Evolution, Biology, & Brains 2.0 ICA Pre-Conference


Headed to the International Communication Association (ICA) annual conference this year? If so, I strongly encourage you to submit to and attend the Communication Science – Evolution, Biology, and Brains 2.0: Innovation in Theory and Methods pre-conference.

I attended this pre-conference at ICA 2013 and was quite impressed with submission quality. It is fantastic to see that this sort of work is gaining traction in the Communication discipline. More information on the pre-conference is available here.

The Neural Correlates of Flow Experiences

Our lab recently pilot tested a study that looks at the structural assumptions central to a synchronization theory of flow. The initial results (reported below) were submitted to the Communication Science – Evolution, Biology, and Brains 2.0: Innovation in Theory and Methods pre-conference.


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Lab Coverage


My research lab was recently featured in The Current! This is a fantastic piece that details many of the different things our lab is working on. My work is the stuff on flow and aggression resulting from video game use.

Lab Combines Communication, Technology and Neuroscience: The Media Neuroscience Lab puts hard science into traditional communication methodology

Among the happiest guinea pigs at UC Santa Barbara are those who play video games and watch soap operas in the name of science. They are at the center of serious research being conducted at the campus’s Media Neuroscience Lab (MNL), where neuroscientific methods are applied to answer pressing questions in communication research. The cutting-edge lab is the brainchild of René Weber, an associate professor in UCSB’s Department of Communication.

Read the full story here.

Signaling Theory & Media Research

I presented some work on the application of signaling to mass communication research at the National Communication Association annual conference. This represents the theoretical front-end to several empirical studies the lab and I have been working on. Hopefully we will soon have results to share. For now, here is the talk.

Much of mass communication research reports nurture-based explanations for relationships between media and human behavior (Sherry, 2004). A complementary research agenda seeks to integrate both nature and nurture explanations for such relationships (Weber, Sherry, & Mathiak, 2008). At times, such an approach may benefit from the adoption of theories from other scientific disciplines. Signaling theory (cf. Maynard Smith & Harper, 2003) originated in evolutionary biology and explains the mechanisms behind the honest communication of information between organisms. Social scientists are increasingly turning to signaling theory as a means for testing evolutionary explanations for human behavior (Reid, Zhang, & Anderson, 2013). This paper explains signaling theory and explicates opportunities for applying the theory to predict the interaction between individuals and media based on evolutionarily derived and psychologically relevant characteristics of both individuals and media.

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Attentional Capacity & Flow Experiences

One of the things our lab is working on is developing methodologies to test the synchronization theory of flow. In a recent study, we demonstrate that secondary task reaction times can be used as a low cost, unobtrusive, and online measure of flow experiences. This study was presented at the 2013 International Communication Association conference. For a brief summary of the results, see the poster below. We are now in the process of designing a pilot study to fully test the cognitive synchronization of attentional and reward networks using fMRI.

Weber, R., & Huskey, R., (2013, June). Attentional capacity and Flow experiences: Examining the attentional component of synchronization theory. Paper accepted to the annual conference of the International Communication Association, London, United Kingdom.


Wow, it has been a long time since I last posted here. What gives? I’ve been focusing on a few different projects.

MNSBadge_120pxRoughly one year ago, I helped launch our lab website: medianeuroscience.org. I serve as a content administrator on the page and manage most of the content updates. I also manage the lab’s twitter account: @MediaNeuro. You will find the most recent updates on the lab’s work (including my own) at these two pages. It really is an exciting time to be working in this area!

What else… I just defended my thesis: Does Signaling Theory Account for Aggressive Behavior in Video Games? What a learning experience. The project took 9-months from inception to completion. Data collection alone took 10-weeks and required something like 150 lab hours. Data coding, pre-processing analysis probably clocked in at another 60 hours. I learned a few new statistical techniques in the process and have a long list of things I learned in the lab. The dataset is quite robust and my adviser and I are working on a few follow-up analyses (more on that later). I’ll post a .pdf of the thesis after I make a few final edits. For now, here is the abstract:

Signaling theory originated in evolutionary biology and explains the mechanisms behind the honest communication of information between organisms. Communication scholars are increasingly turning to signaling theory as a way to test evolutionary explanations for human behavior. The present study tests if receiver-dependent costly signals can be used to predict the moment of aggressive behavior in video game environments. Results show that high status (but not high trait aggression) male subjects were fastest to engage in combat against a low voice pitch male opponent – but only when subject skill was high.

Another exciting development from the past year; I work as one of two tech support staff in our department. We are largely responsible for maintaining faculty/staff computers, lab computers, technical teaching resources, and the department website. The department recently secured funding to revitalize our research facilities and I helped with the planning, purchasing, and deployment of the department’s new equipment. I won’t get into all the details, but we deployed 30 new computers in the past 6-months (17 of these machines were complete custom builds). If you are interested, check out the department’s research capabilities.

Other than that, I’ve been busy with coursework, trying to get a small handful of studies submitted to conferences and/or for publication, and another few studies kicked off. I’m off, for now! I’ll leave you with this great strip from PhD Comics.


Stand back…

… I’m starting to write my thesis proposal.

I didn't understand what you meant. I still don't. But I'll figure it out soon!

Communication Science – Evolution, Biology, and Brains

If you are headed to ICA in 2013 there are several pre-conferences you are probably interested in. I’d like to underscore the Communication Science – Evolution, Biology, and Brains pre-conference:

The goal of this pre-conference is to bring together scholars who are working across sub-fields of communication studies using evolutionary theory, neuroscience and other biological measures to address core questions in communication studies. A critical mass of scholars are now employing such methods to advance theory and application within communication studies. Furthermore, biological paradigms clearly include additional questions and methods that can be added to our research agenda, however, incorporation of biological explanations and methods can also highlight new questions. In addition to plenary talks given by invited senior scholars in the area, the pre-conference participants will share new data and ideas and discuss a vision for how communication studies can best leverage such new theorizing and study paradigms moving forward.

More information (e.g., costs, deadlines, agenda) is available here. Hopefully I’ll see you there!


The Communication department at UCSB publishes a quarterly newsletter, The Gaucho Communicator. This newsletter generally contains useful information about the department, past/upcoming events, student opportunities, etc. The Fall 2012 issue features a brief profile of yours truly (page 6). <insertsnarkycommenthere>

UPDATE: Bio is on page 7. <insertevensnarkiercommenthere>

Discovery Channel – Rise of the Video Game

Rise of the Video Game is a five-part documentary on video games produced by the Discovery Chanel. Video, as well as descriptions of each episode, are shown below the fold.

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