Comm’s New Assistant Professors (Part 3): Austin Beattie

In Fall 2023, the Hope College Communication Department is celebrating three newly appointed tenure track assistant professors and an assistant professor of communication instruction!

Join us for an interview with our newly appointed Assistant Professor of Communication, Dr. Austin Beattie.

Dr. Beattie studies media technology, and Hope is lucky to have him teaching a variety of media courses, Comm 280 Quantitative Methods, and Comm 151 Media & Society.

His research is broadly publish and focuses on how humans and AI communicate. For example, his publication, “A Bot and a Smile: Interpersonal Impressions of Chatbots and Humans Using Emoji in Computer-mediated Communication,” considers the interpersonal impact and communicative effects of AI in roles once served by humans.

What do you want your research to accomplish in the world?

I am interested in how people communicate in technologically mediated contexts, both when engaging with other humans as well as machine agents (e.g., chatbots,  social robots). Although my projects have answered smaller questions relating to text messaging, social media, and supportive communication contexts, I hope my research can contribute to bigger questions surrounding how we create meaning for the common good in digital spaces and how we make sense of the complex role of artificial intelligence and other digital interlocutors in our world.  

What ideas/theories are currently the most exciting to you?

I think the way people adapt and apply social scripts when interacting with technology is fascinating. Some early theorizing argued that in order to make sense of interactions with machines, that people mindlessly apply human social scripts to them. One earlier study that I love directed participants to complete a task with a computer and then evaluate its performance after the task was complete. Participants who were surveyed on the same computer used for the task were significantly less critical of its performance than participants who responded on a different computer (as well as a control group responding on paper; Nass et al., 1999). In other words, people were more “polite” about their feedback when responding to their task computer, which I just think is such a cool finding. Scholars have advanced and extended this perspective to the technologies we know now (e.g., Siri, Alexa, and numerous others) to argue that we don’t mindlessly apply social scripts to computers entirely (because we, of course, know they are not human), nor do we treat them as lifeless mechanical tools either. Instead we are forming new “media scripts” for machine agents altogether (see Gambino, Fox, & Ratan, 2020). The nature of these scripts I think will be interesting to continue researching in the coming years, and can also help shed light on what makes “human-human” communication special. 

Hope College is famous for its “Pull” tradition in which a team of Firstyear students compete with a team of Sophomore students in an enormous, strategic “tug of rope” competition. The teams have “pullers” and “moralers.” The pullers lie down in separate pits and pull on the rope, the moralers coordinate with one another and–sitting beside their puller– tell the puller when to pull extra hard! Would you rather be a puller or a moraler?

Definitely a moraler! I like the strategy aspect!

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1 Comment

  1. Welcome to the Communication Department, Dr. Beattie! We’re so lucky to be learning from you!

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