Persuasive message come in many forms, through friends in-person or online, from goverment organizations like online health campaigns, or even subtle messages in a narrative.

All of these messages have the potential to influence us by grabbing your attention, eliciting positive or negative cognitive responses, and ultimately impacting our memories, beliefs, and behaviors. My goal is to understand how language in these messages affects this process from attention to long-term outcomes. To this end, I compare brain activity and self-report measures (i.e., reactance, counteraguing, intentions) in response to persuasive health messages to reveal both similarities and differences in how messages are processed.

One project, funded by the Sandi Smith Research Fellowship for Health and Risk Communication in the Michigan State University College of Communication Arts and Sciences, involves understanding how people’s brains respond to visual images from real-world social media campaigns to identify what images are most engaging and effective. We use a low-cost minimally invasive mobile electroencephalography (EEG) device, to measure responses to Instagram images about e-cigaratte use. Participants view images individually and then the images are presented as video thumbnails that participants can select. Brain responses to viewing the images will then be compared to message selection, to gain theoretical and practical insights into how health-related images affect attention and message selection, or health seeking behavior.

Another project involves investigating brain responses to a funny story. Specifically, we use fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to assess how audience brains responded while listening to an auditory humorous story. Our work integrates two bodies of relevant theory (about story processing and brain function) to motivate an approach called reverse correlation analysis, which links back from moments of peak brain engagement to the parts of the story that elicited this engagement. We find that the moments from the temporoparietal junction (TPJ), a region known to be involved in social cognition, identifies socially engaging segments of the story.

Another area of interest is understanding persuasive health messages in interpersonal contexts. What type of language in interpersonal relationships is more effective to encouraging behavior change and how are those messages perceived? Working with Dr. Elizabeth Dorrance Hall and Dr. Amanda Holmstrom, we have been examining the connection between face threat, and face mitigation strategies (i.e., attempts to reduce face threat), to reactance, and health-related outcomes. We look at these connections by examining daily conversations between romantic couples collected from a diary study. We have several ongoing projects using this data.