Review of Communication Research

MASS COMMUNICATION                                                                                                                

Title & Author

A Review and Analysis of Patterns of Design Decisions in Recent Media Effects Research

W. James Potter (University of California at Santa Barbara, USA)


• The findings of published content analyses of the media effects literature are critically analyzed to provide a foundation for an analysis of current methodological patterns.

• The design decisions made by authors of 211 articles reporting a test of media effects that were recently published (2010 to 2015) in six core communication journals are analyzed.

• The literature continues to display an atheoretical pattern evidenced by the majority of designers of media effects studies ignoring theories when constructing a foundation for their studies.

• There is a continuing pattern of many authors of media effects studies selecting weaker options over stronger ones when designing their samples, measures, and experiments.

• A critical analysis of the likely reasons for these patterns of design decisions reveals that many of the selected design options are supported by assumptions that have been found to be faulty.

• Recommendations are presented for an evolution in thinking about methods, theory, and paradigm.


This essay presents a critical analysis of patterns of research design decisions exhibited by authors of recently published empirical tests of media effects. The content of 211 articles published from 2010 to 2015 in six core communication journals were analyzed to document the design decisions made by the authors concerning their use of theory, sampling, measurement, and experiments. We also recorded the amount of variance explained by their tests and use this indicator of strength of findings to explain the patterns of methodological design decisions. The findings indicate that authors of these studies commonly select weaker design options over stronger ones. The reasons for these patterns are explored then critiqued leading to a series of recommendations calling for an evolution in thinking in the areas of method, theory, and paradigm. The methods recommendations attempt to increase (a) awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of options available for each design decision, (b) an understanding that often assumptions made to justify the selection of an option are faulty, and (c) a commitment to meeting a higher degree of challenges. The theory recommendations focus on increasing an understanding about why designers of most tests of media effects ignore the many theories available when designing their studies. And the paradigm recommendations focus on examining more critically the assumptions we make about the nature of human beings, the purpose of our research as challenges evolve, and the defaults in practices we have established in an exploratory phase.



open access verde 

A Review and Analysis of Patterns of Design Decisions in Recent Media Effects Research

W. James Potter

Keywords: Media effects; Design decisions; Methods; Development of knowledge; Critical analysis;


  Filesize 414.74 KB Download 79




 I. General Criticism of the Development of the Field of Media Effects


II. Criticisms of the Design of Empirical Tests of Media Effects

A. Theory as Foundation

B. Sampling Procedures

C. Measurement Features

1. Mundane behaviors

2. Attribute variables as surrogates

3. Measuring change

4. Evidence for quality of measures

D. Design of Experiments

1. Random assignment

2. Balance check

3. Manipulation check

E. Reporting Effect Sizes


III. Current Patterns in Effects Research

A. Generating Data to Document Recent Patterns

1. Sample

2. Coding variables

3. Testing reliability

B. Findings

1. Reporting the use of theory

2. Sampling decisions

3. Measurement decisions

4. Design decisions in experiments

5. Reporting variance explained


IV. Big Picture of Patterns

A. Theory-Methods-Findings Nexus

Table 1. Uniformity of Patterns Across Theory Usage

Table 2. Strength of Findings by Design Decisions

B. Analyzing Practices for Supporting Assumptions

1. Assumptions attributable to research perspective

Table 3. Analyzing Assumptions Underlying Selections of Methodological Options

2. Faulty assumptions

3. Continuing value of exploratory research


V. Recommendations for Moving Forward

A. Methods Recommendations

1. Recommendations with higher change leverage

Table 4. Recommendations by Costs and Benefits

2. Recommendations with lower change leverage

B. Theory Recommendations 

C. Paradigm Recommendations


Copyrights and Repositories



Media effects, design decisions, methods, development of knowledge, critical analysis.


About the Author

W. James Potter is professor at the Department of Communication of University of California at Santa Barbara, USA.


Author biographical information:

Personal website

Curriculum Vitae

COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY                                                                                                

Title & Authors

Avatars and Computer-Mediated Communication: A Review of the Definitions, Uses, and Effects of Digital Representations

Kristine L. Nowak (University of Connecticut, USA) and Jesse Fox (The Ohio State University, USA)


• The term “avatar” is not consistently defined either operationally or conceptually by researchers in Communication.

• In computer-mediated communication, scholars agree that avatars are digital representations of the user in a digital environment.

The avatar influences perception and attribution of sources and messages in a digital environment.

• The computers as social actors framework and the model of social influence in digital environments lend insight into avatars.

• Perceptions of avatar agency and social potential (e.g., anthropomorphism and behavioral realism) have important implications for digital interactions.

• Avatar characteristics afforded by an interface can augment or limit people’s ability to self-present and engage in the digital environment.

• Scholars can use avatars in research to facilitate experimental control and the investigation of complex communication processes and theories.


