College of Communication > About > College News > 2020 News Archive > Captivated Audience: The Media Engagement Research Lab Investigates the Science of Messaging

Captivated Audience

The Media Engagement Research Lab investigates the science of messaging

Two people analyzing graphs and data

Since the 1970s, colored lapel ribbons have been used to raise awareness of everything from AIDS to epilepsy. Pink is now associated with breast cancer and has extended beyond ribbons to include anything pink, from T-shirts to tennis balls. Color branding for health and social issues is everywhere, so it must be working, right? Sydney Dillard, an associate professor of public relations and advertising, has used the Media Engagement Research Lab (ME Lab) resources to try to determine whether the use of pink in breast cancer ads really encourages at-risk women to get screened for the disease.

Communication tools have become much more sophisticated, but it’s not always easy to gauge whether clicks, unique impressions, diversity casting in commercials and other strategies are having the effects communicators want. The ME Lab is designed to help organizations understand and refine their messaging using some of the most cutting-edge techniques available.

Nur Uysal, assistant professor of public relations and the lab’s co-founder and co-director, says, “At the ME Lab, we are interested in understanding and designing systems that enhance media engagement in a variety of contextual environments. We generate innovative research that helps brands tell compelling stories and achieve their goals.”

Juan Mundel, an assistant professor of advertising and lab co-founder and co-director, oversees the purchase of the technology needed to train students in advertising research—technology that only a handful of universities across the country have. “I meet weekly with a group of 20 students to discuss, design and implement research projects that involve psychophysiologic and experimental measures—eye tracking, heart rate, skin conductance, facial expression—and also lead a weekly lab class on psychophysiology,” Mundel says.

“We recently finished collecting eye-tracking data for a study investigating the role of models’ bodies in affecting product healthfulness perceptions for fast-food advertising. We collected more than 120 hours of visual attention information,” he continues. Over the summer, Mundel and an undergraduate research assistant in the lab, Claire Hope, presented a paper, “An Experimental Investigation on Multiple Brand Endorsements by Non-Celebrity Endorsers on Instagram,” at the Global Fashion Management Conference in Paris, France. Another collaborator on the paper is Assistant Professor Tony Deng, who recently joined the advertising faculty.

The lab is available to any interested faculty or students, and Mundel and Uysal are hoping to build entrepreneurial partnerships with Chicago institutions. “We can collect data for clients at a fraction of the cost of market research companies,” says Uysal. “Proceeds from these partnerships will allow us to pay student researchers for their work, which, in turn, helps students offset their education expenses.”

“I think the lab is important because it provides a dynamic hub for research in the college. Students can develop a passion for research and gain valuable skills,” Uysal says. “The ME Lab will help the college to become a thought leader.”

For more information about collaborating with the ME Lab, please write to

Originally published in Conversations (Fall 2019).