Communication Majors Present 2019 Senior Honors Theses

Their subjects span the field of Communication, from secondhand smoking to diva worship to presidential rhetoric.

On April 10 and April 17, fourteen Communication majors presented senior theses to a group of classmates, faculty, and staff. These Penn seniors wrote an honors thesis and/or a Communication and Public Service (ComPS) thesis. All will graduate with honors at Annenberg’s Communication major graduation ceremony next month. The students will also present their Communication theses at a poster session held in the Annenberg School Plaza Lobby next week.

The Communication thesis course lasts two semesters and is taught by Kim Woolf, Ph.D., and Eran Ben-Porath, Ph.D. For the first semester, the students write research proposals that contain a literature review and detailed methodologies for their theses. During the second semester, the students complete data collection and write the thesis.

From secondhand smoking to diva worship on Twitter to presidential rhetoric, their subjects span the field of Communication:

Jung Hyun (Christine) Bae

“Purpose in Life, Pain Sensitivity, and the Psychosocial Functioning of Chronic Pain Patients”
Thesis Advisors: Yoona Kang, Kim Woolf

Purpose in life has been identified by numerous studies as a predictor for physical, mental, and social well-being, but not much research has been done to examine the effects of purpose in life on chronic pain patients. Bae's study sought to understand the relationship between purpose in life and the psychosocial functioning of chronic pain patients; and understand the significance of pain sensitivity as a mediator between purpose and psychosocial functioning of patients. The results indicated that purpose in life can possibly help individuals control the emotional and cognitive aspect that determines the pain experience.

José Carreras-Tartak

“A Corpus-Assisted Discourse Analysis and Comparison of Online U.S. Hurricane News Coverage”
Thesis Advisors: Matthew Brook O’Donnell, Eran Ben-Porath

Hurricanes are natural disasters with catastrophic consequences, and media outlets play a crucial role in informing the public and shaping how these disasters are perceived. However, little research has focused on identifying the frames adopted in this coverage nor how victims are portrayed across multiple hurricanes. Carreras-Tartak's study aimed to determine which terms characterize the coverage and the frames they correspond to, as well as the context in which victim-related terms occur. The findings indicate that overall coverage of hurricanes skews towards political and human-interest frames, with variations in this frame distribution between hurricanes.

Amanda Damon

“The Immigration Debate in America: The Civil Rights Question of our Time?”
Thesis Advisors: David Eisenhower, Kim Woolf

Damon's thesis examines key aspects of the current polarized and escalating undocumented immigration situation in America. It assesses the importance of executive discourse, via signing statements, administrative memorandum, and public speeches, on the matter. Using a three-phase series of historical, transitional, and contemporary textual analyses of presidential rhetoric, it draws a connection between civil rights struggles of the past and immigration today. By calling immigration a modern day civil rights issue, this study highlights the urgent and often ignored need for comprehensive immigration reform via the passage of new and/or revision of existing laws. As with civil rights, it will begin with rhetoric that enlists all parties in a nation-wide solution to a national problem.

(L to R) Photo of José Carreras-Tartak, Valerie Toledo, Lauren Lee, James Hiebert, Kara Roche, Nick Hunsicker, and Reina Kern
(L to R) José Carreras-Tartak, Valerie Toledo, Lauren Lee, James Hiebert, Kara Roche, Nick Hunsicker, and Reina Kern

Benjamin Friedman

“Persuasion with Psychographics: An Experiment in Microtargeting with Moral Foundations Theory”
Thesis Advisors: Kenneth Winneg, Eran Ben-Porath

Psychographic microtargeting, which is the dissemination of persuasive messages to individual voters based on their predicted psychological makeup, is an emerging political campaign tactic. However, very little research has been done on the effectiveness of psychographic microtargeting. This experiment sought to test the persuasive potential of psychographic microtargeting based on Moral Foundations Theory, a psychological framework composed of five moral foundations that describe how people make moral decisions.

