Morality in Media and Mind


You can download a static copy of the syllabus here (posted 4/7/2020): Ken Rosenberg – CLLC 2021 – Morality in Media and Mind

Or, if you want to keep current, check out the Google Doc version which will be updated with more optional readings and other supplemental material: Morality in Media and Mind – syllabus and living reading list

And, finally, feel free to check out an unwieldy copy-paste version below:

Morality in Media and Mind

Table of Contents




Course Policies


Classroom technology



Writing Tutorial Services

Religious observances and absences

Students with disabilities

For your mental well-being

Reporting sexual violence



Readings and viewings

Discussion posts

Literature review

Questions and methods

First draft and proposal

Final paper



Point breakdown

Required texts and suggested resources


Weekly Schedule

Week 1 – Introduction and Course Framing

Week 2 – How Media Shapes Our Discourse

Week 3 – How We Shape Discourse in Media

Week 4 – Issues of Technological Determinism

Week 5 – Issues of Biology and Environment

Week 6 – Morally Mediated Realities

Week 7 – guest speaker – David Weaver on agenda-setting in 2020

Week 8 – Fairness is Familiarity: On Infants and Tribes

Week 9 – Common Problems with Coordination

Week 10 – Heuristics, Automation, and Other “Bad Barrels”

Week 11 – guest speaker – John Kruschke on humanity’s moral hardware

Week 12 – The Media Equation and Human Interaction

Week 13 – Good Games and Good Learning: Principles of Design

Week 14 – Games for Change: Scientific Research on Prosocial Design

Week 15 – guest speakers – MEL research group on prosocial game design

Week 16 – Presentations (papers due on Friday)



What is good? Most of your classmates would save their pet instead of a stranger’s child—what does that imply for collective action around social issues? There is a reciprocal relationship between mass media and audiences—what do those psychological mechanisms mean for discourse and democracy? Sometimes, one simple change to a policy or document can influence how people make decisions—and, ultimately, reflect or even shape the moral direction of a society. Do you ever marvel at those minor decisions around morality, social interaction, and institutional design, and how small changes to an environment can lead to significantly different outcomes? If you wondered why all the toilet paper disappeared in March, or got frustrated with your intractable uncle over politics last Thanksgiving—or even just marveled at the elegant simplicity of the pop-a-quarter design that keeps all the shopping carts at Aldi—then take this class to explore how and why people make decisions, how individual decisions affect others as part of mediated systems, and how research can suggest new designs to help foster a more prosocial society.



This course meets twice-weekly to introduce our assigned readings (Monday lectures) so you can read them (probably Tuesdays) and respond to discussion prompts in a forum (due Wednesdays), then meet to round out our thoughts as a group (Thursday discussions). The goal is to cover topics in mass communication and cognitive science, starting with a look at how the world is currently working (Unit 1: Mass Communication), why it works that way (Unit 2: Cognitive Science), and what people can do to help make the world better through research, design, and policy (Unit 3: Games and Learning). By the end of the class, students will:


  • Be able to appreciate the origins of modern communication studies
  • Understand how mass media influences attitudes and behavior at the individual and group levels, including the reciprocal relationship between media producers and consumers
  • Explore design principles and debate about values as we redesign social systems with prosocial goals 
  • Thoroughly engage with everyone else in the class through vigorous discussion
  • Be more comfortable with guest speakers and a colloquium-style form of academic interaction; an important skill for those pursuing graduate degrees 
  • Have drafted and defended a research proposal to demonstrate knowledge in a particular line of empirical inquiry


Questions about good human behavior span a variety of disciplines, so it is useful to survey a few at a time to answer the larger, more existential ones. I hope you each find something worthwhile from the variety of research areas we explore!


Course Policies



Participation and attendance are not optional; for every student to get the most out of class time, everyone must be in class, prepared, and engaged. Because it is unavoidable that people will miss some class meetings, your first three unexcused absences will not affect your grade. However, your final grade will be lowered by 5% for each subsequent unexcused absence. It’s better to let me know in advance so, whenever possible, please just let me know about anticipated absences—or even last-minute emergencies—and we can adjust accordingly.


Classroom technology

Use of laptops and tablets is acceptable when appropriate (checking notes and readings, referring classmates’ reflection posts in order to facilitate discussion) but is otherwise discouraged.



