Movie Researcher

Dr. Veronica Hefner has two teaching passions: researching romantic comedies and mentoring her students. She’d like to bring them together.

As associate professor and new chair in the Department of Communication and Media Studies, Dr. Hefner’s research has been published in 23 publications, 16 of those in peer-reviewed academic journals. Most of her research examines the uses and effects of traditional and digital media within the contexts of interpersonal relationships and body-related issues. Topics have included the propensity to compulsively exercise or engage in disordered eating, online dating and reports of romantic beliefs, and endorsement of romantic ideals and the viewing of romantic comedies.

Basically, her studies have focused on the intersection between media consumption and related interpersonal and health effects. In the spring, Dr. Hefner will be teaching Health Communication which aligns with her goal to build the strategic communication portion of the major, particularly the health side.

Dr. Hefner’s research started while she was seeking her doctorate in communication at the University of Illinois with a dissertation entitled “From Love at First Sight to Soul Mate: The Influence of Romantic Ideals in Popular Films on Young People’s Beliefs about Relationships.”

Dr. Hefner’s “love conquers all/happily ever after” research now extends from royal weddings to Disney movies, where she has published research on the analysis of romantic ideals in Disney princess films such as Frozen. All that research comes to class with her to share.

“Even though I have a healthy, robust research, my first love of academia will always be my students and the classroom. Dominican features small class sizes and lots of opportunities for student mentorship,” Dr. Hefner says. “I got into this profession because I wanted to help students and mentor students and Dominican definitely has the same mission as I do for my career.”

Dr. Hefner was a student in graduate school when she and her cohorts, mostly women, would meet regularly to have dinner and watch ABC TV’s The Bachelor. That’s when the research bug bit her.

“What I started noticing during the commercial breaks is the other girls would say things like ‘I wish he would take me on a date’ or `I think so-and-so is the best girl for him,’ ” Dr. Hefner explains. “I always knew I was interested in the effects of media because I trained to be a journalist. So I went to the library to look up `romance media’ and that sort of thing and there wasn’t single bit of research on it.”

Supported by her extensive research, Dr. Hefner has worked as a consultant for the Entertainment Industry Council, which works to bring awareness and understanding to the mental and substance abuse issues portrayed in entertainment media. Her teaching career has taken her to Saint Mary’s College, UC Davis, Eastern Kentucky University, George College and State University, and Chapman University and her research has appeared in Communication Monographs, Media Psychology, Computers in Human Behavior, Psychology of Popular Media Culture, and Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

She has had help.

“Over the years my students have actually been the ones who have come up with many of my research topics,” says Dr. Hefner, who has utilized a number of grants to explore topics such as the effect of gay-related social media content on beliefs and behaviors among online users, and the effects of viewing romantic comedies on beliefs, mood, and satisfaction.

“If I have a co-author or group of authors they are almost all undergraduate students. Getting them involved in that regard is immensely helpful for them.”

Helpful for Dr. Hefner, too. She believes the technology her students possess, particularly with the use of smart phones, will lead her in a new direction with her research. She is currently discussing in class how romantic couples make a decision about whether to share their location on their cell phones and the communication pattern that goes into that decision.

Still, Dr. Hefner maintains a keen interest in romantic comedies and the impact they have, even though she admits genres and narratives are changing in her research. There are quicker and more complex means of connecting through digital media nowadays.

“I found that if you view a romantic comedy you will report higher levels of life satisfaction, like being happy with your life. That’s an actual item. If you are having a bad day or something, go watch a romantic comedy and you are going to feel better,” Dr. Hefner says. “It’s nice to have actual evidence that proves it’s correct. I do prefer movies if I have my choice because of their simplicity.”

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