Department of Media and Communication (IfKW), LMU Munich
What are you currently working on?
Thank you for this opportunity and thank you to Ine Beyens for the nomination! After having a strong focus on media literacy in relation to understanding embedded advertising messages, health literacy, and the role of state-regulated disclosures, my work over the last two years has mainly revolved around an EU-funded project together with Diana Rieger that explores the prevention of radicalization among adolescents. The project is called PRECOBIAS (Prevention of Youth Radicalization Through Self-Awareness on Cognitive Biases) and focuses on the role of cognitive biases in the radicalization process. The first target group of this project is at-risk youth. The second target group is teachers and social workers who work closely with at-risk youth and may find our research and resources useful in their work. Over the past two years, as a consortium, we have developed a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) that is available for free in eight languages. Through this course, anyone interested can learn about online radicalization and cognitive biases. We also created a toolkit for social workers and a toolkit for teachers. Finally, an anti-radicalization campaign was developed and we scientifically evaluated the success of this campaign.
In addition, I am currently writing proposal after proposal. It feels like I’m on proposal 3000 right now, but that might be a slight overestimation.
What has been your most memorable project so far, and why?
That’s a very difficult question! I’ve had the opportunity to work on so many great projects that it’s hard to narrow down to just one. In general, I have really enjoyed all the projects where I have had the opportunity to work directly in schools and with children, because I love the interaction with children, which has always been a great source of inspiration for me. But I guess one of my most memorable has to be one of my first PhD studies. For this project we visited different schools in Austria and had to meet at 6 am every day to be at the schools on time. The study was about product placements in children’s movies and how they affect children’s brand preferences. As a brand for this study, I had decided to work with an American product that is unknown in Austria: Fritos. Since it was very expensive to order and ship Fritos, I took it upon myself to buy all the packages we would need during my first ICA in Puerto Rico. So, I bought about 20 packages at the local supermarket in San Juan and then distributed them among the luggage of my very understanding colleagues to bring back to Vienna. At the last minute, I was suddenly convinced that I had not bought enough and ran like a maniac through the airport to find another package or two. Of course, I vastly overestimated my need, and so Fritos became a recurring snack for the occasional after-work drink, because I had to get rid of them somehow. I also created the stimulus (a cartoon) for this study myself, planning everything from the plot to the name of the two main characters: two panda twin brothers named Pepino and Rondo. The fact that I was involved in every single step of the study and put so much effort into the conception, planning and execution certainly left a lasting impression. On me and others, that’s why I still get panda-themed gifts.
Which achievement are you most proud of, and why?
I am very proud to currently hold the position of Social Media Editor for the Journal of Children and Media. I really enjoy working with the fantastic editor team and this position gives me the opportunity to keep up with all the latest publications of the CAM community. I am also very proud to have received a teaching award in statistical analysis at my department last year. As an undergraduate student, I couldn’t stand statistics until I was taught how fascinating the precision and systematic nature of it can be. Now being in a position where I am able to get students interested in, or even a little excited about statistical analysis really fills me with joy.
What is an important question from parents and practitioners that we as academics cannot provide a good answer to yet?
How much should and can I control what my child is exposed to in their daily media use? Working with various issues (health communication, persuasive communication, radicalization) has made it very clear to me how powerless parents can be in the face of the multitude and variety of content to which children and adolescents have access. The sheer volume of content that can be of potential concern to parents is too complex and multi-layered to be able to adequately cope with. My current research focus on online radicalization of adolescents illustrates even more clearly how the structures and capabilities of media give young people access to content against which even platforms and lawmakers are still relatively powerless. Regulation still is the best way to reduce the burden of responsibility for guardians and young audiences. At the same time, the question of regulation must always be weighed against whether it really reduces complexity and is suitable and appropriate for the target audience. In this context, my studies with colleagues such as Ines Spielvogel & Jörg Matthes, or Kathrin Karsay & Christina Peter show the limitations of standardized, textual disclosures in terms of their effectiveness for children and adolescents. Accordingly, the even more drastic path of calling for prohibitions can be a sensible means in some cases. However, paternalism and purely preservationist pedagogical approaches should not be too much of a focus. I think media literacy research still has a lot to contribute here in order to understand how regulations and communication between parents and children can manage the balancing act of protecting children from problematic content while at the same time teaching them how to deal with this media content appropriately and critically.
What would be your work motto?
Be creative, ambitious and precise, with a healthy breeze of pragmatism.
Which of your publications is your favorite, and why?
That’s another area where it’s hard to pin me down. I really enjoy experimental research and innovative designs. So, I have to say that one of my favorites is the eye-tracking study on food presentations. Again, we designed the stimulus ourselves and took great effort to find a balance between internal and external validity. We used the created stimulus in an experimental eye-tracking study comparing children’s cue reactivity assessed with visual attention toward healthy and unhealthy food presentations, as well as non-edible objects. We found that food generally aroused more visual attention in children compared to non-edible objects hence working as an eye-catcher. Furthermore, children’s memory for the embedded foods or objects was mediated through visual attention. Interestingly, presentations of unhealthy food presentations also directly affected children’s explicit memory, regardless of how long children had focused their attention on those foods.
This publication was part of a large project with my lovely colleagues at my former department in Vienna that focused on the presentation of healthy foods and their effects on children. I was very pleased with what we were able to accomplish together in this project and how many creative studies and publications were produced as a result. There are still a few to be published, so stay tuned!
If you had unlimited resources, what kind of project would you want to do and why?
With unlimited resources, I would like to increase my efforts in media literacy research, especially in evaluating and testing media literacy interventions. First, I would like to invest technical and creative resources in developing media literacy interventions on issues related to undesirable social media effects such as misinformation, radicalization, and detrimental effects on well-being. Previous research efforts have shown that unobtrusive, standardized interventions such as disclosures are often insufficient and do not reach target audiences. Therefore, I would put my efforts and resources into developing creative, alternative approaches. Second, I would like to have full access to the opportunity to evaluate and test literacy interventions that are already established. I believe that interventions are often implemented without adequate testing or an accompanying evaluation process, and this should be addressed and improved. Finally, I would like to have unlimited resources to communicate the results of such a project. Science communication is a topic that has always, but especially in the last two years, become more important. While dissemination and outreach have also played a role in my previous projects, these have focused primarily on dissemination to specific stakeholders and the scientific community. The time and effort required to adequately communicate research findings to the broader public simply was not available. However, I believe that such an approach would be of great benefit, and I would like to devote more resources to this area.
If you had to give one piece of advice to young CAM scholars, what would it be?
Science is not a one-person game. Instead, it benefits greatly from collaboration. Sometimes the topic you are working on is a niche topic in the department you work in. Therefore, take the opportunity to connect with the scientists you read and cite most often. All of my experiences with meeting my citation all-stars (i.e., people whose names, I can spell in my sleep) have been extremely positive! The CAM community is very outgoing and supportive, and you should take advantage of that.
Who would you like to put in the spotlight next, and why?
I would like to nominate Sarah Coyne. She was actually one of the first international scholars (and citation all-stars) I met in person during ICA in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and she gave me very uplifting and valuable feedback on linking child and parent data in school field research. I would love to hear more about her recent work on social media and mental health and other projects she is working on.