2021/ in press

Baek, E. C., O’Donnell, M. B., Scholz, C. Pei, R., Garcia, J. O., Vettel, J. M., & Falk, E. B. (in press). Activity in the brain’s valuation and mentalizing networks is associated with propagation of online recommendations. Scientific Reports.

Chan, H. Y., Scholz, C., Baek, E., O’Donnell, M. B., & Falk, E. (in press). Being the gatekeeper: How thinking about sharing affects neural encoding of information. Cerebral Cortex.

Pandey, P., Kang, Y., Cooper, N., O’Donnell, M. B., & Falk, E. B. (in press). Social networks and neural receptivity to persuasive health messages. Health Psychology(supplementary material

Coronel, J. C., O’Donnell, M. B., Pandey, P., Delli Carpini, M. X., & Falk, E. B. (2021). Political humor, sharing, and remembering: Insights from neuroimaging. Journal of Communication, 71(1), 129-161. (supplementary material)

Dieffenbach, M. C., Gillespie, G. S. R., Burns, S. M., McCulloh, I. A., Ames, D. L., Dagher, M. M., Falk, E. B., & Lieberman, M. D. (2021). Neural reference groups: A synchrony-based classification approach for predicting attitudes using fNIRS. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 16(1-2), 117–128.

Lydon-Staley, D. M., MacLean, R. R., Falk, E. B., Bassett, D. S., & Wilson, S. J. (2021). The feasibility of an in-scanner smoking lapse paradigm to examine the neural correlates of lapses. Addiction Biology. Advanced online publication. (supplementary material


Baek, E., Scholz, C., & Falk, E. B. (2020). The neuroscience of persuasion and information propagation: The key role of the mentalizing system. In K. Floyd & R. Weber (Eds.), Handbook of Communication Science and Biology (pp. 122-133). Routledge.

Doré, B. P., Scholz, C., Baek, E. C., & Falk, E. B. (2020). Health news sharing is reflected in distributed reward-related brain activity. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 15(10), 1111–1119. (supplementary material)

Kang, Y., & Falk, E. B. (2020). Neural mechanisms of attitude change toward stigmatized individuals: Temporoparietal junction activity predicts bias reduction. Mindfulness, 11(6), 1378–1389. (supplementary material)

Liu, J., O’Donnell, M. B., & Falk, E. B. (2020). Deliberation and valence as dissociable components of counterarguing among smokers: Evidence from neuroimaging and quantitative linguistic analysis. Health Communication. (supplementary material)

Lydon-Staley, D. M., Falk, E. B., Bassett, D. S. (2020). Within-person variability in sensation-seeking during daily life: Positive associations with alcohol use and self-defined risky behaviors. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 34(2), 257–268. (supplementary material)

Moore-Berg, S. L., Parelman, J. M., Lelkes, Y., & Falk, E. B. (2020). Neural polarization and routes to depolarization. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 117(46), 28552–28554.

Parelman, J., Doré, B., & Falk, E. B. (2020). The role of mentalizing in communication behaviors. In Ochsner, K. & Gilead, M. (Eds.), The Neural Bases of Mentalizing. Springer Press.

Pei, R., Lauharatanahirun, N., Cascio, C., O’Donnell, M. B., Shope, J., Simons-Morton, B. G., Vettel, J., Falk, E. B. (2020). Neural processes during adolescent risky decision making are associated with conformity to peer influence. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 44, 100794. (supplementary material)

Schmälzle, R., Cooper, N., O’Donnell, M. B., Tompson, S., Lee, S., Cantrell, J., Vettel, J. M., & Falk, E. B. (2020). The effectiveness of online messages for promoting smoking cessation resources: Predicting nationwide campaign effects from neural responses in the EX Campaign. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 14, 381. (supplementary material)

Scholz, C., Baek, E. C., O’Donnell, M. B., & Falk, E. B. (2020). Decision making about broad and narrowcasting a neuroscientific perspective. Media Psychology, 23(1), 131155.

Scholz, C. & Falk, E. B. (2020) The neuroscience of information sharing. In S. González-Bailón, Foucault Welles (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Networked Communication (pp. 285-307). Oxford University Press. 

Scholz, C., Jovanova, M., Baek, E. C., & Falk, E. B. (2020). Media content sharing as a value-based decision. Current Opinion in Psychology,31, 83–88.

Tompson, S. H., Falk, E. B., O’Donnell, M. B., Cascio, C. N., Bayer, J. B., Vettel, J. M., & Bassett, D. S. (2020). Response inhibition in adolescents is moderated by brain connectivity and social network structure. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 15(8), 827–837.

Tompson, S. H., Kahn, A. E., Falk, E. B., Vettel, J. M., Bassett, D. S. (2020). Functional brain network architecture supporting the learning of social networks in humansNeuroImage, 210, 116498. (supplementary material)


Bayer, J. B., Hauser, D. J., Shah, K., O’Donnell, M. B., Falk, E. B. (2019). Social exclusion shifts personal network scopeFrontiers in Psychology, 10, 1619. (data on OSF opens in a new window)

Burns, S. M., Barnes, L. N., McCulloh, I. A., Dagher, M. M., Falk, E. B., Storey, J. S., & Lieberman, M. D. (2019). Making social neuroscience less WEIRD: Using fNIRS to measure neural signatures of persuasive influence in a Middle East participant sample. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 116(3), e1-e11. (supplementary material)

Cooper, N., Garcia, J. O., Tompson, S. H., O’Donnell, M. B., Falk, E. B., & Vettel, J. M. (2019). Time-evolving dynamics in brain networks forecast responses to health messaging. Network Neuroscience, 3(1), 138–156.

Coronel, J. C., O’Donnell, M. B., Beard, E. C., Hamilton, R. H., & Falk, E. B. (2019). Evaluating didactic and exemplar information: Noninvasive brain stimulation reveals message-processing mechanismsCommunication Research, 0093650219876844. (supplementary material)

Doré, B. P., Cooper, N., Scholz, C., O’Donnell, M. B., & Falk, E. B. (2019). Cognitive regulation of ventromedial prefrontal activity evokes lasting change in the perceived self-relevance of persuasive messaging. Human Brain Mapping, 40(9), 2571-2580. (supplementary material)

Doré, B. P., Scholz, C., Baek, E. C., Garcia, J. O., O’Donnell, M. B., Bassett, D. S., Vettel, J. M., & Falk, E. B. (2019). Brain activity tracks population information sharing by capturing consensus judgments of valueCerebral Cortex29(7), 3102–3110.

Doré, B. P., Tompson, S. H., O’Donnell, M. B., An, L., Strecher, V., & Falk, E. B. (2019). Neural mechanisms of emotion regulation moderate the predictive value of affective and value-related brain responses to persuasive messagesJournal of Neuroscience, .

Kang, Y., Strecher, V. J., Kim, E., & Falk, E. B. (2019). Purpose in life and conflict-related neural responses during health decision-making. Health Psychology, 38(6), 545-552. (supplementary material)

Kranzler, E. C., Schmälzle, R., O’Donnell, M. B., Pei, R., & Falk, E. B. (2019). Adolescent neural responses to antismoking messages, perceived effectiveness, and sharing intention. Media Psychology, 22(2), 323-349.

Kranzler, E. C., Schmälzle, R., Pei, R., Hornik, R. C., & Falk, E. B. (2019). Message-elicited brain response moderates the relationship between opportunities for exposure to anti-smoking messages and self-reported message recall. Journal of Communication, 69(6), 589–611. (supplementary material)

Pei, R., Kranzler, E. C., Suileman, A. B., & Falk, E. B. (2019). Promoting adolescent health: Insights from developmental and communication neuroscienceBehavioural Public Policy, 3(1), 47–71.

Pei, R., Schmälzle, R., O’Donnell, M. B., Kranzler, E., & Falk, E. B. (2019). Adolescents’ neural responses to tobacco prevention messages and sharing engagement. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 56(2S1), S40–S48.

