.”

Niki used to attend storytelling events frequently. A few months before leaving the Windy City for Bloomington, she attended a workshop, which happened to be organized by “Ladies in Comedy”. “It was five weeks of 3-hour sessions where we created an idea through a number of different prompts and exercises. We then molded this beautiful creation at the end, and then performed.” It was her first public performance. “It was amazing. It was definitely something I wish I could continue.”

“The whole art and the whole process of it are beyond fascinating,” Niki says. “There are so many different dynamics about how to get a big laugh or a big release, you have to build drama and tension. If you don’t want to be vulnerable and you want to keep things pretty level, that’s fine but you won’t get the big laughs.”

Niki is even thinking of starting a monthly storytelling event in Bloomington. “I feel like the Bloomington community would enjoy it.” Maybe she’d turn it into a variety show that includes improv and other forms of comedy. She’ll be on it once she has ten extra hours a week, she jokes.

Niki also likes to write about different things. She wrote a column about dating on the Chicago online publication Gaper’s Block. She was trying to write a different kind of dating blog about things that don’t usually make it to the usual relationship blogs, like how to be vulnerable in a relationship. “Even that was labeled as a feminist dating column,” she says, disappointed.

She also writes for the free Chicago publication, the RedEye and has her own blog, Feministy Fritz. She hopes the title doesn’t confuse people who might think she isn’t fully a feminist. “That’s how I talk. I add Y’s to things. I like to add a little colloquial touch to a lot of words.”

Her use of casual language has led to discussions with commenters about the importance of words. “Does adding Y to feminist dilute it, as if I’m not claiming the title of feminist but rather something else? It’s an interesting concept to me and something I really need to think about more – how do we make these choices in language and how do people perceive them.” She says she’ll probably write a post about the issue in the future.

Other than writing columns, Niki was also a member of the board of the Chicago chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW). She had various roles in NOW, and the one she sees as most important is organizing an annual event, Give Your Choice a Voice, promoting reproductive rights. It featured musicians, storytellers, politicians, and spoken word artists. All proceeds went to local reproductive rights direct service organizations like Planned Parenthood. “It was the most rewarding work I’ve ever done,” Niki says. “To see people come together for a common cause and not feel like they are alone in their struggle for equal access to reproductive rights was amazing. It was a night where we got to celebrate and have fun instead of always being on the fighting defensive.”

New Lab Rats, New Lab Equipment

By Edo Steinberg

Last Spring the College of Arts and Sciences gave the Institute for Communication Research money to buy new lab equipment. The two main purchases were the BIOPAC physiology system and the Tobii Eye Tracker.

The fearless reporter and his fearless eyeballs, as seen by the Tobii Eye Tracker.

The fearless reporter and his fearless eyeballs, as seen by the Tobii Eye Tracker.

“They arrived at the same time,” says Rob Potter, director of the ICR. “I had familiarity with physiology, I had familiarity with the BIOPAC system and I knew I had to teach using that system in an Intensive Freshman Seminar (IFS) in August. When they both arrived at the same time, I hooked the eye tracker up and made sure that no parts were broken and essentially we could pay the bill. Then I turned it on and it looked terrible. The fidelity of the screen wasn’t right.”

Because time was pressing, Rob decided to focus on the BIOPAC first. He put the eye tracker in the corner. Vacation, the IFS course and a conference led to the eye tracker being left alone until late August.

Then incoming graduate student Anthony Almond asked Rob if he could spend some time in the lab. “I said to myself, ‘I better grab Anthony while I can, before another faculty member does,’” Rob recalls. “I said, how about Tuesdays and Thursdays. I shot for the moon. He said yes. Then, I was lucky enough to get Niki as my AI. Later, Glenna came up to me and said ‘I hear you have this meeting.’”

During these new students’ first meeting with Rob at the ICR, Anthony took a look at the eye tracking system, which he had some experience with previously. After about an hour, he figured out the problem and fixed it by installing updated video drivers.

Rob says that the ICR is the place for students who wish to get experience with lab equipment to come, if they ask Rob or lab manager Sharon Mayell to come. “Anthony was able to come in and try to troubleshoot stuff. That’s exactly the type of environment we want to have. All the way back when Annie Lang was the director, that was the environment she tried to instill. Bring your ideas to the ICR and work on investigating questions that interest you.”

Now, Anthony, Glenna and Niki spend time at the ICR, getting to know the equipment and preparing for future participation in research projects.

“I’m continuing to figure out what acronyms stand for,” Niki jokes.

Niki sees where she looked when she watched a video.

Niki sees where she looked when she watched a video.

“The eye tracker can do more than just see where you look,” Anthony says. “It can also measure the size of your pupil, and when your eyes are moving rapidly across the screen. You can also use it in combination with other physiological measures. For example, if someone is looking at a website and their heart rate decelerates, is it because they were looking at the ad on the side, because they were reading the text or because of something else entirely?”

Other applications include whether or not people notice certain things on the screen, as well as implications for design. For instance, website developers can see if the audience is looking at what they want to show or something else is distracting people.

“I’m here for a crash course in both physiology and eye tracking research,” says Niki. “I want to see what others are doing and throw myself into the world of research, to see what’s possible.”

Glenna has used the BIOPAC system before. “But I haven’t done a lot with it,” she emphasizes.

“I used the BIOPAC before, as well,” Anthony says. “And this morning Rob showed me something about it I didn’t know. Now I have to show him how to do fancy software stuff.”

“It’s been really cool to see how everyone comes together and collaborates with what they know from the past,” Niki says. “Anthony, Glenna and Rob all have these interesting areas of expertise.”

If you also want to be a lab rat, as people conducting research in the ICR are affectionately called, get in touch with Rob!