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Aims and Objectives


Communication research concerns how people create, transmit, interpret, evaluate and respond to messages to inform, relate to, and influence one another interpersonally, in small groups, in organizations, in public settings and across cultures. Communication scholars work toward illuminating these processes and effects in various contexts, channels and media. Although communication is studied from both humanities and social scientific perspectives, the purpose of the Ph.D. program is to produce students who will develop communication theories and be highly skilled in the use of quantitative methods to evaluate them. This will not be an applied program, but one predicated on the view that theoretical understanding of phenomena enables more effective application than does practical intervention not informed by theory-based explanation.



The program will focus on two areas of communication inquiry, social interaction and mediated communication. Within each of these domains of study, students may address a range of research questions such as the following:


  • How does the use of new communication technologies alter face-to-face social interaction?
  • How do the use of new communication technologies alter social, economic, political and cultural aspects of national and global society?
  • What processes enable individuals to detect each others’ goals and intentions during both face-to-face and mediated social encounters?
  • Why and to what degree does engaging in anonymous computer-mediated communication lower users’ inhibitions to the point that they are willing to flout conversational maxims?
  • What mechanism or mechanisms explain relationships between exposure to violent media content, including violent video games, and manifestations of aggressive behavior in children and adults?
  • How does information about co-interlocutors’ emotional states, obtained both explicitly and implicitly, influence interpretation of message content and subsequent responses to messages? What mechanisms enable these effects?
  • Why do particular message features tend to promote adherence in message recipients, as when parents advise their children or doctors prescribe particular medications for their patients?
  • How does exposure to particular types of content available on traditional media and the Internet influence the degree to which individuals become civically engaged?


These questions, as well as the many more we anticipate our Ph.D. students will ask, require that students be highly conversant with theories germane to processes subserving the production and processing of verbal discourse and text. These theoretical perspectives also seek to explain communicative action manifested or expressed nonverbally. These fundamental processing issues cut across both the social interaction and mediated communication areas, and span numerous contexts subsumed within each of the two domains of inquiry. Research designed to illuminate these processes requires in-depth training in both quantitative methods and research design; consequently, the program provides students with a rigorous set of courses in these areas. Because the program will train students to develop communication theory, regardless of their particular area of focus they will be required to become well steeped in alternative meta-theoretical perspectives for developing communication theory and they will gain practical experience in theory construction.


Given the ubiquity of communicative activity in everyday life, achieving an understanding of fundamental communication processes holds great promise for addressing a wide array of practical communication problems and social concerns. The program provides students with the conceptual and methodological tools necessary to study and understand these processes. Quantitative, social-scientific approaches to communication research have become dominant in Communication. Moreover, the Department of Communication’s faculty members, all of whom conduct communication research within this quantitative, social scientific purview, as well as the Department’s home in the Division of Social Sciences combine to support the desirability of a social-scientifically focused, quantitatively-oriented Ph.D. program in Communication.