Scholz, C., Doré, B. P., Cooper, N., & Falk, E. B. (2019). Neural valuation of anti-drinking campaigns and risky peer influence in daily life. Health Psychology, 38(7), 658-667. (supplementary materials)

Simons-Morton, B. G., Bingham, C. R., Li, K., Zhu, C., Buckley, L., Falk, E. B., & Shope, J. T. (2019). The effect of teenage passengers on simulated risky driving among teenagers: A randomized trial. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 923. (supplementary material)

Tompson, S. H., Falk, E. B., Bassett, D. S., & Vettel, J. M. (2019). Using neuroimaging to predict behavior: An overview with a focus on the moderating role of sociocultural context. In P. K. Davis, A. O’Mahony, & J. Pfautz (Eds.), Social-Behavioral Modeling for Complex Systems (pp. 205–230). John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Trieu, P., Bayer, J. B., Ellison, N. B., Schoenebeck, S., & Falk, E. (2019). Who likes to be reachable? Availability preferences, weak ties, and bridging social capital. Information, Communication and Society22(8), 1096–1111.

Vettel, J. M., Lauharatanahirun, N., Wasylyshyn, N., Roy, H., Fernandez, R., Cooper, N., Paul, A., O’Donnell, M. B., Johnson, T., Metcalfe, J., Falk, E. B., & Garcia, J. O. (2019). Translating driving research from simulation to interstate driving with realistic traffic and passenger interactions. In D. N. Cassenti (Ed.), Advances in Human Factors in Simulation and Modeling. AHFE 2018. AISC(Vol. 780, pp. 126–138). Springer, Cham.


Baek, E. C. & Falk, E. B. (2018). Persuasion and Influence: What makes a successful persuader? Current Opinion in Psychology, 24, 53-57.

Bayer, J. B., Ellison, N. B., Schoenebeck, S. Y., Brady, E., & Falk, E. B. (2018). Facebook in context(s): Measuring emotional responses across time and space. New Media & Society, 20(3), 1047–1067

Bayer, J. B., O’Donnell, M. B., Cascio, C. N., & Falk, E. B. (2018). Brain sensitivity to exclusion is associated with core network closureScientific Reports, 8, 16037.

Bruneau, E., Kteily, N., & Falk, E. (2018). Interventions highlighting hypocrisy reduce collective blame of Muslims for individual acts of violence and assuage anti-Muslim hostilityPersonality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 44(3), 430–448.

Burns, S. M., Barnes, L., Katzman, P. L., Ames, D. L., Falk, E. B., & Lieberman, M. D. (2018). A functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) replication of the sunscreen persuasion paradigm. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 13(6), 628–636.

Cooper, N., Tompson, S., O’Donnell, M. B., Vettel, J. M., Bassett, D. S., & Falk, E. B. (2018). Associations between coherent neural activity in the brain’s value system during antismoking messages and reductions in smoking.Health Psychology: Official Journal of the Division of Health Psychology37(4), 375-384. (supplementary materials)

Falk, E. & Scholz, C. (2018). Persuasion, influence, and value: Perspectives from communication and social neuroscience. Annual Review of Psychology, 69(18), 329–356.

Kang, Y., Cooper, N., Pandey, P., Scholz, C., O’Donnell, M. B., Lieberman, M. D., Taylor, S. E., Strecher, V. J., Dal Cine, S., Konrath, S., Polk, T. A., Resnicow, K., Anh, L., & Falk, E. B. (2018). Effects of self-transcendence on neural responses to persuasive messages and health behavior change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Tompson, S. H., Falk, E. B., Vettel, J. M., & Bassett, D. S. (2018). Network approaches to understand individual differences in brain connectivity: Opportunities for personality neurosciencePersonality Neuroscience, 1(e5), 1–12.

Tompson, S. H., Kahn, A. E., Falk, E. B., Vettel, J. M., & Bassett, D. S. (2018). Individual differences in learning social and non-social network structuresJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 45(2), 253–271.

Wasylyshyn, N., Hemenway Falk, B., Garcia, J. O., Cascio, C. N., O’Donnell, M. B., Bingham, C. R., Simons-Morton, B., Vettel, J. M., & Falk, E. B. (2018). Global brain dynamics during social exclusion predict subsequent behavioral conformitySocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 13(2), 182–191. (supplementary materials)


Baek, E. C., Scholz, C., O’Donnell M. B., & Falk, E. B. (2017). The value of sharing information: A neural account of information transmission. Psychological Science, 28(7), 851-861. (supplementary material

Abstract: Humans routinely share information with others. What drives us to do so? We used neuroimaging to test an account of information selection and sharing that emphasizes inherent reward in self-reflection and connecting with others. Participants underwent fMRI while they considered personally reading and sharing New York Times articles. Activity in hypothesized neural regions involved in positive valuation, self-related processing and taking the perspective of others was significantly associated with decisions to select and share articles, and scaled with preferences to do so. Activity in all three regions was greater when participants considered sharing with others versus selecting articles to read themselves. Findings suggest that people may consider value not only to self, but also to others even when selecting news articles to consume personally. Further, sharing heightens these pathways, in line with our proposed account of humans deriving value from self-reflection and connecting to others via sharing.

Keywords: cognitive processes, mass media, neuroimaging, open materials, social behavior, social interaction

Cascio, C. N., O’Donnell, M. B., Simons-Morton, B. G., Bingham, C. R., & Falk., E. B. (2017) Cultural context moderates neural pathways to social influence. Culture and Brain, 5(1), 50–70. (supplementary material

Abstract: People from different cultural backgrounds respond differently to social cues, and may use their brains differently in social situations. Socioeconomic status (SES) is one key cultural variable that influences susceptibility to social cues, with those from lower SES backgrounds tending toward greater interdependence, and those from higher SES backgrounds tending toward greater independence. Building on past research linking brain sensitivity during social exclusion with tendency to take risks in the presence of peers, we examined whether SES moderated the relationship between neural measures of sensitivity during social exclusion and later conformity to peer pressure in a driving simulator. Our data show that SES does moderate the relationship between brain responses during social exclusion and conformity to peer influence on driving behavior. Specifically, increased activity in brain regions implicated in social pain and rewardsensitivity during social exclusion were associated with greater conformity to peer passenger driving norms for low SES and decreased conformity for high SES. In addition, increased activity brain regions implicated in understanding others’ mental states during exclusion was associated with similar patterns of decreased conformity for high SES. Overall, results highlight the importance of considering cultural factors, such as SES, in understanding the relationship between neural processing of social cues and how these translate into real-world relevant behaviors.

Keywords: socioeconomic status, social exclusion, social influence, adolescence, fMRI

Cooper N., Bassett D. S., & Falk E. B. (2017). Coherent activity between brain regions that code for value is linked to the malleability of human behavior. Scientific Reports, 7, 43250. 

Abstract: Brain activity in medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) during exposure to persuasive messages can predict health behavior change. This brain-behavior relationship has been linked to areas of MPFC previously associated with self-related processing; however, the mechanism underlying this relationship is unclear. We explore two components of self-related processing – self-reflection and subjective valuation – and examine coherent activity between relevant networks of brain regions during exposure to health messages encouraging exercise and discouraging sedentary behaviors. We find that objectively logged reductions in sedentary behavior in the following month are linked to functional connectivity within brain regions associated with positive valuation, but not within regions associated with self-reflection on personality traits. Furthermore, functional connectivity between valuation regions contributes additional information compared to average brain activation within single brain regions. These data support an account in which MPFC integrates the value of messages to the self during persuasive health messaging and speak to broader questions of how humans make decisions about how to behave.

Coronel, J. C., & Falk, E. B. (2017). Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Communication Science. In J. Matthes, C. S. Davis, & R. F. Potter (Eds.), The International Encyclopedia of Communication Research Methods (Vol. 15, pp. 1–9). John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 

Abstract: Theories of message and interpersonal processing and effects in communication often attribute important roles to social, cognitive, and affective processes such as attention, memory, and emotion. Using methods that can measure these processes is critical for assessing the validity of these theories. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) provides a powerful approach to the measurement of cognitive and affective phenomena relevant to communication research. Indeed, a large body of work over the past two decades has used fMRI to uncover the cognitive and affective processes underlying human thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that self-report or behavioral techniques often are unable to tap. However, as we describe in greater detail throughout this entry, fMRI has both strengths and weaknesses. Using fMRI effectively requires knowing the types of questions it can answer and understanding its strengths and current limitations. As a starting point, the goal of this entry is to provide an introduction for understanding and using fMRI in the context of communication science for those with little or no background knowledge. We recommend this be supplemented with readings of Falk, Cascio, and Coronel (2015) and Weber, Mangus, and Huskey (2015) which provide more extensive discussions about the uses of fMRI in communication research.

