Persuasive messages surround us, primarily with the goal of convincing us
to alter or maintain certain behaviors (e.g. quit smoking, wear sunscreen,
buy a Volvo, vote in the next election). Although persuasive messages often
alter peopleís self-reported attitudes and intentions, these self-reports do
not necessarily predict actual behavior change. Emily Falk, RCGD Associate
and faculty member in the Communication Studies and Psychology Departments,
suggests that neuroimaging technology, such as functional magnetic resonance
imaging (fMRI), may allow us to gain new insight into this problem. She has
worked to develop a program of research in what she calls "Communication Neuroscience"
to link neural activity (in response to persuasive messages) to behaviors
at the individual, group and population levels. In particular, Falk is
interested in predicting behavior change following exposure to persuasive
messages and in understanding what makes successful ideas spread (e.g.
through social networks, through cultures). Falk is also interested in the
development of "neural focus groups" to predict the efficacy of persuasive
communication at the population level. At present, much of her research
focuses on health communication, including recent work exploring neural
predictors of increased sunscreen use, neural predictors of tobacco cessation,
and linking neural responses to health messages to population level behavioral
outcomes; other areas of interest include political communication, cross-cultural
communication, and the spread of culture, social norms and sticky ideas. Dr.
Falkís work has been funded by grants from the National Science Foundation and
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Prior to her doctoral work, Dr. Falk was a Fulbright Fellow in health policy,
studying health communication in Canada. She received her bachelorís degree
in Neuroscience from Brown University, and her Ph.D.
in Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).