Deadlines for all assignments are listed below, in the weekly schedule. If you run into a problem, please talk to me in advance and I will grant an extension at my discretion. All readings are to be read for the day they are listed on the syllabus. Please bring all readings to class on the day we will discuss them—it’s easier to discuss them this way.



Reflection posts should have properly formatted in-text citations, but a bibliography is not required if you are only referencing class readings. For papers and presentations, however, complete MLA or APA formatting should be used. In class, I will speak briefly about plagiarism, explaining what it is, why it’s wrong, and what you can do to avoid it—but, seriously, don’t plagiarize, people!


“The Indiana University Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct (2005) indicates that students may be disciplined for several different kinds of academic misconduct. In particular the code states: Plagiarism is defined as presenting someone else’s work, including the work of other students, as one’s own. Any ideas or materials taken from another source for either written or oral use must be fully acknowledged, unless the information is common knowledge. What is considered ‘common knowledge’ may differ from course to course. a. A student must not adopt or reproduce ideas, opinions, theories, formulas, graphics, or pictures of another person without acknowledgment. b. A student must give credit to the originality of others and acknowledge an indebtedness whenever: 1. Directly quoting another person’s actual words, whether oral or written; 2. Using another person’s ideas, opinions, or theories; 3. Paraphrasing the words, ideas, opinions, or theories of others, whether oral or written; 4. Borrowing facts, statistics, or illustrative material; or 5. Offering materials assembled or collected by others in the form of projects or collections without acknowledgment.” (quoted from Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct, Part II, Student Responsibilities, Academic Misconduct)


Writing Tutorial Services

Need one-on-one help with your writing process? Go see a tutor at WTS, located in the Wells Library, or schedule an appointment in advance at They know all the stuff about thesis statements, outlining and drafting, and formatting and style guidelines. Do you?


Religious observances and absences

You have a right to observe significant religious events; if this conflicts with our regular meeting schedule, please contact me in advance. You are encouraged to submit assignments early to avoid penalties. However, religious identity or personal values will not exempt any student from participating in class discussions, which might challenge spirituality with secularism. 


Students with disabilities

If you have registered with the Office of Disability Services for Students (DSS) and require unique allowances to better succeed in this course, please notify me as soon as possible so we can work together to make sure we have everything you need. 


For your mental well-being

If you experience stress, anxiety, depression, or any other difficulties in adjusting to college life, there are campus resources at your disposal—including Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). They offer counseling sessions, psychiatric services, group therapy, and crisis management. Visit them on the fourth floor of the IU Health Center, or call (812) 855 – 5711.


Reporting sexual violence

A subdivision of CAPS, the Sexual Assault Crisis Service (SACS) is a free resource for counseling and consultation, with referrals for legal and medical services. If you have experienced or witnessed sexual or relationship violence or abuse, you should call (812) 855 – 8900 (24/7/365) or visit the fourth floor of the IU Health Center.




Readings and viewings

Each week, you will be responsible for reading or viewing the texts assigned in the weekly schedule section of this syllabus. Usually, this will be a small handful of news articles, short videos, or research summaries. Articles will be posted on Canvas and I will offer reading suggestions every Monday (tables to scrutinize or sections to skim; frames of reference to help consider the given article in the context of course themes).


Discussion posts

Each week, I will introduce the next topic of discussion by lecture, referencing additional material and expanding on the points made in your readings. Then, with this philosophical scaffolding, you will read or watch the assigned texts. For the following class, it is up to you and your classmates to discuss the relevant issues—but, before that, you must go into the Canvas forums and write a reflection post.


You will be assigned 14 reflection posts throughout the semester, one for each week’s discussion, in which you will answer a prompt that requires synthesis of the weekly reading and lecture. While the posts’ topics and readings are already decided, each week’s post will be constructed after our Monday post-lecture debriefings, to ensure that each prompt is relevant to the questions and directions you will have going into the reading. A high-quality post is between 400-600 words and completely answers the prompt, using examples and citing references. 


Writing these posts is good practice for several reasons:


  • This is a good opportunity to begin developing some talking points that you can bring up during discussions.
  • Writing down your ideas forces you to develop and organize your thoughts.
  • You can use the posts as notes during discussions, so you don’t lose focus in the heat of debate.
  • You can see what your classmates think about the week’s topics, better preparing you to converse with them.
  • Bluntly, it lets me know whether you have read and paid attention in class.