We begin by highlighting what fMRI can offer communication research. As a specific example, we discuss how fMRI has been used to examine the manner in which people perceive and evaluate race and the insights these investigations may provide for studies on the effects of media on racial stereotyping and prejudice.The second section explains the physiological signals in the brain measured by fMRI. The third section describes some of the main issues involved in linking fMRI data with a specific psychological process. A final section describes future developments in fMRI that are particularly relevant to communication research.

Falk, E. B., & Bassett, D. S. (2017) Brain and social networks: Fundamental building blocks of human experience. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 21(9), 674–690. 

Abstract: How do brains shape social networks, and how do social ties shape the brain? Social networks are complex webs by which ideas spread among people. Brains comprise webs by which information is processed and transmitted among neural units. While brain activity and structure offer biological mechanisms for human behaviors, social networks offer external inducers or modulators of those behaviors. Together, these two axes represent fundamental contributors to human experience. Integrating foundational knowledge from social and developmental psychology and sociology on how individuals function within dyads, groups, and societies with recent advances in network neuroscience can offer new insights into both domains. Here, we use the example of how ideas and behaviors spread to illustrate the potential of multilayer network models.

Kang, Y. K., O’Donnell, M. B., Strecher, V. J., Taylor, S. E., Lieberman, M. D., & Falk, E. B. (2017) Self-transcendent values and neural responses to threatening health messagesPsychosomatic Medicine, 79(4), 379-387. (supplementary materials

Abstract: Objective  Prioritizing self-transcendent values such as family and friends more than nontranscendent values such as wealth and privilege is associated with lower stress response. In this study, we tested whether having self-transcendent values can reduce specific responses in the brain in the context of potentially threatening health communications. Methods  Sedentary adults (N = 67) who would likely feel threatened by health messages that highlight the risk of sedentary behavior were recruited. Participants indicated the degree to which they prioritize self-transcendent values more than nontranscendent values. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, participants’ neural responses to health messages were assessed within neural regions implicated in threat responses, including bilateral amygdala and anterior insula (AI). Results  A tendency to prioritize self-transcendent more than nontranscendent values was associated with lower reactivity during exposure to health messages within anatomically defined regions of left amygdala (t(55) = −2.66, p = .010, 95% confidence interval [CI] = −0.08 to −0.01), right amygdala (t(55) = −2.22, p = .031, 95% CI = −0.06 to 0.0), and left AI (t(55) = −2.17, p = .034, 95% CI = −0.04 to 0.0), as well as a mask functionally defined to be associated with “threat” using an automated meta-analysis (t(55) = −2.04, p = .046, 95% CI = −0.05 to 0.0). No significant effect was obtained within the right AI (t(55) = −1.38, p = .17, 95% CI = −0.04 to .01). These effects were partially enhanced by reinforcing important values through self-affirmation, remained significant after accounting for self-reported social connection, and were specific to health message processing (versus generic self-related information). Conclusions  Attenuated neural reactivity to potentially threatening health messages may be a novel way that prioritizing self-transcendent values could lead to positive health behaviors.

Keywords: amygdala, anterior insula, health communication, physical activity, self-transcendence, threat

Liu, J., Zhao, S., Chen, X., Falk, E., & Albarracín, D. (2017). The influence of peer behavior as a function of social and cultural closeness: A meta-analysis of normative influence on adolescent smoking initiation and continuation. Psychological Bulletin, 143(10), 1082–1115. 

Abstract: Although the influence of peers on adolescent smoking should vary depending on social dynamics, there is a lack of understanding of which elements are most crucial and how this dynamic unfolds for smoking initiation and continuation across areas of the world. The present meta-analysis included 75 studies yielding 237 effect sizes that examined associations between peers’ smoking and adolescents’ smoking initiation and continuation with longitudinal designs across 16 countries. Mixed-effects models with robust variance estimates were used to calculate weighted-mean Odds ratios. This work showed that having peers who smoke is associated with about twice the odds of adolescents beginning (OR = 1.96, 95% confidence interval [CI] [1.76, 2.19]) and continuing to smoke (OR = 1.78, 95% CI [1.55, 2.05]). Moderator analyses revealed that (a) smoking initiation was more positively correlated with peers’ smoking when the interpersonal closeness between adolescents and their peers was higher (vs. lower); and (b) both smoking initiation and continuation were more positively correlated with peers’ smoking when samples were from collectivistic (vs. individualistic) cultures. Thus, both individual as well as population level dynamics play a critical role in the strength of peer influence. Accounting for cultural variables may be especially important given effects on both initiation and continuation. Implications for theory, research, and antismoking intervention strategies are

Keywords: health risk behavior, peer influence, adolescent, smoking, meta-analysis

O’Donnell, M. B., Bayer, J., Cascio, C. N., & Falk, E. B. (2017) Neural bases of recommendations differ according to social network structureSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 12(1), 61-69. 

Abstract: Ideas spread across social networks, but not everyone is equally positioned to be a successful recommender. Do individuals with more opportunities to connect otherwise unconnected others—high information brokers—use their brains differently than low information brokers when making recommendations? We test the hypothesis that those with more opportunities for information brokerage may use brain systems implicated in considering the thoughts, perspectives, and mental states of others (i.e. ‘mentalizing’) more when spreading ideas. We used social network analysis to quantify individuals’ opportunities for information brokerage. This served as a predictor of activity within meta-analytically defined neural regions associated with mentalizing (dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, temporal parietal junction, medial prefrontal cortex, /posterior cingulate cortex, middle temporal gyrus) as participants received feedback about peer opinions of mobile game apps. Higher information brokers exhibited more activity in this mentalizing network when receiving divergent peer feedback and updating their recommendation. These data support the idea that those in different network positions may use their brains differently to perform social tasks. Different social network positions might provide more opportunities to engage specific psychological processes. Or those who tend to engage such processes more may place themselves in systematically different network positions. These data highlight the value of integrating levels of analysis, from brain networks to social networks.

Keywords: mentalizing, social influence, social networks, information brokerage, facebook, betweenness centrality, recommendations

Pegors, T. K., Tompson, S., O’Donnell, M. B., & Falk, E. B. (2017). Predicting behavior change from persuasive messages using neural representational similarity and social network analysesNeuroImage, 157, 118–128. (supplementary material

Abstract: Neural activity in medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), identified as engaging in self-related processing, predicts later health behavior change. However, it is unknown to what extent individual differences in neural representation of content and lived experience influence this brainbehavior relationship. We examined whether the strength of content-specific representations during persuasive messaging relates to later behavior change, and whether these relationships change as a function of individuals’ social network composition. In our study, smokers viewed anti-smoking messages while undergoing fMRI and we measured changes in their smoking behavior one month later. Using representational similarity analyses, we found that the degree to which message content (i.e. health, social, or valence information) was represented in a selfrelated processing MPFC region was associated with later smoking behavior, with increased representations of negatively valenced (risk) information corresponding to greater messageconsistent behavior change. Furthermore, the relationship between representations and behavior change depended on social network composition: smokers who had proportionally fewer smokers in their network showed increases in smoking behavior when social or health content was strongly represented in MPFC, whereas message-consistent behavior (i.e., less smoking) was more likely for those with proportionally more smokers in their social network who represented social or health consequences more strongly. These results highlight the dynamic relationship between representations in MPFC and key outcomes such as health behavior change; a complete understanding of the role of MPFC in motivation and action should take into account individual differences in neural representation of stimulus attributes and social context variables such as social network composition.

