Main Research Interests
After studying psychology and sociology at the Universities of Heidelberg, Mannheim, Michigan, and NYU, I focused my research agenda on people's exposure to entertaining content in various media (books, TV, radio, audiotapes, video games, etc.) and to the effects these might have on their users. I was convinced that entertainment had not been taken seriously enough by academic research, let alone being rigorously studied, and that was despite the fact that this very same entertainment has always played a significant role in almost everybody's life. Why do people actually - habitually or instrumentally - seek specific psychological states by selecting specific media (content) and what kind of effects does this have on them?
Of course, both communication research and media psychology have provided us with a number of different theories, models, and approaches to deal with these questions. However, they constantly need to be adjusted to ever-changing problems and questions. As we have seen, particularly over the past few years, a constant increase in time people spend with various forms of media in many different situations of their daily lives, I keep wondering why people do what they do when they turn to the media. On top of this increase in time spent, we also observe more and more people "multitasking" - using various media simultaneously. For example, many TV users "watch" a program on their living room flatscreen while also reading or crafting messages on Facebook or email. Or, in a social situation, they divide their attention between their conversation partner and their smart phone by switching their attentional focus back and forth.
Why we do this, what we experience when we do it and what kind of effects this has on us (e.g., in terms of our feelings, our evaluation of the media content, or our attitudes) is hardly known. I believe that the following questions are among the most interesting and challenging tasks for our discipline: Do the media and our way of using them still provide us with the necessary information we need, or are they simply amusing (and thereby perhaps even distracting) us? Or are the forms of entertainment we see in media today a necessary condition for us to still deal with political news, i.e. to read, watch, and listen to what's happening in the world as social, economic, and global processes seem to have become so much more complicated? Can we be „informed citizens" of a world community if we are not willing to participate in a public discourse, even if this discourse has become arduous? Can we still communicate and interact with others, including those with a different cultural background than ours, if we are no longer willing to be challenged, frustrated, irritated, and confused?
The actual change of the media landscape but also of our way to use the media has affected the way people in the „Global Village" deal with each other. I believe it should be a priority for communication research to help us understand what's going on with these changes so that we are in a position to deal with them and to know what we want and what we don't.