The brain is the biological organ of communication - it acts as both sender and receiver of messages. When messages arrive at our senses, they are converted into neural signals and further processed along a hierarchy that ranges from sensation to cognition. Moreover, messages can have profound effects on motivation and emotion, spur action and create lasting memories. Our goal is to understand the biological underpinnings of these effects.
Currently, most of our work focuses on two main topics:
Neuroimaging of Health and Risk Communication
Communicating about health risks is important because the leading causes of morbidity are preventable (e.g. smoking, malnutrition, alcohol consumption). Informing individuals about health risks and motivating them to adopt healthier lifestyles may thus prevent many diseases. Research within health communication and psychology has led to numerous insights regarding effective health and risk communication. A neuroscientific perspective offers several advantages to complement these approaches. In particular, neuroscientific measures open up a new window on how health risk messages engage brain regions that are essential for motivational, emotional, and self-relevant processing.
Media can strongly affect you. They bind your attention, elicit emotional responses, and leave durable traces in your memory. Our goal is to understand how these “micro-level” effects of media on neuro-cognitive processes relate to “classical” media effects. In our studies we compare brain activity in response to media messages to reveal both similarities and differences in how media are processed. A characteristic feature of mass media, such as television, film, radio, and literature is that the messages are basically the same for everyone: The film you see is the same film as the one your friend sees, and thus the information that arrives at your eyes and ears is essentially the same. But will your brains respond in the same way as hers or his?