Keywords: fMRI, health behavior, RSA, motivation, multivariate analyses, smoking

Schmälzle, R., O’Donnell, M. B, Garcia, J. O., Cascio, C. N., Bayer, J., Bassett, D. S., Vettel, J., & Falk, E. B. (2017). Brain connectivity dynamics during social interaction reflect social network structure. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114(20), 5153–5158. (supplementary material

Abstract: Social ties are crucial for humans. Disruption of ties through social exclusion has a marked effect on our thoughts and feelings; however, such effects can be tempered by broader social network resources. Here, we use fMRI data acquired from 80 male adolescents to investigate how social exclusion modulates functional connectivity within and across brain networks involved in social pain and understanding the mental states of others (i.e., mentalizing). Furthermore, using objectively logged friendship network data, we examine how individual variability in brain reactivity to social exclusion relates to the density of participants’ friendship networks, an important aspect of social network structure. We find increased connectivity within a set of regions previously identified as a mentalizing system during exclusion relative to inclusion. These results are consistent across the regions of interest as well as a whole-brain analysis. Next, examining how social network characteristics are associated with task-based connectivity dynamics, we find that participants who showed greater changes in connectivity within the mentalizing system when socially excluded by peers had less dense friendship networks. This work provides insight to understand how distributed brain systems respond to social and emotional challenges and how such brain dynamics might vary based on broader social network characteristics.

Keywords: social exclusion, mentalizing, fMRI, functional connectivity, social networks

Scholz, C., Baek, E. C., O’Donnell, M. B., Kim, H. S., Cappella, J. N., & Falk, E. B. (2017). A neural model of valuation and information virality. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114(11), 2881–2886. (supplementary material

Abstract: Information sharing is an integral part of human interaction that serves to build social relationships and affects attitudes and behaviors in individuals and large groups. We present a unifying neurocognitive framework of mechanisms underlying information sharing at scale (virality). We argue that expectations regarding selfrelated and social consequences of sharing (e.g., in the form of potential for self-enhancement or social approval) are integrated into a domain-general value signal that encodes the value of sharing a piece of information. This value signal translates into population-level virality. In two studies (n = 41 and 39 participants), we tested these hypotheses using functional neuroimaging. Neural activity in response to 80 New York Times articles was observed in theory-driven regions of interest associated with value, self, and social cognitions. This activity then was linked to objectively logged population-level data encompassing n = 117,611 internet shares of the articles. In both studies, activity in neural regions associated with self-related and social cognition was indirectly related to population-level sharing through increased neural activation in the brain’s value system. Neural activity further predicted population level outcomes over and above the variance explained by article characteristics and commonly used self-report measures of sharing intentions. This parsimonious framework may help advance theory, improve predictive models, and inform new approaches to effective intervention. More broadly, these data shed light on the core functions of sharing—to express ourselves in positive ways and to strengthen our social bonds.

Keywords: sharing, virality, fMRI, valuation, psychological mechanisms

Vezich, I. S., Katzman, P. L., Ames, D. L., Falk, E. B., & Lieberman, M. D. (2017). Modulating the neural bases of persuasion: Why/how, gain/loss, and users/non-users.  Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 12(2), 283–297. (supplementary material

Abstract: Designing persuasive content is challenging, in part because people can be poor predictors of their actions. Medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) activation during message exposure reliably predicts downstream behavior, but past work has been largely atheoretical. We replicated past results on this relationship and tested two additional framing effects known to alter message receptivity. First, we examined gain- vs. loss-framed reasons for a health behavior (sunscreen use). Consistent with predictions from prospect theory, we observed greater MPFC activity to gain- vs. loss-framed messages, and this activity was associated with behavior. This relationship was stronger for those who were not previously sunscreen users. Second, building on theories of action planning, we compared neural activity during messages regarding how vs. why to enact the behavior. We observed rostral inferior parietal lobule and posterior inferior frontal gyrus activity during action planning (“how” messages), and this activity was associated with behavior; this is in contrast to the relationship between MPFC activity during the “why” (i.e., gain and loss) messages and behavior. These results reinforce that persuasion occurs in part via self-value integration—seeing value and incorporating persuasive messages into one’s self-concept—and extend this work to demonstrate how message framing and action planning may influence this process.

Keywords: persuasion, message framing, action planning, fMRI, MPFC


Bayer, J. B., Ellison, N. B., Schoenebeck, S. Y., & Falk, E. B. (2016). Sharing the small moments: ephemeral social interaction on Snapchat. Information, Communication & Society, 19(7), 956–977. 

Abstract: Ephemeral social media, platforms that display shared content for a limited period of time, have become a prominent component of the social ecosystem. We draw on experience sampling data collected over two weeks (Study 1; N=154) and in-depth interview data from a subsample of participants (Study 2; N=28) to understand college students’ social and emotional experiences on Snapchat, a popular ephemeral mobile platform. Our quantitative data demonstrated that Snapchat interactions were perceived as more enjoyable – and associated with more positive mood – than other communication technologies (i.e., calling, texting, emailing, Facebook). However, Snapchat interactions were also associated with lower social support than other channels. Our qualitative data highlighted aspects of Snapchat use that may facilitate positive affect (but not social support), including sharing mundane experiences with close ties and reduced self-presentational concerns. In addition, users compared Snapchat to face-to-face interaction and reported attending to Snapchat content more closely than archived content, which may contribute to increased emotional rewards. Interestingly, participants did not see the application as a platform for sharing or viewing photos; rather, Snapchat was viewed as a lightweight channel for sharing spontaneous experiences with close ties. Together, these two studies contribute to our evolving understanding of ephemeral social media and their role in social relationships.

Keywords: ephemerality, emotion, support, persistence, mobile, temporal

Bingham, C. R., Simons-Morton, B. G., Pradhan, A. K., Li, K., Almani, F., Falk, E. B., Shope, J. T., Buckley, L., Ouimet, M. C., & Albert, P. S. (2016). Peer passenger norms and pressure: Experimental effects on simulated driving among teenage males. Transportation Research. Part F, Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 41, 124–137. 

Abstract: Objective  Serious crashes are more likely when teenage drivers have teenage passengers. One likely source of this increased risk is social influences on driving performance. This driving simulator study experimentally tested the effects of peer influence (i.e., risk-accepting compared to risk-averse peer norms reinforced by pressure) on the driving risk behavior (i.e., risky driving behavior and inattention to hazards) of male teenagers. It was hypothesized that peer presence would result in greater driving risk behavior (i.e., increased driving risk and reduced latent hazard anticipation), and that the effect would be greater when the peer was risk-accepting. Methods  Fifty-three 16- and 17-year-old male participants holding a provisional U.S., State of Michigan driver license were randomized to either a risk-accepting or riskaverse condition. Each participant operated a driving simulator while alone and separately with a confederate peer passenger. The simulator world included scenarios designed to elicit variation in driving risk behavior with a teen passenger present in the vehicle. Results  Significant interactions of passenger presence (passenger present vs. alone) by risk condition (risk-accepting vs. risk-averse) were observed for variables measuring: failure to stop at yellow light intersections (Incident Rate Ratio (IRR) = 2.16; 95% confidence interval [95CI] = 1.06, 4.43); higher probability of overtaking (IRR = 10.17; 95CI = 1.43, 73.35); shorter left turn latency (IRR = 0.43; 95CI = 0.31, 0.60); and, failure to stop at an intersection with an occluded stop sign (IRR = 7.90; 95CI = 2.06, 30.35). In all cases, greater risky driving by participants was more likely with a risk-accepting passenger versus a riskaverse passenger present and a risk-accepting passenger present versus driving alone. Conclusions  Exposure of male teenagers to a risk-accepting confederate peer passenger who applied peer influence increased simulated risky driving behavior compared with exposure to a risk-averse confederate peer passenger or driving alone. These results are consistent with the contention that variability in teenage risky driving is in part explained by social influences.

Keywords: teen driver, risky driving behavior, simulated driving, hazard perception, social influences, injunctive norms

Cascio, C. N., & Falk, E. B. (2016). Neuroscience. In K. B. Jensen & R. T. Craig (Eds.), The International Encyclopedia of Communication Theory and Philosophy (pp. 1351–1359). Wiley-Blackwell. 

Abstract: The growth of communication neuroscience has been made possible by advances in methods for measuring and manipulating neural activity. Neuroimaging refers to a broad set of techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), magnetoencephalography (MEG), positron emission tomography (PET), electroencephalography (EEG), functional near-infrared spectoscopy (fNIRS), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS). This entry focuses primarily on findings from fMRI as one of the most common methods currently used to study communication processes and effects. Furthermore, within different neuroimaging methodologies, there are also many different analytical approaches; for example, within fMRI analysis, one might report results from whole brain or region of interest (ROI) analysis, brain-mapping or brain-as-predictor paradigms, results from average activation in specific regions, or their dynamic interplay with other regions, as assessed through functional connectivity analysis—to name just a few possibilities. Details concerning the wide range of neuroimaging techniques and analysis methods are beyond the scope of this review; however, further readings are suggested at the end of the entry.