Reflection posts are due each Wednesday night by midnight. You are required to post at least two comments on other students’ posts; these comments are due each Friday night by midnight, after our discussions, and will be graded as part of your reflection post assignments.


A note about etiquette during discussions: We will talk about a variety of ethical issues and discussions may turn into debates for a short period—but it is imperative that you remain respectful with your words and in your demeanor. Like all Collins courses, the class size is limited not only to ensure that you have more of my time and attention, but also to foster a close relationship between you and your classmates. You will get to know everyone, and it is important that we all feel comfortable.



In this class, you will gradually engage in the formal practice of academic research by immersing yourself in the prior literature, asking research questions and hypotheses, operationalizing concepts in order to design empirically-driven studies, and presenting your research proposal to a group of peers. Instead of requiring one paper at the end of the course, you will submit each section as we progress through the course units—and use these submissions as drafts of your final paper. This means that you should ideally choose a concept, a series of questions, and a proposed method of inquiry that are congruent with each other. You are absolutely welcome to shift focus as your perspective changes over the semester, but this could involve a bit of extra work; feel free to consult with me week by week, especially in the beginning, and I can help you choose concepts that will connect with the outcomes you want to explore in your final paper. Many of the concepts within these units are arguably “plug-and-play,” such that I earnestly believe most scholars will be able to use each draft as part of an iterative process, regardless of how much their research trajectory changes.


Literature Review (3-5 pages; due at the end of Week 7)

Choose a subfield from the discipline of mass communication (one of the general topics from each week of Unit 1) and write a literature review about a specific concept or theory within that subfield: 


  • Shaping the discourse (i.e., agenda-setting)
  • Transmission models (i.e., opinion leaders)
  • Media-seeking motivations (i.e., uses and gratifications)
  • Identity and attitudes (i.e., political affiliation and source credibility)
  • Moral salience and media production (i.e., Stage 5 of the MIME)


A good literature review is an intentional and parsimonious summary of prior research that tells a cohesive story about knowledge-building studies, which culminates in a clear explanation of a gap in the literature and a pressing need for a current study. We will read through and discuss many literature reviews before you are asked to submit one, so do not be intimidated if this is your first attempt at crafting one. At this stage, APA formatting is not required—so focus on making sure you have a solid explication of your concept (read: logical and exhaustive).


Questions and Methods (2-3 new pages; due at the end of Week 11)

Choose an issue covered in Unit 2 and finish your literature review by transitioning from your concept of choice into an aspect of human behavior: 


  • Individual-level moral psychology (i.e., empathy or altruism)
  • Group-level coordination (i.e., heuristics or social norms)
  • Environmental design (i.e., post-scarcity economics or algorithm-based efficiency)


By focusing on one level of analysis, you will be able to create targeted questions that explore specific relationships between the mass communication phenomenon and some underlying psychological principles that seem to cause or reinforce that phenomenon. Once you establish a theoretical relationship between your chosen concept(s) and the level of abstraction that best addresses your questions, we can work on writing research questions and hypotheses. And, once you have selected a level of analysis, choosing methods of inquiry will become more apparent. At this stage, your methodology is expected to be rudimentary in description; it is more important to make sure your basic design and operationalizations are properly testing your research questions. You will have time to develop your methods, which should be fleshed out more fully by the time you present your proposal.


First Draft and Proposal (5-10 total; due at the end of Week 14) 

Now is the time to start packaging your background research into a formal study proposal. Take the feedback you received from the first two writing assignments, edit your existing work accordingly, and then continue your methods section with a full draft for either an experiment (including surveys and the like) or a design (i.e., technological, institutional- or policy-related) that would be clear enough for another media producer, policy maker, or social scientist to follow. Again, as with the literature review assignment, you will have had plenty of examples for methods by this point. Consider and develop one of these three styles of research papers; keep in mind that they are in order of how rigorous you should make your methods (top-to-bottom) and how thorough your literature review must be (bottom-to-top):


  • Testing real-world behavior in an experimental context (i.e., Weaver and Lewis, 2012)
  • Implementing new design in a public space (i.e., Bloom, 2015)
  • Suggesting policy changes to institutions (i.e., Gigerenzer, 2010)


Then, take your writing and translate it into a brief presentation, about 15 minutes, in which you summarize your literature review and explain your purpose, questions, and methods to the rest of the class. This should help you with professional development—both giving you an opportunity for me and your peers to offer feedback as you begin your final draft, and encouraging you to think about your research from the perspective of your audience. As we have learned along the way: the story you tell (and how you tell it) can be just as crucial as the information you are sharing.


