Students giving research presentations

Research Centers and Groups

The School of Journalism and Mass Communication is world renowned as a leading force in communications research. With an intellectual climate built on collaboration, multidisciplinary and methodological pluralism, faculty and students produce research that is among the best in the field. Much of this work happens in the research centers and groups that are a large part of the intellectual culture of the school. Below is a current list of centers and research groups.

Center for Communication and Democracy

Madison Commons

Founded in 2006, Madison Commons provides news and information from all of Madison’s neighborhoods. It is a collaboration between Madison citizens from every part of the city and faculty and students at SJMC, focusing coverage on education, food and transportation and neighborhood news. It also provides a lab for research on community, civic and public journalism. Contact: Professor Lew Friedland

Qualitative Inquiry & Research Group

Meetings are devoted to providing feedback on pre-circulated graduate student papers, completed or in-progress. Calls for paper proposals will be sent out at least twice per year. Contact: Assistant Professor Kathryn McGarr

Center for Journalism Ethics

The Center for Journalism Ethics aims to advance the ethical standards and practices of democratic journalism through discussion, research, teaching, professional outreach and newsroom partnerships. The center is a voice for journalistic integrity, a forum for informed debate and an incubator for new ideas and practices. The Center is known for its conferences, journalist in residence program and Anthony Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics, as well as a robust student fellows program for undergraduate and graduate students. Contacts: Associate Professor Katy Culver and Center Administrator Krista Eastman

Computational Workshop

The Computational Workshop is a student-lead research group dedicated to teaching computational skills in SJMC. The workshop teaches students anything from basic coding skills to cutting-edge computational methods. Also, the workshop invites speakers from other departments/universities to present their work involving computational methods. Contact: PhD Student Chuan Liu

Mass Communication History Center

A part of the Wisconsin Historical Society, the center provides scholars access to private collections, papers and various types of unpublished materials relating to the growth of mass communication in the United States and other parts of the world. Contact: Assistant Professor Kathryn McGarr and Professor Emeritus Stephen Vaughn

Mass Communication Research Center

All affiliated groups share an orientation toward collaborative engagement with mass communication research topics, theories, and methods; a policy of open participation; an expectation that students will be instrumental in setting the agenda for and contributing to the goals of each group’s activities. Currently, the following research groups are part of the Mass Communication Research Center and have regular meetings to advance these areas of inquiry. Contact: Professor Dhavan Shah

Center for Communication and Civic Renewal

The Center for Communication and Civic Renewal (CCCR) extends the work of the longstanding Civic Culture and Contentious Politics and Consumer Culture and Civic Participation research groups (CCCP). The CCCR, which is led by Professors Lew Friedland, Dhavan Shah and Mike Wagner, along with collaborators in the Department of Political Science (Katherine Cramer), Department of Statistics (Karl Rohe), the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (William Sethares), and Boston University (Chris Wells), seeks to understand the communication ecology and political culture in Wisconsin over the last decade through a range of methods, including ethnographic fieldwork, public opinion surveys, computational analysis of social media and news content, and contextual modeling. Contact: Center director Professor Michael Wagner, Professor Lew Friedland and Professor Dhavan Shah

Communication, Brain and Behavior Lab

The Communication Brain and Behavior (CBB) Lab, directed by Chris Cascio, uses tools from communication neuroscience and social neuroscience to understand when persuasion works. Our research focuses on neurocognitive mechanisms associated with social influence (e.g., social norms, peer influence) and persuasive messages delivered through mass media, social media, and interpersonal communication in order to better understand subsequent behavior. More specifically, our research aims to: 1) understand the core mechanisms that drive behavior change in response to social influence and persuasive messages; 2) understand how situational social context (e.g., being in the presence of a risky versus safe peer), socio-demographic context factors (e.g., high versus low socioeconomic status (SES)), and development (e.g., adolescents versus young adults) moderate neural mechanisms associated with social influence and persuasion; and 3) understand how intervention strategies (e.g., self-affirmations) alter neural mechanisms associated with social influence and persuasion, and how these changes relate to behavior change. Contact: Assistant Professor Chris Cascio

Computational Approaches and Message Effects Research

The Computational Approaches and Message Effects Research (CAMER) group, directed by Sijia Yang, studies persuasive messages as they are produced, promulgated, and processed in the broader digital informational environment. Our group is particularly interested in exploring how computational methods (e.g., text mining, computer vision, algorithms, geospatial modeling) can help advance our understanding of how persuasive messaging works as it intersects with psychological processes, social dynamics, and technological affordances. Currently, we are focusing on the following lines of research: 1) visual persuasion and the feasibility of employing computer vision techniques to predict and explain the persuasiveness and share-worthiness of pictorial substance control messages (e.g., emerging tobacco products, recreational use of cannabis); 2) the temporal and geospatial dynamics of moral appeals and their persuasive impacts around emerging and oftentimes controvertial health issues (e.g., the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccination, CRISPR); 3) misinformation classification and correction, especially the joint impacts of messages and social dynamics on peer fact-checking; 4) just-in-time message tailoring in mhealth interventions (e.g., opioid addiction treatment, COVID-19 mitigation); and 5) the persuasiveness of positive appeals (e.g., hope, transcendence). Contact: Assistant Professor Sijia Yang

Health Information Technology Studies

The Health Information Technology Studies (HITS) group examines the influence of health communication and health technologies on individuals’ health behaviors, quality of life, emotional coping and access to needed services, focusing on communication research in the context of cancer, addiction, aging, asthma, HCV, AIDS/HIV, and new COVID-19. This group aims to improve the development and dissemination of appropriate, accessible, accurate, tailored and customized messages.  Recent work has moved towards using digital trace data to build predictive models and optimize efforts to information, persuade, and intervene “just-in-time.” Contacts: Professor Dhavan Shah, Assistant Professors Chris Cascio and Sijia Yang

International Communication Research Group

The International Communication Research Group (ICRG) is a faculty/student collaborative research group that studies the relationships between communication and democracy in multiple contexts. With an initial focus on Latin America, this group has expanded its scope through a series of comparative collaborative research projects including the Comparative National Electoral Project (CNEP) and Comparative Political Culture Project. Contact: Professor Hernando Rojas.

Media and Politics

The original MCRC research group is dedicated to conducting empirical research on political communication and training students in innovative research designs, methodological approaches, and theoretical approaches. With a history that dates back to the 1950s, this group has helped launch the careers of a multitude of communication scholars. The group has conducted survey, experimental, and mixed-methods research on a range of topics, from projects on news framing effects to digital media influences. The group also provides workshops and training for new students on research design, quantitative research methods, and statistical analysis. Contact: Professor Doug McLeod

Physiology & Communication Effects Lab

The PACE Lab conducts research examining the physiological correlates of communication effects, political attitudes and behaviors. The lab is equipped with sensors that measure electrodermal activity, electromyography and electroencephalography to better understand how people respond to media messages. Projects center on political communication and journalism behaviors. Contact: Professor Michael Wagner

Social Media and Democracy

Social Media and Democracy (SMAD) focuses on the study of user-created digital media and its political and social implications and is broadly concerned with the implications of the internet for participatory engagement and political conversation, with particular attention to social media and web news sources, the interactions among them and their implications for societal and political action. The group applies computational social science, especially language processing and related data science techniques, to the study of “big data.”  Contact: Professor Dhavan Shah