New Communication Faculty Member Studies How the Media We Use Influences Our Attitudes Toward Others
The newest faculty member in the Department of Communication wants to know how the media we use influences our perceptions of others—especially others who differ from us in some significant way. Julius Riles successfully defended his dissertation in communication at the University of Illinois last fall and will begin his new duties as an assistant professor at MU this fall. Riles says his primary research interests involve looking at ways in which people’s use of media impacts their social relationships.
“You can look at that in terms of, ‘How does the media that we use influence the types of people we feel most comfortable communicating with?’” Riles says. He also looks at how social relationships influence the types of media we want to use and how those media inform us about models of social interaction. “For example,” he says, “What does a good and successful romantic date look like? What does quality family time look like?’”
Riles’ dissertation focused on how media influence the perceptions we have about others. He looked at this question from a health-care context, researching how depictions of mental illnesses such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar disease influence social perceptions toward people with mental illnesses. Currently, Riles says he’s immersed in the media presentation of the 2016 election season, both from an entertainment and from a news perspective.
“I think the examination of how exposure to various media portrayals of politicians and political messages is related to social desires, social natures, and social behaviors is fruitful for research purposes,” he says. “What types of media messages lead people to have more negative perceptions toward one another and therefore not want to associate with one another?”
A future thrust of his research will be looking at how images—the most accessible ways of thinking about others—can be changed to be more positive to enhance inclusivity or to enhance diversity in social interactions.
In fact, Riles says a proposed diversity in media research center is part of what drew him to the University of Missouri communication department. In conversations with MU Associate Professor Lissa Behm-Morawitz, Riles says he discovered that his research interests aligned perfectly with the research areas being pursued at MU.
“Looking at ways we can enhance the diversity of portrayals in the media, and the way those portrayals can influence society to engage in more diverse types of social exchanges—that’s right in my wheelhouse,” Riles says. “Of course we can think about diversity in terms of race or sex, but a lot of my research is also in the health domain, so when we were talking, we discussed an abundance of ways to broaden this idea of enhancing inclusivity.”
Although Riles was born in Houston, Texas, he says he considers himself a Midwesterner through and through since he’s spent most of his life in Illinois. He says Columbia, Missouri, and Champaign, Illinois, are similar in many respects, but he likes the fact that MU and Columbia “nudge up against each other,” whereas downtown Champaign and the University of Illinois are separated by a couple of miles.
Ultimately, though, Riles accepted the position at MU because his research interests meshed so well with those in the communication department. Plus, he says he received a very warm welcome when he first visited MU.
“The faculty, everyone here is wonderful,” Riles says. “Everyone went out of their way to answer any questions I had. I felt so invited even before I was offered the position.”