Final Paper (7-12 total; due at the end of finals week)

This will be the culmination of your previous efforts. Take the feedback you have received from me along the way, and from your classmates after your draft-based presentation, to flesh out and polish your existing content. Make sure to include new sections on implications and limitations. This final draft should be properly formatted according to APA conventions, including an abstract, in-text citations, and a reference list. Please refer to links on Canvas, posted in the Final Paper assignment description, for tools such as Zotero which can help you with formatting and to produce and manage personal libraries of citations.




Point breakdown

Weekly discussion posts 28% (2% x 14 formal meeting weeks)

Weekly participation 32% (2% x 16 actual meeting weeks)

Literature Review 10% (end of Unit 1)

Questions and Methods 10% (end of Unit 2)

First Draft and Proposal 10% (end of Unit 3)

Final Paper 10% (end of term)


Required texts and suggested resources

All of your readings will be posted on Canvas, unless a weekly announcement indicates otherwise. There is no textbook for this course. As a matter of course, I always recommend Zotero or another citation management software.


Weekly Schedule

Please remember that coordination in this world is tricky and fragile, and so this schedule might change to reflect our most current abilities and needs. In other words, pay attention and look for updates via email and Canvas announcement.


Week 1 – Introduction and Course Framing


Key theories and concepts (for Monday): Everything!


Reading: Nothing!


Assignment (due Wednesday): Write a post to introduce yourself in all the ways you want, but please end your post with an attempt to describe something that bothers you about humanity, using an everyday example (i.e., “Sometimes, Black Friday videos of people trampling each other for the marginal benefits of consumerism makes me wonder if people are really kind or cruel at their core, and how much this is reflected in the rest of capitalism in our society.”) We will use this information to introduce ourselves and set goals for the course.


Thursday discussion: We will talk about why everyone is here and what to expect from each other and from the syllabus.


Unit 1 – Mass Communication: From a Global Village to Displaced Tribes


Week 2 – How Media Shapes Our Discourse


Key theories and concepts (for Monday): Agenda-setting, framing, priming, gatekeeping


Required reading: McCombs, M. E., & Shaw, D. L. (1972). The agenda-setting function of mass media. Public opinion quarterly, 36(2), 176-187.


Bissell, K. L. (2000). A return to ‘Mr. Gates’: Photography and objectivity. Newspaper Research Journal, 21(3), 81-93.


Assignment (due Wednesday): What kinds of events and issues define the media, and what surprises you about it in terms of gatekeeping and framing? In other words, what are we talking about in today’s news, why do you think it was chosen over other stories, and how is the narrative of our societal discourse being shaped through the presentation of those stories?


Thursday discussion: The goal is to discuss the ways in which our personal conversations are still being shaped by mass media, and how elements of personal experience and media consumption can cause psychological confluence and a transference of salient issues and framing and values.


Week 3 – How We Shape Discourse in Media


Key theories and concepts (for Monday): transmission models, two-step flow, opinion leaders, social media and networks, emotional contagion


Required reading: Turcotte, J., York, C., Irving, J., Scholl, R. M., & Pingree, R. J. (2015). News recommendations from social media opinion leaders: Effects on media trust and information seeking. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 20(5), 520-535.


Suggested reading: Whitler, K. (2019). How U.S. marketers are losing the influencer battle. Forbes.


Assignment (due Wednesday): Who are the opinion leaders in your social groups, and how do they set the agenda for discussion or behavior? What influences your media consumption, and how do you feel after interacting with social media?


Thursday discussion: Our goal will be to discuss the article and relate it to our everyday lives, but also to assess how communication theories have evolved—and how communication behavior might be evolving even faster than accounted for in the literature. Transmission models now involve multiple platforms and filters which redefine groups by affinity more than proximity, facilitating the creation of echo chambers (which we discuss next week).