Cascio, C., O’Donnell, M. B., Tinney, F., Lieberman, M., Taylor, S., Stretcher, V., & Falk, E. B. (2016). Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 11(4), 621-629. (supplementary material

Abstract: Self-affirmation theory posits that people are motivated to maintain a positive self-view and that threats to perceived selfcompetence are met with resistance. When threatened, self-affirmations can restore self-competence by allowing individuals to reflect on sources of self-worth, such as core values. Many questions exist, however, about the underlying mechanisms associated with self-affirmation. We examined the neural mechanisms of self-affirmation with a task developed for use in a functional magnetic resonance imaging environment. Results of a region of interest analysis demonstrated that participants who were affirmed (compared with unaffirmed participants) showed increased activity in key regions of the brain’s selfprocessing (medial prefrontal cortexþ posterior cingulate cortex) and valuation (ventral striatumþ ventral medial prefrontal cortex) systems when reflecting on future-oriented core values (compared with everyday activities). Furthermore, this neural activity went on to predict changes in sedentary behavior consistent with successful affirmation in response to a separate physical activity intervention. These results highlight neural processes associated with successful self-affirmation, and further suggest that key pathways may be amplified in conjunction with prospection.

Keywords: self-affirmation, fMRI, reward, positive valuation, emotion regulation

Falk, E. B., O’Donnell, M. B., Tompson, S., Gonzalez, R., Dal Cin, S., Strecher, V., Cummings, K.M., & An, L. (2016). Functional brain imaging predicts public health campaign success. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience11(2), 204-214. 

Abstract: Mass media can powerfully affect health decision-making. Pre-testing through focus groups or surveys is a standard, though inconsistent, predictor of effectiveness. Converging evidence demonstrates that activity within brain systems associated with self-related processing can predict individual behavior in response to health messages. Preliminary evidence also suggests that neural activity in small groups can forecast population-level campaign outcomes. Less is known about the psychological processes that link neural activity and population-level outcomes, or how these predictions are affected by message content. We exposed 50 smokers to antismoking messages and used their aggregated neural activity within a ‘self-localizer’ defined region of medial prefrontal cortex to predict the success of the same campaign messages at the population level (n ¼ 400 000 emails). Results demonstrate that: (i) independently localized neural activity during health message exposure complements existing self-report data in predicting population-level campaign responses (model combined R2 up to 0.65) and (ii) this relationship depends on message content—self-related neural processing predicts outcomes in response to strong negative arguments against smoking and not in response to compositionally similar neutral images. These data advance understanding of the psychological link between brain and large-scale behavior and may aid the construction of more effective media health campaigns.

Keywords: fMRI, self, MPFC, smoking, media effects, health communication

Green, A. E., Mays, D., Falk, E. B., Vallone, D., Gallgher, N., Richardson, A., Tercyak, K. P., Abrams, D., & Niaura, R. S. (2016). Young adult smokers’ neural response to graphic cigarette warning labels. Addictive Behaviors Reports, 3, 28-32. (supplementary material

Abstract: Introduction  The study examined young adult smokers’ neural response to graphic warning labels (GWLs) on cigarette packs using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Methods  Nineteen young adult smokers (M age 22.9, 52.6% male, 68.4% non-white, M 4.3 cigarettes/day) completed pre-scan, self-report measures of demographics, cigarette smoking behavior, and nicotine dependence, and an fMRI scanning session. During the scanning session participants viewed cigarette pack images (total 64 stimuli, viewed 4 s each) that varied based on the warning label (graphic or visually occluded control) and pack branding (branded or plain packaging) in an event-related experimental design. Participants reported motivation to quit (MTQ) in response to each image using a push-button control. Whole-brain blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) functional images were acquired during the task. Results  GWLs produced significantly greater self-reported MTQ than control warnings (p b .001). Imaging data indicate stronger neural activation in response to GWLs than the control warnings at a cluster-corrected threshold p b .001 in medial prefrontal cortex, amygdala, medial temporal lobe, and occipital cortex. There were no significant differences in response to warnings on branded versus plain cigarette packages. Conclusions  In this sample of young adult smokers, GWLs promoted neural activation in brain regions involved in cognitive and affective decision-making and memory formation and the effects of GWLs did not differ on branded or plain cigarette packaging. These findings complement other recent neuroimaging GWL studies conducted with older adult smokers and with adolescents by demonstrating similar patterns of neural activation in response to GWLs among young adult smokers.

Keywords: graphic warning label, cigarettes, neuroimaging, young adults

Kang, Y. K., O’Donnell, M. B., Strecher, V. J., & Falk, E. B. (2016). Dispositional Mindfulness Predicts Adaptive Affective Responses to Health Messages and Increased Exercise MotivationMindfulness, 8(2), 387–397. (supplementary material

Abstract: Feelings can shape how people respond to persuasive messages. In health communication, adaptive affective responses to potentially threating messages constitute one key to intervention success. The current study tested dispositional mindfulness, characterized by awareness of the present moment, as a predictor of adaptive affective responses to potentially threatening health messages and desirable subsequent health outcomes. Both general and discrete negative affective states (i.e., shame) were examined in relation to mindfulness and intervention success. Individuals (n=67) who reported less than 195 weekly minutes of exercise were recruited. At baseline, participants’ dispositional mindfulness and exercise outcomes were assessed, including self-reported exercise motivation and physical activity. A week later, all participants were presented with potentially threatening and self-relevant health messages encouraging physical activity and discouraging sedentary lifestyle, and their subsequent affective response and exercise motivation were assessed. Approximately one month later, changes in exercise motivation and physical activity were assessed again. In addition, participants’ level of daily physical activity was monitored by a wrist worn accelerometer throughout the entire duration of the study. Higher dispositional mindfulness predicted greater increases in exercise motivation one month after the intervention. Importantly, this effect was fully mediated by lower negative affect and shame specifically, in response to potentially threatening health messages among highly mindful individuals. Baseline mindfulness was also associated with increased selfreported vigorous activity, but not with daily physical activity as assessed by accelerometers. These findings suggest potential benefits of considering mindfulness as an active individual difference variable in theories of affective processing and health communication.

Keywords: health communication, mindfulness, affect, physical activity, shame

Schoenebeck, S., Ellison, N. B., Blackwell, L., Bayer, J. B., & Falk, E. B. (2016) Playful backstalking and serious impression management: How young adults reflect on their past identities on Facebook. In Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (pp. 1475–1487). New York, NY, USA: ACM. 

Abstract: Parents, educators, and policymakers have expressed concern about the future implications of young people’s sharing practices on social media sites. However, little is known about how young people themselves feel about their online behaviors being preserved and resurfaced later in adulthood. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 28 college-going, primarily female, young adults about their use of social media and their transition from adolescence into young adulthood. We find that participants recognize archival value in their own Facebook histories, despite sometimes perceiving these histories to be embarrassing. They experience tensions between meeting their current self-presentational goals and maintaining the authenticity of historical content. To reconcile these tensions, they engage in retrospective impression management practices, such as curating past content. They also engage in “backstalking” behaviors, in which they view and engage with other users’ Facebook histories— openly with close ties and discreetly with weak ties. We consider this ludic engagement through the lens of emerging adulthood and discuss the theoretical implications of our findings, especially in light of emerging applications which intentionally resurface digital traces. 

Keywords: teenagers, adolescence, facebook, impression management, emerging adulthood, reminiscence, archives, persistence

Vezich, I. S., Falk, E. B., & Lieberman, M. D. (2016). Persuasion Neuroscience: New Potential to Test Dual Process Theories. In E. Harmon-Jones & M. Inzlicht (Eds.), Social Neuroscience: Biological Approaches to Social Psychology (pp. 34-58). Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group. 

Abstract: This chapter will cover a brief history of the development of dual-process and alternative theories in behavioral research on persuasion, provide an overview of the fMRI work that has been conducted in this domain, and provide suggestions on how future neuroimaging work might be employed to provide greater insight into established theories and application. In so doing, we hope to highlight the ways in which this work might inform modern-day message designers big and small, from those hoping to change attitudes about burning issues such as smoking cessation to those aiming to boost box office earnings on their next film.


