School for Mass Communication Research
What are you currently working on?
Many, but all interesting projects are currently going on at the School for Mass Communication Research! I am fortunate to work in these projects with my incredibly talented team of PhD students. For instance, with my PhD student Lara Schreurs I am disentangling how the positivity bias on social media interferes with adolescents’ well-being and which role social media literacy can play to prevent undesirable social media effects. This month Lara and several other PhD students from our team are visiting about 15 schools across Belgium to collect the data for the first wave of the longitudinal study to address this research question. Laurens Vangeel just defended his PhD which I co-supervised together with Steven Eggermont; he re-contacted the adolescents that had participated approximately five and ten years ago in respectively my and Steven’s PhD. It was quite an effort I must say but we succeeded to learn more about which sexual media effects do not appear during the life stage of adolescence, yet seem to manifest themselves during emerging adulthood.
Other exciting projects we are working on in Leuven relate to the increased number of pro-social messages regarding appearance and sexuality in popular media (together with Chelly Maes, Orpha de Lenne and Steven), the role of mediated professional role models in late adolescents’ career choices (together with Ilse Vranken), the individualistic discourse in popular media (together with Sarah Devos and Steven) and the role of smartphones in positive life events (together with Kathrin Karsay and Steven). Together with Sindy Sumter (U of Amsterdam) I am trying to get a grasp on how dating apps may also affect young adults’ well-being outside the realm of casual sex. Annemarie van Oosten (U of Amsterdam) and I also just finished a new study on what online sexual media mean for our interpretations of online infidelity (e.g., is checking out Tinder profiles considered to be unfaithful).
What has been your most memorable project so far, and why?
I have a lot of projects that are memorable to me, but one is probably the most memorable one within the CAM community: The intercultural study that Kathrin Karsay (U of Vienna), Jolien Trekels (KU Leuven) and I organized taught me that research dreams CAN come true. At the ICA meeting of 2016, the three of us were dreaming out loud on how a cross-cultural dataset would allow us to add some highly needed cultural context on the relationships between media, sexuality and body image. After the conference I could not let go of the idea and Jolien and Kathrin luckily felt the same. We had no funding but Lluis Mas (U Pompeu Fabra) and Michael Prieler (Hallym U) teamed up with us and made it possible to collect data among adolescents in four different countries in February 2017. At ICA 2018 we presented the results of our study, and I am still incredibly proud that all of us managed to do such an effort without any funds. It was hard work but inspiring to see our “dream” had become reality.
Which achievement are you most proud of, and why?
I am highly honored to have recently been awarded an ERC Starting Grant from the European Research Council. The project is entitled “Malleability in mediated ideals: A paradigm to understand effects of contemporary media in adolescents’ well-being”. I never considered I would actually receive it when writing the grant, and would even have not applied if my colleagues Steven Eggermont and Kathleen Beullens were not so supportive! The grant allows me to empirically test the theoretical framework we developed on the effects of media ideals on adolescent well-being over time across different countries.
That said, I was also very excited to have been nominated as the CAMmer in the Spotlight by Jörg Matthes.
What is an important question from parents and practitioners that we as academics cannot provide a good answer to yet?
There are many questions I believe, yet one question that often strikes me when media effect researchers recommend media literacy as a “solution” for harmful media effects is that we actually do not know under which conditions (social) media literacy can prevent antisocial (social) media effects and ensure beneficial outcomes follow after developing increased media literacy skills. This question was also the core rationale underlying the paper on pornography literacy that the amazing Annemarie van Oosten and I published in the Journal of Communication.
What would be your work motto?
“Teamwork makes the dream work”: I love my job because of the people with whom I can do this. I have absolutely fabulous colleagues at the School for Mass Communication Research and outside Leuven. I cannot imagine my professional life without these personal/academic friends and feel incredibly lucky to be able to work with so many wonderful colleagues.
Which of your publications is your favorite, and why?
This is a difficult question but I would like to cite two. The first publication is a paper of Steven and me that was published in Archives of Sexual Behavior about the explanatory value of the three-step self-objectification process in sexual media effects, for which we received a Best Article Award of CAM thanks to the fantastic Ine Beyens (U of Amsterdam) who nominated us. Except for the research innovation presented in the paper, it also reminds me about the fantastic time I had as a PhD student (when sharing an office with Ine and working with Steven).
The second publication is a commentary I recently wrote to reflect on a new theoretical paradigm proposed by a group of psychologists to study sexual media effects. Other disciplines outside communication science also reflect on media use and its effects but sometimes seem to neglect the rich expertise that we have built in this area. In the commentary I tried to summarize some of the knowledge that is common sense in media effects research to further enhance the framework. I very much enjoyed the constructive discussion that followed after the publication of the commentary.
If you had unlimited resources, what kind of project would you want to do and why?
I would include all advanced and often incredibly time consuming research practices into one study to answer how and when media use relates to adolescent well-being. This dream project would, for instance, include a measurement burst study that starts in childhood and ends when adolescents reach adulthood. We would have time-sensitive survey data of a representative sample of adolescents in different countries, but at the same time combine the insights of these data with data coming from media tracking software, stress tracking bracelets, Netflix, and all other new tools that allow us to go beyond self-report data. Moreover, we would have data on how parents, peers and educators affect the media effects that adolescents experience.
If you had to give one piece of advice to young CAM scholars, what would it be?
Enjoy the academic search for knowledge and celebrate all milestones you, but also your colleagues, achieve. Our job is so much more rewarding when thinking as a team. A PhD in communication science can further be a roller coaster of ups and downs but (and this I especially learned from Kathleen Beullens) a healthy sense of putting things in perspective undoubtedly helps academics to overcome obstacles.
Who would you like to put in the spotlight next, and why?
Jessica Piotrowski, because she is at the heart of the CAM community and is an amazing researcher.
To download a copy of this edition of CAMmer in the spotlight click here.