Week 4 – Issues of Technological Determinism


Key theories and concepts (for Monday): medium theory, uses and gratifications, selective exposure, echo chambers, digital divide, parasocial interaction, narratives


Required reading: Garrett, R. K. (2009). Politically motivated reinforcement seeking: Reframing the selective exposure debate. Journal of communication, 59(4), 676-699.


Zillmann, D. (2000). Mood management in the context of selective exposure theory. Annals of the International Communication Association, 23(1), 103-123.


Assignment (due Wednesday): What do you seek from your media? When and why? How do you satisfy these needs and desires? Reflect on your media habits and how they might help but also structure the ways in which you communicate with others.


Thursday discussion: Our goal will be to quickly commiserate about our newly rediscovered addictions to screens and technology, then move forward to communication-focused debate about the tensions between entertainment and news, between capitalism and social inequality, and the other reasons why we choose to isolate ourselves and indulge in narrowcasting through echo chambers—and the impact our individual choices can make on the societal agenda. 


Week 5 – Issues of Biology and Environment


Key theories and concepts (for Monday): values and beliefs, attitude change, political partisanship, source credibility, media literacy, journalism and ethics, comment culture


Required reading: Graham, J., Haidt, J., & Nosek, B. A. (2009). Liberals and conservatives rely on different sets of moral foundations. Journal of personality and social psychology, 96(5), 1029.


Everyone should take the MFQ (no pressure to report specific results; maybe collect anonymized class data to share and compare to the large-scale survey).


Beck, J. (2017). This article won’t change your mind. The Atlantic.


Suggested readings: Weir, K. (2017). Why we believe alternative facts. American Psychological Association.


Haidt, J. (2001). The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment. Psychological Review, 108(4), 814-34.


Hauser, M., Cushman, F., Young, L., Kang‐Xing Jin, R., & Mikhail, J. (2007). A dissociation between moral judgments and justifications. Mind and Language, 22(1), 1-21.


Assignment (due Wednesday): According to Haidt and his colleagues, how can we explain the difference between media preferences and political beliefs using moral psychology? What about the framework of moral intuitionism is compelling as a means to explain human behavior, compared to the previous framework of moral reasoning? How should we treat moral reasoning and arguments in political discourse, given the model of moral attitude formation we discussed in class from Haidt (2001)? 


Thursday discussion: Our goal will be to unpack the theory and its implications, but also to genuinely feel out our individual senses of right and wrong, of pleasure and disgust as it relates to social behavior, and start applying our newfound understanding of moral foundations to the theories addressed in prior weeks—which will segue into talk about the MIME, our focus for next week.


Week 6 – Morally Mediated Realities


Key theories and concepts (for Monday): Moral Foundations Theory (MFT), Affective Disposition Theory (ADT), the Model of Intuitive Morality and Exemplars (MIME), cultivation theory and mean world syndrome


Required reading: Tamborini, R. (2012). A model of intuitive morality and exemplars. In Media and the moral mind (pp. 67-98). Routledge.


Suggested readings: Zillmann, D., & Cantor, J. R. (1976). A disposition theory of humor and mirth. Humor and laughter: Theory, research, and application, 93-115.


Raney, A. A. (2006). The psychology of disposition-based theories of media enjoyment. In J. Bryant & P. Vorderer (Eds.), Psychology of entertainment (pp. 137–150). Lawrence Erlbaum.


Oliver, M. B., & Raney, A. A. (2011). Entertainment as pleasurable and meaningful: Identifying hedonic and eudaimonic motivations for entertainment consumption. Journal of Communication, 61(5), 984–1004.


Assignment (due Wednesday): What does the MIME assert, imply, and predict? What about this model gives it explanatory power, and why is it also very limited despite the model covering almost all levels of mediated human interaction? Describe some domain-violating media content that you have recently consumed. Why did you choose to expose yourself to this morally aversive content? Describe some domain-adhering media content that you have never consumed. Why not? In explaining these answers, it might be useful to discuss what Tamborini (2012) says about how small domain violations can facilitate meta-level domain adherence. Put another way, what would Zillmann or Raney say about how temporary domain violations and disposition-based enjoyment of media?


