Drew Cingel


Getting to know… Drew Cingel
Assistant Professor
Department of Communication
UC Davis
Website: http://communication.ucdavis.edu/people/dcingel

What are you currently working on?

I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with very smart colleagues here in the United States and around the world. What’s most amazing is that no one has gotten tired of me yet (at least that I know of). Right now, Marina Krcmar and I are working on a project designed to understand how gender, as one individual difference variable, relates to adolescent and young adult social media use and well-being.

In addition, with a very sharp former undergraduate student here at UC Davis, we are about to go into the field with a survey designed to measure adolescents’ differential use of social media sites and how such use relates to variables of well-being. This student has steered this project through IRB and school administration approval, and I cannot wait to analyze the data. We are particularly interested to see how different types of communication activities on different platforms (e.g., sending a tweet vs. posting a picture on Instagram) relate differently to variables like self-esteem, academic success, and connectedness.

Additionally, I am working with Sindy Sumter at the University of Amsterdam on a few projects designed to understand children’s comprehension and application of prosocial lessons on children’s prosocial television. In particular, we are studying how individual difference variables, such as children’s theory of mind, can moderate these effects. We are very interested in how exposure to moral lessons in mediated content can influence children’s moral judgments, and moral reasoning in a developmentally-advanced way. Plus, it gives me the opportunity to talk to children and hear why they think something is wrong (or right).

I have had some very memorable interactions with children in these settings, and have found if very useful to include children’s own voices in my work. We are also studying how the proximal social context of the media use experience can shape individuals’ interaction with the media and influence media effects in the area of moral judgment and reasoning.

Finally, the biggest project right now in terms of time involves Ellen Wartella and Alexis Lauricella at Northwestern University. We are collaborating on a project with a media company to study how media can influence parent-child communication about difficult or sensitive topics (e.g., bullying, binge drinking). We are currently fielding a four-country survey involving about 6,000 parent-child dyads.

We are interested in understanding how parent and adolescent perceptions about content and their communications about the content may be similar or different. Further, we are examining how exposure and parent-child communication influence adolescent attitudes and behaviors. This is a huge, somewhat daunting project, but also a very exciting one! How often do we get the chance to work with such a large, rich dataset?

What has been your most memorable project so far, and why?

I should probably say my dissertation work, but in reality, it is my honors thesis at Penn State. I conducted a survey of 228 young adolescents. No one told me that working with children was so hard! But this project showed me three things: first, that doing research with young people is the coolest thing in the world, two, that I can make a career out of this, and three, that people are actually willing to pay people to carry out this research! So, with the immense help of my advisor, Shyam Sundar, I completed a research project from start to finish, and I haven’t stopped in the 10 years since.

Which achievement are you most proud of, and why?

I’ll say my dissertation so it doesn’t feel left out. It was something that consumed my life and thinking for almost two years. And in doing so, it left me with so many positive memories: debating with my advisor about the theoretical framework and whether I’d actually find anything (for the record, I was (mostly) right!) working with the children and families, writing the whole thing while sitting in Amsterdam, and then defending it via video chat with committee members in three different locations. I should also mention that I am proud to create a research lab at the University of California, Davis aimed to understand the intersection between human development and media effects. Being able to grow our field, one lab at a time, is very exciting and rewarding.

What is an important question from parents and practitioners that we as academics cannot provide a good answer to yet?

I am going to piggyback off what Shina Aladé said in the last spotlight piece: I talk to parents and their biggest question and worry is how to effectively integrate media into the home. They worry about their own media use and how it influences the media ecology of the home and their children’s media use. I can point them to certain shows or apps that are educational, but do their children really want to use those media? I can say that parents should actively mediate their children’s media use, but do they really have the time? While we may know about the effectiveness of certain practices as they relate to positive child outcomes, I do not think we can speak to how to actually implement these strategies in the home in such a way that does not negatively impact the family’s day-to-day functioning.

What would be your work motto?

I think a motto that encapsulates my work style would be :

“How cool is that!!??”

We get paid to be curious and try to answer questions that we find meaningful. We get paid to work with and learn from people smarter than ourselves. We get to teach and share our passion with students. And because of what we study, we can make meaningful contributions to the lives of children and families around the world. How cool is that!!??

Which of your publications is your favorite, and why?

It would be a paper, co-authored with Marina Krcmar, coming out of my dissertation, that was recently published in Communication Research. Please feel free to cite it extensively! I like this paper because it connects a newer theory of moral intuitions to children and prosocial television and will hopefully spur interest in how media and human development interact to influence moral intuition salience among children and adolescents.

If you had unlimited resources, what kind of project would you want to do and why?

I would love to be able to do a longer-term longitudinal design in which we can study the transactional nature of media effects among children and adolescents. It would be so helpful to understand how childhood media use, and the effects of such use, influence how the individuals use media, and are influenced by it, during adolescence and in to young adulthood (and beyond if I get even more money). In this way, we could begin to see how media can influence developmental trajectories.

If you had to give one piece of advice to young CAM scholars, what would it be?

I am a young CAM scholar myself, but I do have one piece of advice that served me well throughout graduate school: Don’t let others control your stress level. It is easy to get caught up in how busy other people seem, or how much work they seem to be doing, or how late they respond to email. Do what works for you. If you do not want to be answering email at 4am, you do not need to – figure out a better time, that allows you to relax, have fun, and go to bed at a decent time. It can be done, but you should be the one to figure out what works best for your life.

Who would you like to put in the spotlight next, and why?

I am excited to hear from our new vice-chair elect, Nancy Jennings.


To download a copy of this edition of CAMmer in the spotlight click here.