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Research

I have been working on a variety of media research projects. My work uses an extensive set of methodological approaches, including surveys, experiments, quantitative content analyses, and interviews. Some of the projects are described below.

Exposure to sexual media and college students’ sexual risk-taking and sexual regret: A longitudinal study (Dissertation research)

This dissertation project is one of the first studies examining the relationships between exposure to various media (i.e., tv shows, movies, music videos, songs, and magazines) and young adults’ sexual risk-taking and sexual regret, two important yet empirically under-examined sexual outcome variables. It is also the first study to examine a comprehensive set of sexual risk-taking behaviors beyond the few that are typically examined in media effects research (e.g., non-contraceptive use and multiple sexual partner). My design is longitudinal so I am able to determine if earlier media exposure predicts later sexual risk-taking and regret, and meanwhile if earlier sexual risk-taking and regret influence later media choices. In addition, the analytical framework of this project is innovative in that it expands the view of media effects from one that emphasizes only the direct link from media exposure to sexual outcomes, to one that complements the direct link with a set of mediators and moderators.  Undergraduate students are surveyed twice one year apart. Focus group interviews are also conducted for instrument development. The results of this project promise to advance the knowledge of media effects on college students’ sexuality, and to help make policy recommendations about how media could be altered to benefit young adults.

Media and sexual socialization of young adults

This project examined the relationship between exposure to sexual music videos and young people’s sexual attitudes. College students self reported television and music video viewing. Their premarital sexual permissiveness, the endorsement of the sexual double standard, and the past sexual experience were also collected. A particular strength of this study is a more refined measure of music video exposure, complete with visuals. Specifically, I combined the data on viewing frequency of 75 videos with the sexual explicitness ratings obtained from a separate survey to create an index of sexual music video viewing. My contribution in this project involves: theoretical framework development, literature review, data analysis, and final paper preparation.
  • Zhang, Y., Miller, L., Harrison, K. (2008). The relationship between exposure to sexual music videos and young adults’ sexual attitudes. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 52, 368-386.

Body image and controversial themes in rap music videos

This project was mainly about a content analysis of controversial themes and female body image in rap music videos. The sample was taken from the end of year countdowns aired on BET, MTV, and VH1. We coded the rap videos both at the video level and the individual character level. My contribution in this project involves: codebook development, individual coding, partial data analysis, and final paper preparation.
  • Zhang, Y., Dixon, T., & Conrad, K. (in press). Female Body Image as a Function of Themes in Rap Music Videos: A Content Analysis. Sex Roles.
  • Conrad, K., Dixon, T. & Zhang, Y. (2009). Controversial rap themes, gender portrayals and skin tone distortion: A content analysis of rap music videos. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 53, 134-156.

Black-oriented media and Black women’s body image perceptions

This project investigated the relationship between exposure to thin ideals in rap music videos and young Black women’s body image disturbance. More importantly, I examined how this relationship may vary by Black female viewers’ strength of ethnic identity. As means of assistance with this survey, a content analysis was conducted beforehand to measure the prevalence of thin female images in the rap videos. My contribution in this project involves: theoretical framework development, literature review, data analysis, and final paper preparation.
  • Zhang, Y., Dixon, T., & Conrad, K. (2009). Rap Music Videos and African American Women’s Body Image: The Moderating Role of Ethnic Identity. Journal of Communication, 59, 262-278.

Social construction and impacts of new technology

This project was designed to examine the social dynamics of game players within the in-game organization known as player guilds. Focusing on a popular massively multiplayer online (MMO) game World of Warcraft (WoW), we created a stratified sampling frame that was representative of all WoW characters in guilds across all servers, faction types, and degrees of centrality. We then conducted in-depth interviews within WoW using direct text chat to explore player behaviors, attitudes, and opinions; the meanings they make; the social capital they derive; and the networks they form, and to develop a typology of players and guilds. I was responsible for interviews and contributed to interview question construction, data analysis and final paper preparation.
  • Williams, D., Ducheneaut, N., Xiong, L., Zhang, Y., Yee, N., & Nickell, E. (2006). From tree house to barracks: The social life of guilds in World of Warcraft. Games & Culture, 1(4), 338-361.

Mass communication of political information

This project attempted to provide insight into the nature and impact of two trends that have marked the development of cable television news in recent years: a blurring of hard and soft news, and an increase in overt partisanship. We analyzed national survey data to identify the factors that lead political partisans to choose particular cable television news networks and programs. We also employed experimental methods to demonstrate how viewers’ partisan leanings influence their perceptions of content from CNN, Fox News, and The Daily Show. I contributed to literature review, experimental procedure design, questionnaire construction and final paper preparation.
  • Coe, K., Tewksbury, D., Bond, B., Drogos, K., Porter, R., Yahn, A., Zhang, Y. (2008). Hostile news: Partisan use and perceptions of cable television news programming. Journal of Communication, 58, 201-219.


Some projects conducted before joining the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Effects of moods on memory for advertisements

This project examined the effects of context moods on audience’s memory of mood-congruent or incongruent advertisements. An online experiment was conducted where college students viewed a set of four advertisements (two positive & two negative mood-induced ads, randomly ordered) after reading either a positive or negative mood-induced magazine article. The computer program was designed to randomly assign subjects into different conditions. Prior to the experiment, a pretest was conducted for selection of magazine articles and advertisements that were perceived to be equally involving but different in mood induction (i.e., positive vs. negative). My contribution in this project involves: theoretical framework development, literature review, experimental procedure design, data analysis, and final paper preparation.
  • Zhang, Y., & Li, S. (2004). Recall of advertisements as a function of mood-related advertisement-article congruity. Paper presented at the National Communication Association 2004 Convention, Chicago.

Priming and cultivation process

This project employed cultivation theory and the theory of reasoned action to explore the cultivation process where television viewing of sexual content might influence behavioral intentions through its effects on beliefs and attitudes regarding sex. A priming methodology was also used to examine whether cultivation effects could be reduced or eliminated under priming conditions, and whether the possible minimization of television effects on beliefs could influence people’s subsequent behavioral intentions about sex. An experiment was conducted to manipulate subjects’ cognitive processing. My contribution in this project involves: theoretical framework development, literature review, experimental procedure design, data analysis, and final paper preparation.
  • Zhang, Y., & Krcmar, M. (2004). Effects of television viewing of sexual content on behavioral intentions in priming and no-priming conditions: A cultivation analysis from a theory of reasoned action perspective. Paper presented at the International Communication Association 2004 Convention, New Orleans.
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