Ryan Furey

“Catering to the Base: An Analysis of Political Parties Rewarding Ideological Consistency in Presidential Primaries”
Thesis Advisors: David Eisenhower, Eran Ben-Porath

The purpose of this study was to estimate the importance of each state in Republican and Democratic presidential primaries from 1976-2016 and compare these trends to electoral data in general elections. The McGovern-Fraser reforms in the 1970s led primaries for both parties to be more heavily focused on popular vote and primaries, rather than caucuses, making these past eleven electoral cycles prime for research. Furey's study builds upon previous research by blending methods used in the fields of communication and political science to draw trends over the past forty years.

Ariel Goldfine

“Shaken Baby Syndrome in the Courtroom: A Rhetorical Study of Scientific Iconography and Prosecutorial Persuasion”
Thesis Advisors: Joseph N. Cappella, Eran Ben-Porath

Goldfine's study sought to understand prosecutorial persuasion in criminal trials related to Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS). More specifically, it sought to understand the ways prosecutors frame the forensic science underpinning SBS-related murder and child abuse convictions. This prosecutorial framing becomes particularly worthy of study as researchers increasingly question and reject SBS-related science, and the criminal justice system continues to prosecute and convict individuals of SBS-related crimes. The findings speak to the convoluted relationship between forensic science, justice, culture, and persuasion on a larger scale.

James Hiebert

“Taylor's Scientific Management in Discourse: Extending the Cultural Turn to Business History”
Thesis Advisors: Carolyn Marvin, Kim Woolf

Frederick Winslow Taylor’s system of Scientific Management has emerged as an emblem of standardization, surveillance, and speeding-up in the study of labor processes. Hiebert's study focused on cultural and communicative practices in reconstructing the history and historiography of Scientific Management. Through a textual analysis of American technical journals, newspapers, magazines, trade publications, and socialist dailies from 1894 to 1915 and a quantitative content analysis of publications from 1895 to 1925, this study identified the public discourse on Taylor’s work on Scientific Management to show how the classic narrative of the system and its impact became fixed and culturally dominant.

Nick Hunsicker

“Yaaaaas Gaga: Diva Worship, Identity Formation, and Communities of Gay Men on Twitter”
Thesis Advisors: Guobin Yang, Kim Woolf

The concept of diva worship, or pop star idolization, has a long history in the gay community stemming back to opera in the 20th century. Hunsicker's thesis explores this phenomenon on Twitter and how engaging in the act relates to the formulation of a gay identity and community. As the world shifts to more mediated interactions and the world of social media, this thesis grapples with the ever-shifting social dynamics within gay subcultures. Through seven in-depth, semi-structured interviews with gay men, Hunsicker's study attempts to explore questions of what diva worship looks like in the context of Twitter and how it relates to gay identity and community today.

Reina Kern

“American Presidents Come to Berlin: Place and Rhetoric in U.S. Presidential Speeches in the Evolving ‘World City’”
Thesis Advisors: David Eisenhower, Kim Woolf

People and events make places memorable. The city of Berlin, coined as the “world city,” is a place that represents the entirety of the human experience. In this place, we open the gateway to a dark history and prolonged struggle, but also to great victories and valuable memories that highlight the willpower of Berlin and its citizens. Kern's thesis is an analysis of place and rhetoric of the speeches of U.S. Presidents John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Candidate Barack Obama in Berlin on their quest to redefine the city’s narrative and rewrite the course of Berlin’s history to initiate a new era in the “world city.”

