Students, Faculty study how we talk to one another in new COMS Research Lab

ATHENS, Ohio—Being developed this semester is the School of Communication Studies COMS Research Lab, a space designed to study how individuals and small groups communicate verbally and non-verbally with one another.

“This is an incredibly unique space, so there are a lot of things that you can do in here which presents a lot of opportunities for students,” said Dr. Stephanie Tikkanen, assistant professor in the School of Communication Studies, who oversees the COMS Research Lab. “If we have students who want to go into marketing eventually, leading a focus group is a really valuable way to gain some experience before breaking into that industry. Being a participant in research, you can also learn quite a bit about what’s going on, and what the process is. We have spaces for research assistants to come in and assist professors with certain projects and learn more about the research process.”

The COMS Research Lab is designed to serve a number of purposes, and is divided into two separate rooms: the COMS Research Lab space and the COMS Research Lab Control room. The COMS Research Lab is primarily broken down into two spaces, the dyadic interaction space and a conference table setup.

The dyadic space mimics a living room, with two armchairs, a small couch and a coffee table, making it homey and where participants can feel more comfortable during discussions. There are six cardioid lavalier mics hanging from the ceiling and four Panasonic HD dome IP network cameras in the corners of the room, that all send real-time audio and video to the COMS Research Lab Control room.

“This is a place for people in close relationships to chat as if they were home on their own couch,” said Tikkanen. “Many interaction labs like this have a 1-way mirror, but we feel that those make participants uncomfortable; the smoked-glass cameras in the ceiling of this lab are far less obtrusive, facilitating more natural conversation. Researchers could use this space to study how individuals speak to one another, examining both verbal and nonverbal cues.”

Alternatively, the space can also be used to examine how small groups interact and take turns talking in the group. Research methods classes can use the setup to practice interviews or other research scenarios. Later this semester, a large TV screen will be added to the wall parallel to the couch, allowing researches to incorporate video into their participant  sessions.

“The faculty are very excited about this space because it is very inclusive, it has a space for just about anybody to use for their research,” said Tikkanen. “The TV will allow researchers to show a mass media stimulus to a large room full of people and have them discuss it. Dr. Jerry Miller is planning to house his perception analyzer machine in the room, which allows participants to respond in real time to a video by turning a dial labelled with positive or negative emotions.”

In the COMS Research Lab Control room, there is a computer with AVfusion software that allows for different recording setups, and a computer station for data analysis and transcription.

“The AVfusion software will record the video signals, researchers can playback those videos, and they can actually add notes and tags within those videos, to help them in their research efforts,” said Ricky Chilcott, technology and facilities manager for the Scripps College of Communication. “There will also be a computer or two with transcription software, so that will make it easier for someone to transcribe audio. It will slow down the speech pattern, so they can more intelligibly listen to the recording.”

The COMS Research Lab is designed for use by faculty and students, both graduate and undergraduate, in the School of Communication Studies. Faculty are able to request the space for class instruction and research, while students can utilize the rooms for studies and thesis work.

The COMS Research Lab is located in Schoonover Center, Room 025 and 026, in the lower level. To learn more, or to make an appointment to use the lab, email Dr. Stephanie Tikkanen at or call 740-593-0596.

See more photos of the COMS Research Lab.

January 21, 2016
Claire Berlin