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We study the brain to understand how we can help people to make healthy and societally beneficial decisions in complex social situations.

Humans are social animals.

Our daily decisions are constantly influenced by our busy social lives. To help people make better (for instance healthier) decisions, interventions like persuasive media messages need to become part of these social lives and compete against the diverse forces contained within them, such as the behaviors of our friends and family and content seen on social media.

Imagine a young adult party-goer. Throughout the night, she is making many small decisions about whether or not and how much to drink. Will she remember and care a persuasive TV ad about the risks of binge drinking she saw earlier that day? Or will this information be overshadowed by the influence of the friends she is with? Does this dynamic change if she makes the ad part of her social life by talking about it.

We study the brain to develop detailed models of decision processes that explain real-world decisions and the social forces that influence them.


 

We primarily work on two research lines:

How do persuasive messages…

…become part of daily social life?

Here, we ask which processes lead individuals to integrate media messages into their social lives in the first place. Here, we examine questions such as:

  • What are the neural and psychological processes that lead people to share media content with others?
  • Can we use these neural correlates of sharing to predict which content goes viral in hundreds of thousands of people?
  • Can we causally manipulate the neural processes that lead to sharing and, in turn, increase sharing likelihood?

…interact with social forces to affect decisions?

Here, we ask how social influence, for instance norms and conversations, change the ways in which persuasive messages impact our daily decisions. We examine questions such as:

  • How do interpersonal conversations influence daily health behaviors? Does this change the effect of media messages?
  • What are the neural processes that support complex decisions based on both mediated and social influence?
  • How can we influence these decision-making processes to increase the effects of important persuasive messaging?