We remember what we hear and feel, not what people say.

I have always believed that humans have feelings and that these feelings impact our reasoning. Current trends in neuroscience seem to be bearing this belief out.

For me, my thinking about emotional cognition started during a philosophy seminar in which we discussed René Descartes notion that cognition is purely rational. Cogito ergo sum. He also says that animals are not capable of thought. Quite frankly I have always believed that Descartes’ idea that animals are complicated biological robots with no minds demonstrates that his rationalist view of the human mind was profoundly flawed. You’ll see why I bring this up when you watch the last video of the three in this blog post.

Emotions make up a huge part of the way we think, make decisions and reason. Our emotional memory of the past regulates and channels our interpretations of what we see and hear and see other people do (to us) in the present. Antonio Damasio, a prominent neuroscientist, has always said that emotion is profoundly linked to human cognition. Here he discusses why emotions make for better decisions:

This rule applies to how people are affected by brands. In the words of Frank Luntz, famous American communications researcher and strategist, it is not what the content of what you say that people remember, but rather what they heard. Clothaire Rapaille, French cognitive scientist and market researcher adds that it is how something makes us feel that influences our retention of it. We tend to block out negative experiences on focus on the good times. Here is an excerpt of The Persuaders, a PBS documentary by Douglas Rushkoff, featuring Rapaille:

To get back to how animals process emotion, I encourage you to watch this heart-breaking video of a cat who refuses to believe that her friend is dead. If you watch it with the music on, it will make you cry – it will mark you and you will remember it. If you watch it with the music off, then the effect will still be strong, but less pronounced.

Why? The music is the cognitive bridge that translates the emotion of what we are seeing with our own experiences. We are not used to thinking of cats as emotional creatures. The music reminds us that what we are watching is tragic and beautiful.

Together, music and video leave an indelible image. Media is certainly very powerful…

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COMM-Lab: Communication Metrics Laboratory is LAUNCHED!

Today, we launched the COMM-Lab: Communication Metrics Laboratory, of which I am the founder and co-director with my colleague, Dr. Philip Savage.

COMM-Lab was created because of a dearth of empirical and evidence-based research on communication studies in Canada. Many scholars, practitioners and MPs have told Philip and me that more data is needed to support decisions made around communications in Canada. You can read Philip’s paper by clicking here.

I am very excited about the COMM-Lab. It will be a place for media and communication research from qualitative and quantitative perspectives. Our first focus will be on content and text analysis, capitalizing Philip’s and my shared strengths in research methodology. Philip also brings a strong background and experience in media policy and law, as well as professional and academic audience research, which will enrich the COMM-Lab immensely.

Another very big part of the lab is going to be making sure that it integrates professional academic research into the learning environment of the classes that Philip and I teach at McMaster, both in the undergrad and graduate programs.

Our first project will be on the QPMAP: Question Period Monitoring and Analysis Project. This project using content, textual and discourse analysis techniques to study the interactions between Members of Parliament during Question Period. We hope to establish a rigorous methodology for coding the linguistic-pragmatic, non-verbal, and issues-based content of the MP’s interactions.

Our second project, running concurrently, under the direction of Dr. Dong Sun, a postdoctoral fellow who has joined me from Nanjing University of Finance and Economics, deals with a comparison of coverage of various issues in Chinese and North American newspapers.

I can’t wait to start seeing results from these studies. Both are extremely promising and topical.

I also solicit the interest of any students who wish to come and become members of COMM-Lab by doing their MA in Communication and New Media, under my supervision, or by doing an undergraduate honours thesis under either my direction or that of Dr. Philip Savage. A third way you can join the COMM-Lab team is by applying for a job in the lab (yes, we do have a tiny amount of money to pay employees), by doing a CMST 3B03 communications internship, or simply by volunteering.

Any way that you would like to contribute to COMM-Lab, know that you are welcome.

If you are a potential donor or private or not-for-profit sector partner, and you would like to support our research n COMM-Lab with a financial or an in-kind donation, or if you want to sponsor a content analysis, public opinion or audience research project, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Our founding private sector partner and donor is Dr. Andrew Laing, President, Cormex Research – Canada’s leading media research and content analysis firm. Cormex brings a wealth of methodological and technical support that will enrich COMM-Lab enormously. It will also provide our student researchers exposure to private sector research. A very valuable thing for them, indeed.

Please visit our COMM-Lab website by clicking here.

We have also started a Facebook group for the COMM-Lab, which you can join by clicking here.