Seven Minutes in Heaven with Scientist Troy Campbell

What happens when a science prodigy loves literature and people? Troy Campbell.

Campbell is an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Oregon in the Lundquist College of Business, and our 2016 frank research prize winner.

From a young age Campbell was drawn to exploring the human condition and who exactly humans are. In college he took his first social psychology class, assuming he would study the work of couch psychologists (think Fraiser), but was surprised to find that psychology was a discipline where he could marry his talent in science with his love for understanding people.

In his undergraduate career, Campbell worked with Elizabeth Loftus, one of the most famous living psychologists in the world and Peter Ditto his first social psychology professor.

As he went through college, he became fascinated with how people consume things and how mood and identity affect people’s experience consuming adventure parks, literature and more. Campbell quickly found that he didn’t want to be a couch psychologist. He had many conversations with Ditto about his desires to study what makes people happy and the human condition.

Ditto then handed him the book “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. Campbell would run home after school everyday to read a chapter out of the book. He remembers telling himself to savor every page because this was what he had been looking for.

He went on to get his Ph.D. in business marketing and consumer psychology from Duke University, studying under Ariely. During this time Campbell, under the advisory of Ariely, worked as a Disney Imagineer conducting research. “By the time I was 23 all of my dreams came true. I was a scientist and a Disney imagineer,” said Campbell.

In his last semester at Duke, Campbell received a dream job offer on Christmas day from the University of Oregon, a place that values and supports interdisciplinary work from researchers. Campbell now studies why people are averse to different social issues and how to overcome barriers through strategic communication.

Campbell won the 2016 frank $10,000 prize for research in public interest communications for his paper Solution Aversion: On the Relation Between Ideology and Motivated Disbelief. Campbell and his colleague Aaron Kay found that people are averse to problems like climate change and gun control not because of the issue itself, but because of how the solution is framed. They found that framing solutions for these polarizing issues by using moral language that resonates with both political ideologies and values can be effective at reaching across the political aisle.

I talked with Campbell about his research, winning the $10,000 prize and what it was like to attend frank for the first time.

Annie: What is the relationship between your research and public interest communications?

Troy: I call my research framing 2.0. There are tons of discussions about how we have to better frame messaging and everybody understands that, but what does that mean?  My research answers what that means.

People’s existing identities, beliefs, needs and desires are always going to be the film over their minds. So when you are framing a message what do you have to think about? Well, you have to think about people’s identities, beliefs and desires and insecurities and perceptions that surround them.

Why is understanding the relationship between identity and framing important for the field of public interest communications?

There are two reasons why it is important. First, the most important beliefs for people are the most important derivers of what they think. They are incredibly strong forces, as they are the most important beliefs to people, so they are going to be incredibly important to deal with.

Second, once you understand that your beliefs and identities are different from other people’s and that these are important, you have to figure out what you will do about it.

Everyone’s beliefs come from the same psychology. Even the person you hate, everything they are doing is coming from the same human emotions of wanting to be loved, wanting to feel valuable and wanting to feel like you are a person with dignity. At the end of the day, if you are going to reduce prejudice, racism, sexism, war and selfishness you have understand that they come from the same psychology, that they come from the same human emotions and condition.

What was it like attending frank?

From the outside frank looks like it might be an utter train wreck of a conference. I have seen and been to so many other conferences that seem to promise exactly what frank is promising. That is: you’re going to have this discovery thing, you are going to have all these moments, it is going to be fun and entertaining, there is going to be a lip sync contest. I have seen that train wreck so many times. But, I was not expecting for frank to literally deliver exactly on the promise that it put out. That frank is going to provide you frank moment after moment after moment, and that it is as wonderfully intellectual as it is fun and emotional as it promises to be.

What I think is really valuable about frank from an academic perspective or really any perspective is that it is both humbling and inspiring at the same time. It reminds you that what you do can only be so valuable, and that you need an army of people doing different things. You need the activist, you need the talented marketer and the savvy politician who actually has to do some unsavory things like make compromises and be realistic.

It was amazing. frank is the place that helps you have the discussions that you need to have before you find out the answers to the questions you may have.

Tell us about the moments you were able to connect with people.

People helped connect ideas in my head that I hadn’t connected. It really makes you think about your next project.

The term we use at the University of Oregon is adjacent, someone not exactly in your field but not far enough away to not understand what you’re doing and your goals. That’s the beautiful thing about frank, it is not a bunch of crazily different people, it is a bunch of adjacent people interacting and those people are going to be able to give you feedback and ideas that are beneficial for you. They understand what you are going for, they think about the same stuff, but in a different way and can share that with you.

What was it like presenting at frank?

I had the wonderful pleasure of going almost at the end of frank. I got to see how warm and responsive and wonderful the audience was. Whenever you go on stage you are kind of nervous. But I had seen from the reaction of the crowd and the twitter feed that if ever there was an audience that wanted to listen fully to what you had to say, this was the audience.  

It was an absolute pleasure. I get nervous talking about my research a little bit, I get flustered talking about my personal experiences, but it felt like a very warm and comfortable experience. I am very glad that I got to go toward the end of the week so I could see that the audience would be on my side and that they would tweet at me and help me be a better version of my research and goals.

How did it feel to win $10,000 frank research prize?

It felt really good. Whenever someone says something good is going to happen you think you are going to jump up and down with excitement. But when my name got said it was more of a feeling like “aww.”  Like frozen shock. Someone next to me had to shake me and say, “I think you have to go up there to get the prize.” It was like “it happened, this was awesome, people like me.”

What was the first thing you did after you won?

The first thing I did after I won was talk to different people who came up to me after. There were many research conversations that happened for the next three and half hours. After that I took a selfie in front of the Hippodrome and sent it to everyone who helped me on the project.

Awesome! Any last words?

I would say that academics worry often that if they go to conferences where there are practitioners that they will be wasting their time. frank is 100 percent not that way.

My advice to future prize people: this is a conference you want to go to. You don’t just apply because you want to potentially win a prize. This is a conference you actually want to go to. The audience wants to hear about your research. They will be interested in hearing more details about your research after you finish your talk.

Let me say it this way, frank is full of the practitioners out there that you always knew existed, but never knew how to find. There they are. Go to frank and find them.

Watch Troy’s interview from our live podcast recording of our new series Seven Minutes in Heaven with a Scientist… Because Everyone is a Little Bit Curious

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Check out our other prize winners and finalists.


Posted: April 14, 2016
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