(L to R) Photo of Kim Woolf, Christine Bae, Amanda Damon, Valerie Rube, Ryan Furey, Ariel Goldfine, William Snow, Benjamin Friedman, and Eran Ben-Porath
(L to R) Kim Woolf, Christine Bae, Amanda Damon, Valerie Rube, Ryan Furey, Ariel Goldfine, William Snow, Benjamin Friedman, and Eran Ben-Porath

Chae Rin (Lauren) Lee

“It is Not Just You Who is Smoking: An Experimental Study on Media Campaigns about Secondhand Smoking Risks and Adolescents’ Beliefs and Intentions”
Thesis Advisors: Robert C. Hornik, Eran Ben-Porath

Although different types of anti-smoking mass media campaigns have been found to be effective in preventing adolescents and young adults from smoking, most past studies have only focused on the effects of the campaigns about firsthand smoking risks, while the effects of those about secondhand smoking risks have not been sufficiently examined. Thus, Lee's study addressed the effects of mass media campaigns about secondhand smoking risks on adolescents and young adults. Specifically, by conducting an experimental study on young adults, the study investigated whether this aforementioned type of campaign would affect young adults in perceiving the risks of both firsthand and secondhand smoking and in influencing their future smoking intentions.

Kara Roche

“The Cinematic Presidency: Ronald Reagan and the Cultural Mythology of Classical Hollywood Cinema”
Thesis Advisors: David Eisenhower, Kim Woolf

In twentieth century America, Hollywood movies dominated a shared national culture. Classical Hollywood style movies celebrated traditional beliefs about the American identity, before these films were largely replaced by countercultural films that questioned those ideas. Ronald Reagan is unique as the only U.S. president to have been a movie actor. While it has been acknowledged that Reagan’s presidency relates to Hollywood, there has been little effort to connect it with the classical era during which Reagan worked in the industry. Through an analysis of genre films and Reagan's speeches, Roche argues that Reagan consistently invoked Classic Hollywood themes and other cinematic images, primarily casting the American public as the classical Hollywood hero archetype, while more subtly casting himself as a hero.

Valerie Rube

“Character Deaths in This Is Grey's of Thrones: A Parasocial Grief Study across Three Television Dramas”
Thesis Advisors: Jessa Lingel, Eran Ben-Porath

Viewer connections with television characters, known as parasocial relationships, tend to mirror real-life relationships. The loss of these parasocial relationships due to death could incite similar real-world grief-filled reactions. Rube's study focused on understanding the differences in fan’s reactions to the deaths of main characters across three shows with varying levels of realism within the drama category: This Is Us, Grey’s Anatomy, and Game of Thrones. Additionally, this study looked at social media as a supplemental fan coping response after the death of a favorite character. The findings add to our understanding that the developed parasocial relationships are used by viewers to learn more about their social world, even in the context of grief.

William Snow

“Challenging the Status Quo: How Theodore Roosevelt and Barack Obama Articulated their Progressive Visions”
Thesis Advisors: David Eisenhower, Kim Woolf

A number of trends have contributed to the consolidation of the political spotlight on the president, including the rise of the rhetorical presidency and changes in media and technology. Barack Obama found himself in office far along this evolutionary trend, but many of these developments began under Theodore Roosevelt. One of the biggest challenges of each presidency was articulating a progressive vision for America in line with their agenda amid staunch conservative opposition. Through a rhetorical analysis, Snow's thesis explores how Obama aligned himself with Roosevelt rhetorically and how Obama’s articulation of progressivism differed from Roosevelt’s.

Valerie Toledo

“Looking for Subculture: General Admission Concert Queueing and Touring Practices in Philadelphia”
Thesis Advisors: Susan Haas, Kim Woolf

Despite the millions of fans of music today that comprise enormous online communities like those found on Twitter and Tumblr, with their own unique and complex practices and rich histories, offline music fan queueing has not been studied beyond that, and characterized as ritualized behavior among fans who tour for artists with avid global followings. Toledo's study conceptualized fans who queue in advance and tour for shows, their motivations and practices, and described their practices beyond ritualized behavior and in response to established definitions of alternative conceptions of culture. In addition, this study looked at music fan queueing practices from the perspective of a place, Philadelphia, to suggest whether practices emerge that help to explain variations in queueing culture.