Texas Tech Unveils New Communication Lab To Study How People Watch TV

The Center for Communication Research at Texas Tech unveiled a new lab Sunday which allows them to study how people watch, and respond to, TV.
By Monica Yantosh

LUBBOCK, TX -- Texas Tech has unveiled a new lab today to look at how people watch and respond to television.

The In-Home Simulation lab looks like a living room, though it includes much more. There is a big-screen TV and home theater system to view, and then on top of that, there are observation cameras and microphones, software that can remotely monitor internet browsing on a smart phone or tablet, and the ability to record biological responses.

The point of the lab is to make the viewing experience feel natural and as if you were watching at home, while putting it in a controlled environment.

"Make it a natural space, but also it's still a controlled scientific environment, we can control every aspect of the message presentation," Glenn Cummins said. He's the director of the Center for Communication Research at Texas Tech.

They can monitor what people are looking at on their iPads and iPhones, and can even hook people up to heart rate monitors.

"We capture not just how people say they feel about what they're seeing on the screen, but also record things they may not be quite as aware of," Cummins said. "So some of our psychophysiology apparatuses lets us measure heart rate, skin conductance, different types of responses that people may not be as aware of."

During an experiment, those doing the research would actually watch what's going on in a secluded room, by watching and listening through the cameras and microphones in the experiment room.

"You get to see the good, the bad, and how that impacts their family, their friendships, as they're watching that content live," Shannon Bichard said.

Bichard, chair of the Department of Advertising, said she's very interesting to see how people interact with social media during television and commercials.

They can give people in the rooms a little dial, which they can turn to show whether they enjoy or do not enjoy a commercial they're watching. This data can also be sorted by gender, or even age, to give an idea of who responded how to what ads.

"The biggest thing for me is, I'm really interested in social media, and how people interact with brands via Facebook and Twitter," Bichard said. "So I think having the multiple screens where they have the iPads in there, the phones, and we're going to have laptops, and seeing how people engage whether it's a distraction to the programming or whether they're using it to interact with the programming, to me, I think that's going to be fascinating."

The lab was not doing a study on Sunday, rather just using the game as a time to test out their equipment. The plan, Cummins said, in the future is to possibly add gaming systems to study how people interact while playing video games.

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