Thursday discussion: Our goal is to look at each of the eight stages outlined by the MIME and to inspect them as sites of moral attitude formation, negotiation, and change. We will discuss individual differences in media preferences, particularly in terms of moral foundation salience, and probably end by trying to classify a few of our favorite media narratives in relation to the MFT. Hopefully, we will use this week’s discussion to add the underlying, psychological “why” to our “how” of mass communication patterns gleaned over the first several weeks..


Week 7 – guest speaker: David Weaver on agenda-setting in 2020


Key theories and concepts (for Monday): everything from Unit 1


Required reading: Weaver, D. H. (2007). Thoughts on agenda setting, framing, and priming. Journal of communication, 57(1), 142-147.


Popovich, N. (2018). Where Americans (mostly) agree on climate change policies, in five maps. The New York Times.


Assignment (due Wednesday): Please prepare questions for Professor Weaver around the concepts of news information, attitude formation and change, and mass communication and social interaction. Consider the infographics in the Times article above, in reference to all of our talk about selective exposure and echo chambers. What is dividing us? Is it values and facts, or groups and channels?


(literature review due)


Unit 2 – Cognitive Science: How People Naturally Treat Each Other


Week 8 – Fairness is Familiarity: On Infants and Tribes


Key theories and concepts (for Monday): moral development, fairness, empathy, cruelty, altruism, disengagement of agency


Required reading: Bloom, P. (2017). The root of all cruelty? The New Yorker.


Bloom, P. (2015). How Empathy Makes People More Violent. The Atlantic.


Schwartz, K. (2019). Why Intentionally Building Empathy Is More Important Now Than Ever. KQED.


Wright, R. (2019). Empathy is tearing us apart. Wired.


Suggested reading: Bandura, A., Barbaranelli, C., Caprara, G. V., & Pastorelli, C. (1996). Mechanisms of moral disengagement in the exercise of moral agency. Journal of personality and social psychology, 71(2), 364.


Bloom, P. (2013). Just babies: The origins of good and evil. Broadway Books.


Wilson, D. S. (2015). Does altruism exist?: Culture, genes, and the welfare of others. Yale University Press.


Assignment (due Wednesday): According to Bloom, what is empathy and why is it dangerous? According to Wilson, what is altruism and why have we been defining it inappropriately? According to you, using this background, what makes human behavior moral? What makes it good? And, when are those two outcomes in sync and in conflict?


Thursday discussion: Our goal is to discuss the biological and early-development foundations of moral psychology, with the intent of removing any pretense about our being rational moral beings. We will talk about infants and judgment of others, toddlers and their sense of fairness, and adults and our socio-emotional motivations for compassion and kindness. Finally, we will explore concepts of cruelty and disengagement, to see if theories of not-good make sense in relation to each other (spoilers: they do not).


Week 9 – Common Problems with Coordination


Key theories and concepts (for Monday): cooperation, free riding, the Prisoner’s Dilemma, the Tragedy of the Commons, signaling; social norms


Required reading: DeScioli, P., & Kurzban, R. (2013). A solution to the mysteries of morality. Psychological Bulletin, 139(2), 477.


Kolbert, E. (2017). Why facts don’t change our minds. The New Yorker.


Suggested reading: Fiske, A. P., & Rai, T. S. (2014). Virtuous violence: Hurting and killing to create, sustain, end, and honor social relationships. Cambridge University Press.


Assignment (due Wednesday): What is morality as defined in terms of coordination? How can we conceptualize moral values and behaviors as relationship-defining and -binding, rather than as an individual-level trait? If our goal is to analyze human behavior to improve environment and policy design for prosocial outcomes, what does this group-level analysis of morality suggest as directions for potential questions and methods?


Thursday discussion: This week’s discussion is meant for us to finally eschew the framework of individual-level morality and start focusing on how moral behavior is less well-defined but more easily explained by group-level coordination, helping us ask better questions and suggest better methods. Instead of focusing on attitude change, let’s try to figure out how systems define mass behavior more by the numbers—leading into next week’s talk about tweaking the barrel instead of trying to address every single apple.


Week 10 – Heuristics, Automation, and Other “Bad Barrels”


Key theories and concepts (for Monday): neoliberal apocalypse of efficiency-over-happiness societies; post-scarcity economics and the future; coronavirus and racism; individual radicalization and international populism; algorithms, news feeds, and narrowcasting; network theory


Required reading: Frank, A. (2017). Could you help rewire income disparity? NPR.


