In 1, Beckham Lectures, Faculty Achievements

Communications Professor Kevin John will present the first lecture following the passing of Emeritus faculty Ray Beckham

The Winter 2018 Raymond E. and Ida Lee Beckham Lecture will feature School of Communications Professor Kevin John on March 22 at 11:00 a.m. in 321 MSRB. His lecture, titled “Everybody Lies: Using Biometric Research to Discover Hidden Truths,” will focus on the pitfalls of self-reporting measures.

John said he is honored by the opportunity to present at the biannual lecture. After having the privilege of watching many of his fellow colleagues present over the years, and attending as a student, he could not imagine he would be here now. 

Professor Kevin John. Photo courtesy of Savanna Richardson/BYU Photo.

The foundation of his lecture is based on survey research of how much trust is placed in the responses received from surveys. Although many may assume the results are true, the quality of a survey depends on the honesty of the people taking it.

“Everybody lies,” said John, “and just like how everyone has a natural tendency to put their best face on when going out in public, they also answer survey questions in ways that paint them in the best possible light. So while someone might exaggerate how often they exercise, they might also downplay how much time they spend watching Netflix. This skews the data in socially desirable directions.”

John denotes this as a problem for researchers as it can invalidate survey results. To address this problem, he brings up interesting biometric measures that can be used to capture factors that aren’t easily described in survey answers: gaze patterns, facial expressions, pulse and sweat, among others. These biometric measures give more data and add to the story to hopefully get closer to the truth.

John became interested in biometrics during his undergraduate studies. While he was studying public relations, he said he was so focused on developing persuasive messaging that he never realized he was glossing over a more interesting question: how do media messages impact people?

“When I came to this realization back in 2006,” said John, “I brought it to the attention of Dr. Steve Thomsen in the School of Communications and he introduced me to eye-tracking research. From that moment on, I was hooked because I realized we could detect how someone might be feeling without even asking them. Over the past 12 years I’ve gone deeper down the rabbit hole and now I spend my time researching body image, skin cancer, substance use and other issues while running the Biometrics Lab.

“My goal in the lab is to share our capabilities with as many people as I can, because research is at its best when it satisfies curiosity, and we have some cutting edge tools to satisfy even the most curious individuals.”

John hopes lecture attendees will learn how to reconcile normal human behavior with the clinical demands of research. He said, “We’re going to have some fun, talk about lying, play around with some technology, watch some videos and hopefully learn something along the way.”

Story Highlights

Date: Thursday, March 22, 2018

Time: 11:00 a.m. MST

Location: 321 Karl G. Maeser Building (MSRB)

Admission: Free, open to the public

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