Cascio, C. N., Carp, J., O’Donnell, M. B., Tinney, Jr, F. J., Bingham, R., Shope, J. T., Ouimet, M. C., Pradhan, A. K., Simons-Morton, B. G., & Falk, E. B. (2015) Buffering social influence: Neural correlates of response inhibition predict driving safety in the presence of a peer. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 27(1), 83-95. 

Abstract: Adolescence is a period characterized by increased sensitivity to social cues, as well as increased risk-taking in the presence of peers. For example, automobile crashes are the leading cause of death for adolescents, and driving with peers increases the risk of a fatal crash. Growing evidence points to an interaction between neural systems implicated in cognitive control and social and emotional context in predicting adolescent risk. We tested such a relationship in recently licensed teen drivers. Participants completed an fMRI session in which neural activity was measured during a response inhibition task, followed by a separate driving simulator session 1 week later. Participants drove alone and with a peer who was randomly assigned to express riskpromoting or risk-averse social norms. The experimentally manipulated social context during the simulated drive moderated the relationship between individual differences in neural activity in the hypothesized cognitive control network (right inferior frontal gyrus, BG) and risk-taking in the driving context a week later. Increased activity in the response inhibition network was not associated with risk-taking in the presence of a risky peer but was significantly predictive of safer driving in the presence of a cautious peer, above and beyond self-reported susceptibility to peer pressure. Individual differences in recruitment of the response inhibition network may allow those with stronger inhibitory control to override risky tendencies when in the presence of cautious peers. This relationship between social context and individual differences in brain function expands our understanding of neural systems involved in top–down cognitive control during adolescent development.

Cascio, C. N., Konrath, S., & Falk, E. B. (2015). Narcissists’ social pain seen only in the brain. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10(3), 335-341. (supplementary material

Abstract: Narcissism is a complex phenomenon, involving a level of defensive self-enhancement. Narcissists have avoidant attachment styles, maintain distance in relationships, and claim not to need others. However, they are especially sensitive to others’ evaluations, needing positive reflected appraisals to maintain their inflated self-views, and showing extreme responses (e.g. aggression) when rejected. The current study tested the hypothesis that narcissists also show hypersensitivity in brain systems associated with distress during exclusion. We measured individual differences in narcissism (Narcissistic Personality Inventory) and monitored neural responses to social exclusion (Cyberball). Narcissism was significantly associated with activity in an a priori anatomically defined social pain network (AI, dACC, and subACC) during social exclusion. Results suggest hypersensitivity to exclusion in narcissists may be a function of hypersensitivity in brain systems associated with distress, and suggests a potential pathway that connects narcissism to negative consequences for longer term physical and mental health— findings not apparent with self-report alone.

Keywords: narcissism, social rejection, social exclusion, Cyberball, social pain network

Cascio, C., O’Donnell, M. B., Bayer, J., Tinney, F. J., & Falk, E. B. (2015). Neural correlates of susceptibility to group opinions in online word-of-mouth recommendations. Journal of Marketing Research, 52(4), 559-575. (supplementary material

Abstract: The present study examines the relationship between social influence and recommendation decisions among adolescents in the new media environment. Participants completed the App Recommendation Task—a task that captures neural processes associated with making recommendations to others, with and without information about peer recommendations of the type commonly available online. The results demonstrate that increased activity in the striatum and orbitofrontal cortex in response to peer recommendations is significantly correlated with participants changing their recommendations to be consistent with this feedback within subjects. Furthermore, individual differences in activation of the temporoparietal junction during feedback that peer recommendations varied from those of the participant correlated with individual differences in susceptibility to influence on recommendation decisions between subjects. These brain regions have previously been implicated in social influence and the concept of being a “successful idea salesperson,” respectively. Together, they highlight a potential combination of internal preference shifts and consideration of the mental states of others in recommendation environments that include peer opinions.

Keywords: social influence, recommendations, word of mouth, mentalizing, valuation

Cascio, C. N., Scholz, C., & Falk, E. B. (2015). Social influence and the brain: persuasion, susceptibility to influence and retransmission. Current Opinions in Behavioral Sciences, 3, 51-57. 

Abstract: Social influence is an important topic of research, with a particularly long history in the social sciences. Recently, social influence has also become a topic of interest among neuroscientists. The aim of this review is to highlight current research that has examined neural systems associated with social influence, from the perspective of being influenced as well as influencing others, and highlight studies that link neural mechanisms with real-world behavior change beyond the laboratory. Although many of the studies reviewed focus on localizing brain regions implicated in influence within the lab, we argue that approaches that account for networks of brain regions and that integrate neural data with data beyond the laboratory are likely to be most fruitful in understanding influence.

Cooper, N., Tompson, S., O’Donnell, M. B., & Falk, E. B. (2015) Brain activity in self-and value-related regions in response to online antismoking messages predicts behavior change. Journal of Media Psychology, 27(3), 93-108. (download ROI masks here

Abstract: In this study, we combined approaches from media psychology and neuroscience to ask whether brain activity in response to online antismoking messages can predict smoking behavior change. In particular, we examined activity in subregions of the medial prefrontal cortex linked to self- and value-related processing, to test whether these neurocognitive processes play a role in message-consistent behavior change. We observed significant relationships between activity in both brain regions of interest and behavior change (such that higher activity predicted a larger reduction in smoking). Furthermore, activity in these brain regions predicted variance independent of traditional, theory-driven selfreport metrics such as intention, self-efficacy, and risk perceptions. We propose that valuation is an additional cognitive process that should be investigated further as we search for a mechanistic explanation of the relationship between brain activity and media effects relevant to health behavior change.

Keywords: neuroimaging, behavior change, smoking, brain-as-predictor, cognitive neuroscience

Hyde, L. W., Tompson, S., Creswell, J. D., & Falk, E. B. (2015). Cultural neuroscience: New directions as the field matures – What do cultural neuroscience findings mean? Culture and Brain, 3(2), 75–92. 

Abstract: Cultural neuroscience has documented factors that affect biological and psychological processes that reciprocally shape beliefs and norms shared by groups of individuals. Here we highlight open questions regarding the stability versus malleability of these findings across time, environments, and cultural settings. By borrowing points from population neuroscience (Falk et al., in Proc Natl Acad Sci 110:17615–17622, 2013) and neurogenetics (Bogdan et al., in Mol Psychiatry 18:288–299, 2012), we highlight considerations for research on the development of differences in brain structure and function, particularly in the context of cultural variation. These points highlight the need to better understand gene by culture interactions; in particular, the potential role of ancestry, and the role the brain likely plays as a mechanism through which gene by culture interactions affect behavior. Moreover, we highlight the need to consider development in the interaction of culture and biology. We also highlight methodological challenges as neuroscience is brought to the population level including the importance of sampling and experimental equivalence across groups and cultures. In total, this discussion is aimed at fostering new advances in the young field of cultural neuroscience and highlighting ways in which cultural neuroscience can inform a broader understanding of the development of differences in complex behaviors.

Keywords: cultural neuroscience, gene by environment interaction, geurogenetics, imaging genetics, developmental psychopathology, population

Falk, E. B., Cascio, C. N., & Coronel, J. (2015). Neural Prediction of Communication Relevant OutcomesCommunication Methods and Measures, 9(1-2), 30-54. (supplementary material

Abstract: Understanding and predicting the mechanisms and consequences of effective communication may be greatly advanced by leveraging knowledge from social and cognitive neuroscience research. We build on prior brain research that mapped mental processes, and show that information gained from neuroimaging can predict variation in communication outcomes over and above that associated with self-report. We further discuss how neural measures can complement physiological and other implicit measures. The brain-as-predictor approach can (1) allow researchers to predict individual and population level outcomes of exposure to communication stimuli with greater accuracy and (2) provide a better understanding of the mental processes underlying behaviors relevant to communication research. In this article, we give a detailed description of the brain-as-predictor approach and provide a guide for scholars interested in employing it in their research. We then discuss how the brain-as-predictor approach can be used to provide theoretical insights in communication research. Given its potential for advancing theory and practice, we argue that the brain-as-predictor approach can serve as a valuable addition to the communication science toolbox and provide a brief checklist for authors, reviewers and editors interested in using the approach.

