Completed Research Projects

Internet Culture

This research was based on some work I did with Debra Winter (Olaf '94). We were able to get access to a large body of written comments from an online group of women computer scientists (SYSTERS). SYSTERS is a women-only electronic mail group that, at the time of our study, consisted of about 1,400 people around the world. Deb (after a master's in communication from Illinois) is currently in Chicago working as an organizational consultant for Andersen Consulting.

The respondents' reactions to the culture of the internet, and their comments on the segregated forum they have created in response, provide a detailed description of the complexities of EC and the social worlds it allows us to create. Their comments suggest that electronic communication can give undue influence to extreme opinions and can make it easier for sexual harassment to occur. It can also make it easy for women who are unwilling to involve themselves in mixed-sex forums to interact with each other in a climate they find more congenial. Thus, the technology may increase the reach both of those who make the internet a difficult place and of those who wish to make it a safer place. One conclusion we draw is that basic patterns of gender based communication are at least replicated, if not magnified, in electronic communication. (See my short vita for a reference)

Students in one of my classes had suggested that banner advertisements on the world wide web, by and large, do not exhibit the sort of gender bias often found in the mainstream media. Obviously, it was time to take a look. From our experience so far, we have found some spectacularly sexist ads on several sites, but whether this effect will remain when coding a random sample of web ads remains to be seen. This is harder to do than you might imagine.

Several students helped me design a study to document gender bias in web banner advertisements (e.g. the pictures you click on that take you to a company's site). Eric Larsen (Olaf '97) did some of the preliminary work of designing a coding scheme and working on a sampling procedure. The coding scheme derives from Erving Goffman's classic book Gender Advertisments. Matt Lundin (Olaf '99, 2nd from left) and Aaron Sackett (Olaf '00, 2nd from right) have helped me improve substantially on the sampling and coding scheme and finished last Fall executing a stratified random sample of several hundred banner ads from 30 or more major web sites. Paul Godfread (Olaf '01, on left) and Allison Ahlberg (Olaf '00, on right) volunteered to help with the meticulous coding of the images in the web ads according to a modified scheme based on Goffman's typology. They have both helped us in defining and systematizing the coding scheme. Each student has chosen a pose in this picture to represent some of the items in the coding scheme. Paul is engaged in Licensed Withdrawal from the scene; Matt is showing Operant Touch of the glass in his hand; Aaron is displaying Feminine Touch on both Matt and Allison's shoulder, Allison is showing Ritualized Subordination (sitting posture, head cant, emphasized by touch from Aaron). Aaron and Matt and I presented this paper at the 1st annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in February 2000 in Nashville.

Gender and Human-Computer Interaction

A series of studies I and my colleagues have done suggest that women and men have different interaction goals and styles when they use a computer. Much of this work is reviewed in the article by Huff, Fleming & Cooper (1991) referenced in my short vita. It seems that men view the computer more as an opportunity for individual mastery over the machine, while women view the computer more as a tool to accomplish particular, personal (or interpersonal) ends. We find this effect in the ways and reasons young children have for interacting with the computer, in the kinds of language that men and women use to describe computers, and in the attributional styles that men and women use in explaining their success or failure. In a study done by Blake Sobiloff (Olaf '91) and I, we found that the computing environment that people set up for themselves differed based on gender, with women modifying their environment to produce better output and men modifying their environment to enhance their speed and control over the machine. Blake is currently a software engineer and Web geek in California.

The effects of deception in research

Nick Epley (Olaf '96) and I became interested in the reactions of research participants to being deceived in psychological research. Most arguments against deception in research are based on the negative effects it is supposed to have on participants in the study. We found that with a standard process debriefing, their reaction to deception was quite minimal, but that they did say they would be more suspicious of experiments from then on. This effect was still evident at a three month followup interview. This research was published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. After attending the PhD program in social psychology at Cornell, Nick took a job teaching at Harvard (and he now teaches at the University of Chicago).

The social setting of pornography

This is a study of the social context within which students view pornography. Suzie Smalling (Olaf '97) and I asked students to write a short autobiographical essay about the last time they had looked at pornography in the presence of other people. They then completed a multitude of scales to give us information about their reaction to that experience. Most research on pornography pays no attention to the social context within which it is viewed, and as far as we know, this is the first psychological investigation of pornography viewing in a social context. We collected the data for this in May of '97, and are only beginning to analyze it now. Loran Nordgren (Olaf '01, on left) and Andy Hertel (Olaf '99, on right) coded the data and Loran did much of the analysis. We presented this research at the second SPSP convention. Loran received his PhD from the University of Amsterdam and is now teaching at the Free University there, while Andy is in the PhD program in social psychology at the University of Minnesota.

Recruiment of disgust to support gun control attitudes

Andy Hertel's (Olaf '99, on right) senior work was an investigation of how the emotion of disgust has been recruited to serve as support for Pro-Gun Control attitudes. He is following an idea pioneered by Paul Rozin that disgust is a moral emotion. Andy's study involved developing attitudinal scales and using these to get student's rating of their gun control attitudes, and various reactions to guns (anger, disgust, sense of danger, etc.). The pattern of correlations among these variables suggests that, indeed, disgust is being recruited as a moral emotion in support of morally-based anti-gun attitudes. Those persons opposed to handguns on moral grounds show a strong relationship between their belief that handguns are disgusting and their belief that handguns are immoral while those anti-handgun participants who do not think handguns a moral issue do not show this relationship. This work was presented at the 1st annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in February 2000 in Nashville.


If you are a St. Olaf student and interested in helping with any of the research I have described above, send me email and we can talk about it.
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