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Last modified: Friday, April 13, 2012

Annie Lang

Distinguished Professor

Distinguished Professor of Telecommunications and Cognitive Science
Department of Telecommunications
Program in Cognitive Science
College of Arts and Sciences
University Graduate School
Indiana University Bloomington
Appointed to IU faculty, 1995
B.S., University of Wisconsin, 1980
M.A., University of Florida, 1983
Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, 1987

Scholars and teachers can be defined in numerous ways -- by the works they've published, their influence in their discipline of study, their reputation among peers, their awards and honors, and, perhaps most importantly, the impact they've had on their students.

And then there's the way they decorate their offices.

Indiana University telecommunications professor Annie Lang's office is adorned with artifacts from the popular TV series "Star Trek," and at least one of her colleagues thinks he has determined what drives the workspace décor.

"I have never asked Professor Lang why she so adorns her office. But I have at least developed a hypothesis," writes Edward "Ted" Castronova, Lang's colleague in the Department of Telecommunications at IU Bloomington. "On the show, the mission of the Enterprise was to 'boldly go where no one has gone before.' That statement describes Professor Lang's journey and trajectory as well."

In seeking to understand how human beings process mediated messages, developing unique methods for studying information processing and challenging widely held assumptions about media research that have been in place for more than a half century, Annie Lang is pushing new frontiers, while simultaneously bridging what one might describe as a galactic gap between mass communications and cognitive neuroscience. In the process, her work is informing new generations of scholars throughout the world and placing her at the forefront of her field.

"When I think of people in communication who have discovered things previously not known about, I think of Annie first," writes Byron Reeves, Paul C. Edwards Professor of Communications at Stanford University, and Lang's mentor. "I can't think of a single person at any career point that has contributed more important thinking to the literature about the psychological processing of media."

Lang argues that humans engage with media over time as if they were naturally occurring "social" actors. To this end, she has developed a pioneering model that seeks to illuminate how the human motivated cognitive system automatically interacts with all types of mediated content. Her model, LC4MP, established in 2000, differs from the vast majority of communications theories in focusing on how the psychologically relevant variables in mediated content elicit automatic motivational, cognitive and emotional responses which then influence ongoing processing, experience, decision-making and behavior without the media user's conscious experience or control.

"She has advanced our field by shedding light into the 'black box' connecting message features and recipient responses," writes Wolfgang Donsbach, professor in the Department of Communication at Dresden University of Technology in Germany. "It has long been a weakness of the field of communication that it did not recognize and incorporate the findings of cognitive psychology. ... It has needed scholars like Annie Lang, and there are not many of them, to bridge this gap in theory and evidence, often also in epistemology."

Lang's new model of information processing has already had a profound impact on the field. It "underlies much of the training new generations of scholars across the globe are receiving," says Walter Gantz, chair of the Department of Telecommunications. "Future scholars will approach communication phenomena from the worldview of that model and, with it, we will have witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime paradigm shift."

Lang, who began teaching at IU in 1995, has amassed 76 refereed publications (including articles in press), 14 book chapters, nearly 150 refereed convention papers and more than 40 invited talks, many of which were presented outside the United States. In 2006, she was elected a fellow of the International Communications Association, and, in 2009, she was the recipient of the ICA's prestigious Steven H. Chaffee Career Productivity Award, among the highest honors in her field of interest, which recognized 20 years of sustained work on the understanding of media effects and its implications for the design of media messages.

Despite her many accomplishments, Lang is far from reaching the final frontier of her research. Indeed, she proudly displayed her pioneering spirit as recently as the 2009 ICA Conference, where, according to Castronova, her suggestion to eliminate the word "effects" from her fellow researchers' vocabulary became "the talk of the conference."

"Many senior scholars were in the audience," Castronova says. "Some were offended and even distraught at the notion that studying effects was not producing understanding or producing scientific knowledge. But others were excited by the idea. My bet -- our department's bet -- is on Professor Lang."