Avatars are growing in popularity and present in many interfaces used for computer-mediated communication including social media, ecommerce, and educational applications. Communication researchers have been investigating avatars for over twenty years, and an examination of this literature reveals similarities but also notable discrepancies in conceptual definitions. The goal of this chapter is to provide a general overview of current debates, methodological approaches, and trends in findings. Our review synthesizes previous research in four areas. First, we examine how scholars have conceptualized the term “avatar,” identify similarities and differences across these definitions, and recommend that scholars use the term consistently. Next, we review theoretical perspectives relevant to avatar perception (e.g., the computers as social actors framework). Then, we examine avatar characteristics that communicators use to discern the humanity and social potential of an avatar (anthropomorphism, form realism, behavioral realism, and perceived agency) and discuss implications for attributions and communication outcomes. We also review findings on the social categorization of avatars, such as when people apply categories like sex, gender, race, and ethnicity to their evaluations of digital representations. Finally, we examine research on avatar selection and design relevant to communication outcomes. Here, we review both motivations in CMC contexts (such as self-presentation and identity expression) and potential effects (e.g., persuasion). We conclude with a discussion of future directions for avatar research and propose that communication researchers consider avatars not just as a topic of study, but also as a tool for testing theories and understanding critical elements of human communication. Avatar-mediated environments provide researchers with a number of advantageous technological affordances that can enable manipulations that may be difficult or inadvisable to execute in natural environments. We conclude by discussing the use of avatar research to extend communication theory and our understanding of communication processes.


open access verde 

Avatars and Computer-Mediated Communication: A Review of the Definitions, Uses, and Effects of Digital Representations on Communication

Kristine L. Nowak and Jesse Fox

Keywords: Avatars; Perception; Digital environments; Video games; Computer-mediated communication; Digital representations; Social actors; Anthropomorphism; Human-computer interaction;


  Filesize 371.65 KB Download 41




The Emergence and Definition of Avatars in Communication Research

Similarities in Conceptualization

Differences in Conceptualization

Conceptualizing Avatar for Future Research

Avatar Perception: Processing Digital Bodies and People

Perceptions of Avatars: Humanity, Agency, and Social Potential



The uncanny valley

Social Categorization of Avatars

Sex and gender

Race and ethnicity

Similarity and homophily

Avatar Selection as Self-Representation

Avatars as identity expression

Identity exploration and deception

Effects of avatar embodiment

Future Directions: Using Avatars to Study Human Communication

Refining Research on Avatars

Topics for Future Directions for Avatar Research

Ethical Considerations





Avatars, Perception, Digital environments, Video games, Computer-mediated communication, Digital representations, Social actors, Anthropomorphism, Human-computer interaction .

About the Authors

Authors biographical information:

Personal website: Kristine L. Nowak

Personal website: Jesse Fox

GROUP COMMUNICATION                                                                                                            

Title & Authors

The Path to Cooperative Action during Group Social Dilemmas: A Literature Review, Set of Propositions, and Model Describing How the Opportunity to Communicate Encourages Cooperation

Charles Pavitt (University of Delaware, USA)


• Defines the two types of social dilemmas; resource and public goods.

Describes the “cooperative mechanisms” of group identity, reciprocity and equity norms, and trust and trustworthiness, all critical for determining cooperation.

Reviews in detail the functions performed by an additional “cooperative mechanism,” communication, in terms both of the sheer opportunity to interact and the content of what is discussed.

• Depicts the impact of two other variables, most notably group size and social value orientation, on the cooperative mechanisms.

• Includes a model and set of propositions describing the relationships among relevant variables.

• Explores some areas for further research and eventual inclusion into the model.


A social dilemma is a circumstance in which each of an aggregate of people must make an individual decision whether to acquire a short-term benefit for themselves or to forego some of that benefit for the long-term benefit of the aggregate.  The intent of this essay is to describe how communication, in terms of both the opportunity to talk and the content of what is said, interacts with other “cooperative mechanisms” – group identity, reciprocity and equity norms, and trust and trustworthiness – to largely determine individual cooperation versus defection.  Two variables with relatively complex impacts on the cooperative mechanisms – social value orientation and group size – are also discussed.  A model and set of propositions relating these variables are also included, and areas for further are explored.


open access verde 

The Path to Cooperative Action during Group Social Dilemmas: A Literature Review, Set of Propositions, and Model Describing How the Opportunity to Communicate Encourages Cooperation

Charles Pavitt

Keywords: Social dilemma, Resource dilemma, Public goods dilemma, Group identity, Social norms, Trust, Trustworthiness, Communication, Cooperation, Social value orientation, Group size;


  Filesize 469.32 KB Download 29






The Cooperative Mechanisms


Group Identity

Reciprocity and Equity Norms

Trust and Trustworthiness



Influences on the Cooperative Mechanisms

Social Value Orientation

Group Size

Model and Propositions

Input Before Discussion

Discussion Content

Output From Discussion

Process of Harvesting/Contributing

Beyond the Present Model





Social dilemma, Resource dilemma, Public goods dilemma, Group identity, Social norms, Trust, Trustworthiness, Communication, Cooperation, Social value orientation, Group size.

About the Author

Author biographical information:

Charles Pavitt is in his last year as a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Delaware. Over his career, he has published three books and about 60 other works of various types, primarily in the areas of interpersonal and small group communication and communication theory. In addition, he has published both academically and in other outlets in the area of baseball analytics.

Personal website: Charles Pavitt