Conversation with Dr. Cynthia King on Research

By Francesca Cruz, Carissa Harris, Delilah Perez, and Louise Vegas

We had the privilege of speaking with Dr. Cynthia King on her research and study on the “Effects of Humorous Heroes and Villains in Violent Action Films.” Dr. King is a Professor of Communications at California State University, Fullerton. Dr. King teaches courses in communication theory and effects, research methods, entertainment and tourism, and public relations.

During the interview, King gave us insights on her research as well as advice on how to approach research and research challenges we might face along the way.  

Read more: Conversation with Dr. Cynthia King on Research

Q1: What are the main challenges you’ve faced in your research area of media effects?

What was most challenging for Dr.King was executing the experiment of comparing violence and humor in violent films and creating material for the experiment. Dr.King had to create and replicate data for each group in the study while making sure that there was a different effect for each group to determine whether or not humor and violence were correlated. Popular action comedy movies such as “Natural Born Killers” and “Pulp Fiction” were coming out during the time of Dr.King’s experiment which were the perfect types of films for this type of experiment.

Q2:  What inspired you to research this topic?

Dr. King mentioned that what inspired her to research this topic was a conversation she had over dinner with her major professor and peers when she was attending the University of Alabama. She reflected back to that time when she was attending the University of Alabama where she had decided already to write her dissertation on health campaigns. What inspired her to change her dissertation from health campaigns to the effects of Humor and violence within films was her interest in humor and violence within films. Dr. King’s professor thought that it was a great idea for her research so King switched her dissertation. At the time, many good films were coming out and inspired Dr. King to make the switch, ones such as “Natural Born Killers” and “Pulp Fiction”. 

Photos from IMDb

Q3: Going back to all the problems and challenges that you’ve faced along the way within your research what would you say is the biggest thing that you learned from it?

When speaking with Dr. King, she explained that the biggest lesson she learned was that if things don’t come out the way you planned them to, you can always go back and explain the logic up front rather than to explain the logic at the end of the research which in her point of view would be more complicated. She states, “oftentimes maybe you’re not sure what you’re going to find and theories might predict certain things but it can be kind of lazy to just be like ‘oh we’ll see what happens’ versus dialing it in and being more specific”. She gave us advice on what questions to ask ourselves when conducting research like what are we going to find, why we’re going to find it, and how it’s going to work. Dr. King notes that the first initial idea will always change, she states that her first thesis idea was no where near the comparison between humor and violence. It wasn’t until she seeked guidance from her Professor at the time who told her that it was a good idea. She states that it’s okay to change your idea until you feel like it’s the right one for you.

Q4: So, you mentioned that the way you collected data was through surveys and then you inputted it into SPSS. How did you narrow down what subjects to research when it came to characters and then the humor and hostility subjects?

Dr. King proposed a question “what is the relevant research for your topic?”, and then further elaborates that in her study she was looking at two different kinds of topics, humor and violence, which compounded the amount of research she had. She noted that she looked at each subject individually, then both together. It also helped that she had her Professor to lean on for advice and some of his thinking overlapped with hers. She points out, “I came from a tradition of thought you know? It’s like when you work in academia there are different like families right of researchers that kind of have different traditions”, so she worked within that framework by looking at existing studies finding the most similar one to what she was researching on. She said it was key to find overlapping ideas in similar studies to find out which theories worked and what didn’t. What she noticed was that a lot of these humor theories still have a lot of hostile elements that are not so friendly. Dr. King mentions that within her research she saw that there was a pattern of “winners and losers and a bunch of jokes” and it becomes a weapon. One takeaway was a metaphor that Dr. King used, “you start with your idea and you kind of like trace it out kind of like a wheel in terms of all these spokes and then you go from there”.

Photo from Dr. Cynthia King’s Research

Q5: If you were starting your project again today, what would you do differently?

What Dr.King would do differently in this study is view different types of humor and violence and see how that affects people while viewing movies. There are many different types of humor, such as slapstick or more physical comedy. Another thing that Dr.King would take into account is how certain genders view movies as comedic because one thing that really differed in her data was that men and women thought that different things were more or less humorous. Examples of differences in how other people view movies and comedy were that men were more likely to find trash-talking funny but women saw it as more annoying. Humor is very subjective but getting into the details of humor would deepen the research and results.

Q6: What advice would you give to new researchers?

Keep it simple.

– Dr. Cynthia King

A seasoned researcher such as Dr. King emphasized that when conducting research there’s no need to overcomplicate it. King mentioned how people can easily get overwhelmed by research and in turn end up fearing it. King made it known that it’s something to try out and once we try it out, we will realize that we are capable of conducting this type of research. Keeping her words in mind will help us apply all of these learned research strategies and have faith in ourselves that if we stick to the basics we will be successful.

Zoom interview with Dr. Cynthia King.