Gigerenzer, G. (2010). Moral satisficing: Rethinking moral behavior as bounded rationality. Topics in cognitive science, 2(3), 528-554.


TED Talks. (2013). Peter Singer: The why and how of effective altruism. YouTube.


Suggested readings: The Editorial Board. (2020). Opinion: The companies putting profits ahead of public health. The New York Times.


Saadia, M. (2016). Trekonomics: The economics of Star Trek. Inkshares.


Assignment (due Wednesday): After this week’s readings and viewing, define what “good” means in terms of heuristics, networks, and outcomes. How is individual decision-making made irrelevant with these models of human behavior? What is lost and gained in moving to this level of analysis? Where is the locus of responsibility for moral change in Singer’s effective altruism movement, versus Gigerenzer’s perspective of morality-as-heuristics? What kinds of reservations would ethics philosophers have with both of these approaches, and how would you assess the tensions between normative ethics and these relatively de-agentic alternatives?


Thursday discussion: This unit’s discussions should culminate in a change of focus from Unit 1, which largely focused on individual-level psychology and how it affects group-level behavior, to a top-down perspective where we explore how governments and other institutions can instantiate systems of norms and practices that compel individual-level behavior and (often, eventually) attitude change. Even though it was crucial to understand how people function in a mediated communication climate, we will conclude that the most effective routes to change involve influence at the group level. Next week, Professor Kruschke will echo this sentiment, as we cover other readings to round out this conception of morality-as-design.


Week 11 – guest speaker – John Kruschke on humanity’s moral hardware


Key theories and concepts (for Monday): everything from Unit 2


Required reading: Haidt, J., & Bjorklund, F. (2008). Social intuitionists answer six questions about morality.


Kaufman, G. F., & Libby, L. K. (2012). Changing beliefs and behavior through experience-taking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103(1), 1-19.


Pew Research Center (2018). Where Americans find meaning in life. Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.


Assignment (due Wednesday): Please prepare questions for Professor Kruschke around the concepts of moral intuition, group coordination, empathy and altruism, and social norms. Consider this week’s readings, in reference to all of our talk about human beings’ stubborn, tribal nature, and let’s talk instead about our shared values and goals, what underpins morality for all individuals, and how narratives can be used as a tool for empathy via experience-taking. How can we leverage our commonalities to bond across moral tribes? This discussion should segue into our unit on learning and applied social science, where we will explore how research on video games and other narrative media can facilitate cooperation between strangers and across groups.


(questions and methods due)


Unit 3 – Games and Learning: How Design Can Make (Up) the Difference


Week 12 – The Media Equation and Human Interaction


Key theories and concepts (for Monday): human-computer interaction, the Proteus Effect


Required reading: Yee, N., & Bailenson, J. (2007). The Proteus effect: The effect of transformed self-representation on behavior. Human communication research, 33(3), 271-290.


Weaver, A. J., & Lewis, N. (2012). Mirrored morality: An exploration of moral choice in video games. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.


Suggested reading: Castronova, E. (2001). Virtual worlds: A first-hand account of market and society on the cyberian frontier.


Assignment (due Wednesday): How can media serve as both a mirror and a bridge? In other words, how does human-computer interaction replicate similar attitude and behavior change to real-world interaction—and how are media capable of altering social interactions by altering user experiences? Why would it be useful, as a prosocial researcher or designer, to have people engage with others in a virtual environment?


Thursday discussion: This week, we dive into Unit 3: back into communication research but, unlike Unit 1, with an applied focus—so with less focus on psychology and network effects, and much more overlap with the literature in education-based learning, cultural studies, and behavioral economics. Our discussion will mostly focus around combining a few basic tenants we have established in prior weeks: 1) facilitating change is easier at the group level (read: making something against the law is easier than convincing each person to uphold a shared code of ethics; 2) good systems leverage individual decision-making to create this group-level change (i.e., redesigning a space to leverage a heuristic so many individuals’ behaviors accrue into a new system of interaction, aka design-based coordination); and 3) computer-based media can cater to individuals via interactivity, while also reinforcing the same top-down systems on those individuals. Next week, we will discuss what makes good learning-based design (hint: it’s part of every good video game) and then, at the end of our last unit, how we might leverage these in-media effects for some real-world change.


