#ICA20 Top Paper Profile – Fisher, Hopp, & Weber

From left to right: Frederic R. Hopp, René Weber, Jacob T. Fisher

The Communication Science and Biology (CSaB) Interest Group awarded four teams top papers for #ICA20. These full-length papers were selected based on a blinded peer review process. Each paper received exceptionally high scores from three independent reviewers, and all three reviewers recommended accepting the submission. These papers truly reflect the outstanding scholarship in CSaB, and we are pleased to say that all top papers this year feature a trainee as first author. Below, we briefly profile a top paper from Fisher, Hopp, & Weber. Be sure to check out their presentation at #ICA20!

CSaB: In a few short sentences, what is your study about?

Fisher et al.: Whenever we are using media, we are very rarely just doing one thing. We have lots of things going on at once—we watch TV while texting, we work on our taxes while listening to music and trying to ignore new social media notifications, and so on. This study is about how and why we choose to pay attention to certain things over other ones whenever we’re in this sort of environment.

CSaB: How did you come up with the idea for this line of research?

Fisher et al.: There has been lots of work on how motivation and cognitive load influence our attention in the context of media processing, but there hasn’t been any work that has considered how they interact with one another. Some emerging research from cognitive neuroscience suggests that people view effort through a motivational lens, leading to some very precise models of how reward and effort are computed in the brain and how these computations drive our decisions. My collaborators and I in the Media Neuroscience Lab were interested in seeing whether these “neurocomputational” models could predict how people behave when they are actually using media. We have a really useful video game stimulus we developed in the lab called Asteroid Impact that let us design a study where we could manipulate how rewarding certain tasks were and how difficult they were, so we decided to design this series of studies.

CSaB: What did you discover?

Fisher et al.: We found that when people are multitasking with media, their choices about where to attend are influenced by how rewarding currently available tasks are, but also how much effort it takes to achieve those rewards. When one task became more difficult, people switched their attention to another task, and this effect was magnified whenever the other task was high in reward. We replicated this effect across four experiments, and added some further nuance to these findings with each replication.

CSaB: What are the implications of your research?

Fisher et al.: These findings help us understand why it is that we sometimes find it difficult to focus on a complicated or frustrating task whenever other things vie for our attention. The (almost omni-) presence of interesting alternative tasks when we are using media underscores the importance of this research. There’s a need to understand how these factors influence our attentional processes so we can design media tools to help people stay focused on tasks that are important to them—even when other things might seem more rewarding in the short term.
This is the main figure from the paper. It shows the findings from each of the four experiments. In experiments 1 and 2, participants played Asteroid Impact while simultaneously doing two speeded button press tasks. When they saw a square they had to press one button, and when they saw a triangle they had to press another button. The key is that responding to the triangle was much more highly rewarded (with in-game points) than responding to the square was. So even though the two tasks were basically the same, one was more valuable. In figure 1d (and 2d) you see that people responded slower to the less rewarding option than to the more rewarding option, and that the gap between high- and low-reward responses was larger when the main task (picking up crystals by moving around the mouse) became more difficult, the gap between high- and low-reward responses was magnified. People paid even less attention to the low-reward items whereas their responses to the high-reward items stayed about the same. n experiments 3 and 4, there was only one button press task (pressing the space bar as quickly as possible upon seeing a white star appear on screen). Having only one button press task let us investigate how rewarding alternative tasks influenced performance in the main task, and whether the influence of rewarding tasks was different when the main tasks was more complex. In figures 3e-f (and 4e-f), you can see that performance in the crystal collecting task didn’t really change based on reward when the crystal collection task was easy. When the crystal collecting task was hard, though, the presence of rewarding alternatives compromised their performance. This suggests that the extent to which increased difficulty in one task leads people to want to focus on another task depends on how rewarding the alternative tasks are.

CSaB: How can or how does CSaB help you as a scientist?

Fisher et al.: CSaB is a community of extremely talented and forward-thinking scholars. I benefit in many ways from just being around them and hearing what they are working on. CSaB has always been at the forefront of the discussion on open research practices and reproducibility, but also mentorship, inclusion, and other important topics. The reviews I receive at ICA are always very high quality, and I frequently have conversations with other CSaB members outside of ICA regarding how we can improve our research.

CSaB: Did you use any open science practices? If so what ones, and is there an available link to your study’s OSF/GitHub?

Fisher et al.: Yes! All four experiments are open code and open data. All relevant information regarding the study are hosted on the Open Science Framework https://osf.io/49673/

CSaB: Anything else you would like to add?

Fisher et al.: I’m quite honored to be receiving a top paper award for this work, and I look forward to sharing more about the project at ICA.

CSaB: Tell us more about the team!

Jacob T. Fisher, MA He/Him/His @jake_fisher
Frederic R. Hopp, MA @freddy_hopp
René Weber, Ph.D. M.D. @MediaNeuro

Fisher, J.T., Hopp, F.R., & Weber, R. (2020). Of primary importance? Motivation and cognitive effort drive resource allocation across multiple concurrent naturalistic tasks. Paper presented at the 70th annual meeting of the International Communication Association