Keywords: fMRI, EEG, ERP, fNIRS, biological, neuroscience, brain, neuroimaging, prediction, media effects

Falk, E. B., O’Donnell, M. B., Cascio, C. N., Tinney, F., Kang, Y., Lieberman, M. D., Taylor, S. E., An, L., Resnicow, K., & Strecher, V. J. (2015). Self-affirmation alters the brain’s response to health messages and subsequent behavior change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112(7), 1977–1982. (supplementary material, and study stimuli here opens in a new window

Abstract: Health communications can be an effective way to increase positive health behaviors and decrease negative health behaviors; however, those at highest risk are often most defensive and least open to such messages. For example, increasing physical activity among sedentary individuals affects a wide range of important mental and physical health outcomes, but has proven a challenging task. Affirming core values (i.e., self-affirmation) before message exposure is a psychological technique that can increase the effectiveness of a wide range of interventions in health and other domains; however, the neural mechanisms of affirmation’s effects have not been studied. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine neural processes associated with affirmation effects during exposure to potentially threatening health messages. We focused on an a priori defined region of interest (ROI) in ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), a brain region selected for its association with self-related processing and positive valuation. Consistent with our hypotheses, those in the self-affirmation condition produced more activity in VMPFC during exposure to health messages and went on to increase their objectively measured activity levels more. These findings suggest that affirmation of core values may exert its effects by allowing at-risk individuals to see the self-relevance and value in otherwise-threatening messages.

Keywords: self-affirmation, fMRI, behavior change, VMPFC, physical activity

Konrath, S., Falk, E., Fuhrel-Forbis, A., Liu, M., Swain, J., Tolman, R., Cunningham, R., & Walton, M. (2015). Can text messages increase empathy and prosocial behavior?: The development and initial validation of Text to Connect. PLoS ONE, 10(9), e0137585. (supplementary material

Abstract: To what extent can simple mental exercises cause shifts in empathic habits? Can we use mobile technology to make people more empathic? It may depend on how empathy is measured. Scholars have identified a number of different facets and correlates of empathy. This study is among the first to take a comprehensive, multidimensional approach to empathy to determine how empathy training could affect these different facets and correlates. In doing so, we can learn more about empathy and its multifaceted nature. Participants (N = 90) were randomly assigned to receive either an empathy-building text message program (Text to Connect) or one of two control conditions (active versus passive). Respondents completed measures of dispositional empathy (i.e. self-perceptions of being an empathic person), affective empathy (i.e. motivations to help, immediate feelings of empathic concern), and prosocial behavior (i.e. self-reports and observer-reports) at baseline, and then again after the 14 day intervention period. We found that empathy-building messages increased affective indicators of empathy and prosocial behaviors, but actually decreased self-perceptions of empathy, relative to control messages. Although the brief text messaging intervention did not consistently impact empathy-related personality traits, it holds promise for the use of mobile technology for changing empathic motivations and behaviors.

O’Donnell, M. B. & Falk, E. B. (2015). Big data under the microscope and brains in social context: Integrating methods from computational social science and neuroscience. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 659(1), 274-289. 

Abstract: Methods for analyzing neural and computational social science data are usually used by different types of scientists and generally seen as distinct, but they strongly complement one another. Computational social science methodologies can strengthen and contextualize individual-level analysis, specifically our understanding of the brain. Neuroscience can help to unpack the mechanisms that lead from micro- through meso- to macrolevel observations. Integrating levels of analysis is essential to unified progress in social research. We present two example areas that illustrate this integration. First, combining egocentric social network data with neural variables from the “egos” provides insight about why and for whom certain types of antismoking messages may be more or less effective. Second, combining tools from natural language processing with neuroimaging reveals mechanisms involved in successful message propagation, and suggests links from microscopic to macroscopic scales.

Keywords: fMRI, neuroscience, social network analysis, linguistic analysis, natural language processing, big data, computational social science

O’Donnell, M. B. & Falk, E. B. (2015) Linking neuroimaging with functional linguistic analysis to understand processes of successful communication. Communication Methods and Measures, 9(1-2), 55-77. 

Abstract: Functional linguistic models posit a systematic link between language FORM and the FUNCTIONS for which language is used. This is a systematic (and therefore quantifiable) relationship. Yet many open questions remain about the mechanisms that link form, function and communication relevant outcomes. Neuroimaging methods can provide insight into such processes that are not apparent from other methods. We argue that the combination of neural and linguistic measures will allow insight into both individual and population-level communication processes that would not be possible using either method in isolation. We present examples illustrating this methodological integration and notes regarding the most amenable linguistic tools. We summarize a framework in which language presented to and produced by participants undergoing neuroimaging is correlated with the resulting neural data and other proximal communication outcomes allowing the triangulation of individual experimental with population level outcomes, thereby linking between micro and macro levels of analysis.

O’Donnell, M. B., Falk, E. B., & Lieberman, M. D. (2015). Social in, social out: How the brain responds to social language with more social language. Communication Monographs, 82(1), 31-63. 

Abstract: Social connection is a fundamental human need. As such, people’s brains are sensitized to social cues, such as those carried by language, and to promoting social communication. The neural mechanisms of certain key building blocks in this process, such as receptivity to and reproduction of social language, however, are not known. We combined quantitative linguistic analysis and neuroimaging to connect neural activity in brain regions used to simulate the mental states of others with exposure to, and retransmission of, social language. Our results link findings on successful idea transmission from communication science, sociolinguistics, and cognitive neuroscience to prospectively predict the degree of social language that participants utilize when retransmitting ideas as a function of (1) initial language inputs and (2) neural activity during idea exposure.

Keywords: social language; natural language processing; social sharing; fMRI; mentalizing

Simons-Morton, B., Bingham, C. R., Li, K., Shope, J., Pradhan, A. K., Falk, E., & Albert, P. S. (2015) Experimental effects of pre-drive arousal on teenage simulated driving performance in the presence of a teenage passenger. Paper presented at Eighth International Driving Symposium on Human Factors in Driver Assessment, Training and Vehicle Design, Salt Lake City, Utah 

Abstract: Teenage passengers increase teenage driving risk, but this may be conditional on events and emotions immediately preceding driving. An experimental simulation study evaluated the effect of pre-drive arousal on risky driving in the presence of a confederate teenage passenger. In a two-by-two between-subjects design, participants were randomized to high or low pre-drive arousal and passenger present or not present conditions. Prior to the drive participants played the Nintendo Wii video game, Rock BandTM. In the higharousal condition participants stood while playing high-energy Beatles songs; in the low arousal condition participants sat while playing low-energy Beatles songs. The manipulation produced differences in arousal by group. Group differences in risky driving were in the expected direction, but were not statistically significant at p = .05 on any of the three outcome measures, which included Failed to Stop (failing to stop at signalized intersections in the dilemma zone), Percent Time in Red (in intersections), and Pass Slow Vehicle (electing to pass a slow vehicle).

Tompson, S., Lieberman, M. D., & Falk, E. B. (2015). Grounding the neuroscience of behavior change in the sociocultural context. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 5, 58-63. 

Abstract: Recent work has identified ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) as a key region predicting whether people will change their behavior in response to persuasive messages. Moreover, a parallel and complementary area of research has examined sociocultural factors that contribute to successful behavior change. In the current paper we aim to integrate these two distinct lines of research and discuss novel implications for the study of both behavior change and culture. We propose that personally and culturally tailored messages should lead to greater neural activation in vmPFC and this greater neural activation should lead to greater subsequent behavior change; we also consider broader neural systems that may integrate social norms and perspectives into judgments across culture.


Falk, E. B. (2014). Mindfulness and the Neuroscience of Influence.In The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Mindfulness (pp. 387–403). John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. 

Abstract: The concept of mindfulness as present-oriented awareness, coupled with flexibility in thinking and creating new categories (Langer, 1989), has been directly applied to problems ranging from conceptualizing and promoting creativity to reducing prejudice to improving health and longevity (Alexander, Langer, Newman, Chandler, & Davies, 1989; Langer, 1989, 2009; Langer, Bashner, & Chanowitz, 1985; Langer & Imber, 1980). From an academic standpoint, the basic tenets of mindlessness versus mindfulness recur throughout social psychology. These ideas form a theoretical basis for models explaining a range of human behaviors, whether directly referred to in these terms or not. Indeed, this conceptualization of mindfulness and Eastern-inspired forms of mindfulness have been highly influential in elucidating the overlap and connection between mind and body, and in promoting health and well-being.

