Texas Tech University

Diffusing the Conflict

Lucy Greenberg

April 6, 2022

Bryan McLaughlin recently was honored for his research on political conflict in the U.S.

In February, the Texas Tech University System announced its 2022 Chancellor's Council Distinguished Teaching and Research Awards to honor outstanding faculty members who provide exceptional opportunities for students both in and out of the classroom. We are highlighting the eight Texas Tech University faculty members who were recognized.

Bryan McLaughlin
Bryan McLaughlin

Bryan McLaughlin is an associate professor of advertising and brand strategy in the College of Media & Communication at Texas Tech University. McLaughlin's research is centered on how identities are socially constructed, communicated and interpreted, and the conditions under which mediated messages either exacerbate or attenuate intergroup conflict and divisions.

A native of Texas, McLaughlin received his master's degree from the University of Illinois and his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His teaching interests include consumer insights, research methods, identity and communication, political advertising and public opinion. His most recent publication is “Tales of Conflict: Narrative immersion and support for political aggression in the United States” which was published in Media Psychology. 

The Chancellor's Council Distinguished Teaching and Research Awards are given to individuals who exemplify teaching or research excellence and who have significantly advanced teaching or research efforts and are noted as leaders among colleagues and in their respective fields. Established in 2001, they are the highest honors given to Texas Tech University System faculty members.

Can you describe your research and its impact, both in academics and society?

My research focuses on political conflict in the U.S. My recent work advances the argument that partisans can get transported into political narratives the same way people become wrapped up in a riveting novel or a captivating movie. I argue that this process offers a compelling explanation for why the political climate in the U.S. has grown so contentious. Political narratives - whether delivered by politicians, news pundits, or friends on social media - can draw partisans into a constructed portrait of the political world. As partisans become transported into these narratives, they become invested in political plotlines, pulling for the perceived protagonists to win at any cost or becoming obsessed with their concerns about the damage an opposing villain might do. The more invested a partisan is in these political outcomes, the more likely they may be to endorse antagonism and hostility towards members of the opposing party.

In terms of academic impact, this research provides a unique way of thinking about and studying political polarization. By bridging bodies of literature in political communication and media psychology, this approach opens new avenues of investigation. In terms of social impact, I believe this perspective gives us a better understanding of how partisans experience political issues and events. Understanding how partisans see and experience the political world might provide an important foundation that allows for the development of more effective strategies to improve intergroup relationships.

What projects are you working on currently?

I am currently working with Melissa Gotlieb in the department of advertising in the College of Media and Communications and Devin Mills from the department of community, family and addiction studies in the College of Human Sciences to develop and examine the concept of news addiction. We have conducted some initial research that provides evidence that people who display higher levels of news addiction exhibit lower levels of mental and physical well-being and are more hostile toward those with opposing political views.

What areas are you interested in for future research? 

Right now, I am focused on exploring news addiction further with my colleagues. There is still much we have yet to learn about this addiction. This might include doing qualitative research to develop a deeper understanding of the causes and consequences of news addiction. We also are pursuing grant opportunities to work on developing intervention campaigns. We have some preliminary evidence that mindfulness helps mitigate the negative consequences of news addiction. 

We are interested in exploring how news addiction affects civic engagement - if those who have higher levels of news addiction are more prone to engage in anti-social forms of engagement (e.g., exchanging hostile discourse online) but resistant to engage in more pro-social forms of engagement (e.g., participating in community events).

What rewards do you get from teaching?

There are a lot of rewards in teaching. It is particularly gratifying when you see students who truly learn and internalize the material. I take the most satisfaction in seeing individual students who become particularly inspired. Beyond that, I really enjoy engaging in discussion with my graduate classes. I love hearing a diversity of opinions and perspectives. I have always found my students to be very respectful of others' opinions and I appreciate that we can have a healthy exchange of ideas.

What motivated you to pursue a career in academia?

The short answer is that by my junior year of college, I could not imagine pursuing any other career besides academia. Intellectual pursuits were intrinsically rewarding to me, and I can't imagine a better situation than getting paid to think, research and teach.

How has Texas Tech helped you advance your research and teaching? 

I owe a great deal of gratitude to Texas Tech. I have been provided with great support from the department of advertising, the college and the university as a whole. The infrastructure and resources have always been fantastic. But the culture and overall mission have been equally important. Faculty are encouraged to be productive, but also provided with a great latitude of autonomy in how we go about pursuing our research interests.

Who has had the biggest impact on you and your career, and why? 

The person who had the biggest impact on my career was probably my undergraduate advisor, Thomas Ellis, who is a professor of philosophy and religion at Appalachian State University. I took a class with Ellis as a junior at Bucknell University that dramatically changed my perspective and thinking. It was that class that convinced me I wanted to pursue an academic career. I took additional classes with him, and he advised me on my undergraduate thesis. Ellis helped me grow immensely as a thinker and a scholar.