Meet Our Faculty: Dr. Elizabeth Jones – Asbury University
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Meet Our Faculty: Dr. Elizabeth Jones

Most people know that words can hurt, the old adage about “sticks and stones” notwithstanding. For Dr. Elizabeth Jones, assistant professor of Communication at Asbury University, the real fascination is with how words can heal.

In her research, Jones examines the ways in which human communication promotes physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Currently, her research centers on three areas: how communication motivates others to adopt healthy behaviors, how communication technology influences human interaction and how media portray marginalized groups such as the elderly.

Jones makes a point of including students in research. Last semester, students were involved in two content analysis projects: one looking at portrayals of older adults on YouTube, and the other project examining examples of comforting communication on primetime television.

“The experience is valuable from an academic perspective, and it also gives them practical skills that are useful on a resume, whether they’re going to graduate school, or just to show that they can analyze data,” Jones said. “Being involved in research demystifies the process, and it seems that most who have had a taste of it get bitten by the research bug.”

“Being involved in research demystifies the process, and it seems that most who have had a taste of it get bitten by the research bug.”

Dr. Elizabeth Jones

Jones got bitten by the “research bug” during the first semester of her freshman year in college. It came with the realization the communication principles she was learning in her communication theory course had direct application to every day life, and that they warranted a closer look.

“I realized communication isn’t necessarily common sense, and it’s not to be taken for granted,” Jones said. “Our folk wisdom suggests otherwise with phrases like ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,’ or ‘Just keep a stiff upper lip.’ On the contrary, communication is powerful, and it’s something that deserves serious inquiry.”

Jones’ research has turned up fascinating results in several areas. One negative example of communication is the portrayal of older adults on primetime television. Jones found that the elderly are “‘symbolically annihilated’ from television programs, not even appearing as background characters in settings where they should, realistically, be present (e.g., a shopping mall or restaurant).”

Other kinds of communication have been overwhelmingly positive, however. For instance, one of her projects investigated what kinds of messages were the most helpful and encouraging for middle-aged adults trying to lose weight. The study found that the most effective messages both acknowledged the difficulty of weight loss and recognized the person’s ability to work towards his or her goals. Additionally, the study suggested that, while face-to-face messaging was considered the most appropriate, social media could also “serve as a valuable conduit for supportive weight-management communication.”

For students, who send and receive increasing amounts of digital communication, the study of communication principles is crucial. Rather than criticizing or encouraging forms of technology, Jones encourages students to apply what they’re learning about communication. 

“The narratives about new technology tend to be either utopian or dystopian,” Jones said. “We saw the same arguments with the rise of the telegraph, the telephone, the television and the internet. But instead of wholly adopting or rejecting new technology, I encourage students to think about the more nuanced ways in which technology shapes communication.”

Digital or face to face, good communication is increasingly in demand in the professional world. The ability to speak, write and resolve conflict are all skills honed in the study of communication, and they’re what employers are looking for.

Understanding communication is also a valuable tool for living out a life of faith in the workplace, Jones says. In her classes, she teaches students not only to think about communication, but to live it out with grace.

“We need to have students who are serious about integrating their faith and vocation, and communication is an important part of that,” Jones said. “No matter what field they’re in, it’s vital to have people who are able to eloquently and respectfully communicate a message of God’s love.”