Week 13 – Good Games and Good Learning: Principles of Design 


Key theories and concepts (for Monday): games and play, the magic circle, situated/embedded learning, embodied cognition and extended mind theory, scaffolding


Required reading: Barab, S. A., Gresalfi, M., & Ingram-Goble, A. (2010). Transformational play: Using games to position person, content, and context. Educational Researcher, 39(7), 525–536.


Kamentez, A. (2018). 5 proven benefits of play. NPR.


Suggested readings: Gee, J. (2007). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy (2nd ed.). Palgrave Macmillan.


McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. Penguin Press.


Koster, R. (2005). Theory of fun for game design. O’Reilly Media, Inc.


Carse, J. (1986). Finite and infinite games: A vision of life as play and possibility. Free Press.


Assignment (due Wednesday): What is the magic circle and how does this fundamental social concept unify the otherwise disparate practices of religion and sports? Where do you see magic circles instantiated in your everyday life, and when and how are they violated (i.e., your favorite MMO and the gold farmers who populate its servers)? Why is the magic circle a catalyst for social learning, and how does its context both emphasize some real-world principles while changing or outright violating others? 


Thursday discussion: Good learning involves being embedded into a structured environment with a logical set of affordances and constraints, with achievable goals that can be safely attempted multiple times. Let’s talk about why “reality is broken” and why “infinite games” can and should be the next stage of our social evolution. We will exhaust our review of how play can be useful for teaching and conclude by addressing the issue of transfer, which is essential when learning in an alternate context. 


Week 14 – Games for Change: Scientific Research on Prosocial Design


Key theories and concepts (for Monday): salience, attention, memory, learning, guilt


Required reading: Eden, A., Tamborini, R., Grizzard, M., Lewis, R., Weber, R., & Prabhu, S. (2014). Repeated exposure to narrative entertainment and the salience of moral intuitions. Journal of Communication, 64(3), 501–520.


Lewis, R. J., Grizzard, M., Mangus, J. M., Rashidian, P., & Weber, R. (2017). Moral clarity in narratives elicits greater cooperation than moral ambiguity. Media Psychology, 20(4), 533–556.


Suggested readings: Grizzard, M., Tamborini, R., Lewis, R. J., Wang, L., & Prabhu, S. (2014). Being bad in a video game can make us morally sensitive. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 17(8), 499–504.


Assignment (due Wednesday): How can the MIME help researchers assess the types and degrees of moral attitude change in individual content users? If you were a media producer tasked with creating prosocial outcomes in your audiences, what kind of media would you make? For instance, would you want to make a one-hour VR experience to teach middle school students about vaping—which would be immersive and interactive, and arguably enhance learning and memory—or a binge-worthy Netflix limited series, which could make the narrative a cultural phenomenon and reinforce norms and discourse. There are no wrong answers, only meager defenses; have at it!


Thursday discussion: We will discuss your assignment submission and have some fun reviewing some of the more compelling media proposals, with the intent of steering you each closer to your final paper goals—which will largely include experimental stimuli of some kind. At the end of our talk, we should be prepared to transition into our last week, in which we finally look at some social science studies directly geared towards testing the effects of prosocial media on subsequent attitudes and behavior.


(first draft due)


Week 15 – guest speakers – John Velez and the MEL group


Key theories and concepts (for Monday): everything from Unit 3


Required reading: Velez, J. A., Greitemeyer, T., Whitaker, J. L., Ewoldsen, D. R., & Bushman, B. J. (2016). Violent video games and reciprocity: The attenuating effects of cooperative game play on subsequent aggression. Communication Research, 43(4), 447-467.


Greitemeyer, T., & Osswald, S. (2010). Effects of prosocial video games on prosocial behavior. Journal of personality and social psychology, 98(2), 211.


Suggested readings: Velez, J. A., & Ewoldsen, D. R. (2013). Helping Behaviors During Video Game Play. Journal of Media Psychology, 25(4), 190–200.


Assignment (due Wednesday): Please prepare questions for John Velez, based on his research, and the other MEL members—mostly based on our in-class discussion about some current studies.


Week 16 – Presentations (Finals Week)


In-class presentations


(papers due on Friday by midnight)