Given the powerful effects of mindfulness on health, a growing body of literature has examined biological correlates of mindfulness practice. For example, neuroscientists have begun to uncover structural and functional correlates of Eastern-inspired forms of mindfulness in the brain. Although relatively little work has specifically examined the neural correlates of Langer’s mindfulness (present-oriented awareness, coupled with flexibility in thinking and creating new categories), in the current chapter, I argue that doing so will shed light on important social neuroscience questions. First, extending current research beyond Eastern-inspired forms of mindfulness and related concepts such as mindfulness meditation to also understand the neural bases and effects of Langer’s social-cognitive mindfulness can help clarify common and distinct mechanisms associated with each. Second, understanding these neural underpinnings may shed light on common and distinct pathways leading to the cognitive and health benefits of each form of mindfulness. Third, this type of work will facilitate more efficient connection to the existing social psychological literature. Finally, Langer’s mindfulness as a dispositional trait is also likely a moderator of many commonly studied neurocognitive effects, and so its inclusion in social neuroscience investigations could shed light on a variety of neurocognitive processes. Thus, more work incorporating measures of dispositional mindfulness, as well as examining situations that promote state mindfulness, is likely to expand our understanding of the brain and its associated psychology beyond what has already been addressed by extant social-cognitive neuroscience research on mindfulness.

Given that most neuroscience research on mindfulness has focused on Eastern inspired forms of mindfulness, in the current chapter I will provide a brief overview of social-cognitive neuroscience investigations of the neural correlates of this form of mindfulness. In addition, I will speculate about ways in which Langer’s mindfulness (which is defined in more social-cognitive terms, as compared to Eastern forms of mindfulness and mindfulness meditation) might operate in similar or distinct ways from the forms of mindfulness studied in existing neuroimaging research. I will address the idea that trait mindfulness is likely to moderate many well-documented social-cognitive neuroscience findings. As one example to illustrate how this might be conceptualized, I will focus on Langer’s social-cognitive mindfulness as a potential moderator of the neural bases of persuasion and social influence, as well as ways in which mindfulness may help explain certain brain-as-predictor relationships that are presently poorly understood. Questions include: In what ways might mindfulness moderate currently observed neural correlates of social influence? Can a mindfulness lens help explain why neural activity predicts variance in behavior change that is not currently explained by self-report?

Falk, E. B., Cascio, C. N., O’Donnell, M. B., Carp, J., Tinney, Jr, F. J., Bingham, C. R., Shope, J. T., Ouimet, M. C., Pradhan, A. K., & Simons-Morton, B. G. (2014). Neural responses to exclusion predict susceptibility to social influence. Journal of Adolescent Health, 54(5), S22-S31. (supplementary material

Abstract:  Purpose: Social influence is prominent across the lifespan, but sensitivity to influence is especially high during adolescence and is often associated with increased risk taking. Such risk taking can have dire consequences. For example, in American adolescents, traffic-related crashes are leading causes of nonfatal injury and death. Neural measures may be especially useful in understanding the basic mechanisms of adolescents’ vulnerability to peer influence.  Methods: We examined neural responses to social exclusion as potential predictors of risk taking in the presence of peers in recently licensed adolescent drivers. Risk taking was assessed in a driving simulator session occurring approximately 1 week after the neuroimaging session.  Results: Increased activity in neural systems associated with the distress of social exclusion and mentalizing during an exclusion episode predicted increased risk taking in the presence of a peer (controlling for solo risk behavior) during a driving simulator session outside the neuroimaging laboratory 1 week later. These neural measures predicted risky driving behavior above and beyond self-reports of susceptibility to peer pressure and distress during exclusion.  Conclusions: These results address the neural bases of social influence and risk taking; contribute to our understanding of social and emotional function in the adolescent brain; and link neural activity in specific, hypothesized, regions to risk-relevant outcomes beyond the neuroimaging laboratory. Results of this investigation are discussed in terms of the mechanisms underlying risk taking in adolescents and the public health implications for adolescent driving.

Keywords: adolescent behavior, risk taking, driving, social exclusion, social influence, peer influence, social pain, mentalizing, fMRI, neuroimaging

O’Donnell, M. B., Konrath, S. H., & Falk, E. B. (2014). Big data in the new media environment: Commentary on Mapping collective behavior in the big-data era. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37(1), 94-95. 

Abstract: The behavioral sciences have flourished by studying how traditional and/or rational behavior has been governed throughout most of human history by relatively well-informed individual and social learning. In the online age, however, social phenomena can occur with unprecedented scale and unpredictability, and individuals have access to social connections never before possible. Similarly, behavioral scientists now have access to “big data” sets – those from Twitter and Facebook, for example – that did not exist a few years ago. Studies of human dynamics based on these data sets are novel and exciting but, if not placed in context, can foster the misconception that mass-scale online behavior is all we need to understand, for example, how humans make decisions. To overcome that misconception, we draw on the field of discrete-choice theory to create a multiscale comparative “map” that, like a principal-components representation, captures the essence of decision making along two axes: (1) an east–west dimension that represents the degree to which an agent makes a decision independently versus one that is socially influenced, and (2) a north–south dimension that represents the degree to which there is transparency in the payoffs and risks associated with the decisions agents make. We divide the map into quadrants, each of which features a signature behavioral pattern. When taken together, the map and its signatures provide an easily understood empirical framework for evaluating how modern collective behavior may be changing in the digital age, including whether behavior is becoming more individualistic, as people seek out exactly what they want, or more social, as people become more inextricably linked, even “herdlike,” in their decision making. We believe the map will lead to many new testable hypotheses concerning human behavior as well as to similar applications throughout the social sciences.

Keywords: agents; copying; decision making; discrete-choice theory; innovation; networks; technological change

Simons-Morton, B. G., Bingham, C. R., Falk, E. B., Kaigang, L.,  Pradhan, A. K., Ouimet, M. C., Almani, F., & Shope, J. T. (2014). Experimental effects of injunctive norms on simulated risky driving among teenage males. Health Psychology, 33(7), 616-627. 

Abstract:  Objective: Teenage passengers affect teenage driving performance, possibly by social influence. To examine the effect of social norms on driving behavior, male teenagers were randomly assigned to drive in a simulator with a peer-aged confederate to whom participants were primed to attribute either risk-accepting or riskaverse social norms. It was hypothesized that teenage drivers would engage in more risky driving behavior in the presence of peer passengers than no passengers, and with a risk-accepting compared with a risk-averse passenger.  Method: 66 male participants aged 16 to18 years holding a provisional driver license were randomized to drive with a risk-accepting or risk-averse passenger in a simulator. Failure to Stop at a red light and percent Time in Red (light) were measured as primary risk-relevant outcomes of interest at 18 intersections, while driving once alone and once with their assigned passenger.  Results: The effect of passenger presence on risky driving was moderated by passenger type for Failed to Stop in a generalized linear mixed model (OR = 1.84, 95% CI [1.19, 2.86], p < .001), and percent Time in Red in a mixed model (B = 7.71, 95% CI [1.54, 13.87], p < .05).  Conclusions: Exposure of teenage males to a risk-accepting confederate peer increased teenage males’ risky simulated driving behavior compared with exposure to a risk-averse confederate peer. These results indicate that variability in teenage risky driving could be partially explained by social norms.

Keywords: social norms, social influence, risk behavior, adolescents, randomized trial


*Berkman, E. T., & *Falk, E. B. (2013). Beyond brain Using neural measures to predict real-world outcomes. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22(1), 45-50. *equal author contributions 

Abstract: One goal of social science in general, and of psychology in particular, is to understand and predict human behavior. Psychologists have traditionally used self-report measures and performance on laboratory tasks to achieve this end. However, these measures are limited in their ability to predict behavior in certain contexts. We argue that current neuroscientific knowledge has reached a point where it can complement other existing psychological measures in predicting behavior and other important outcomes. This brain-as-predictor approach integrates traditional neuroimaging methods with measures of behavioral outcomes that extend beyond the immediate experimental session. Previously, most neuroimaging experiments focused on understanding basic psychological processes that could be directly observed in the laboratory. However, recent experiments have demonstrated that brain measures can predict outcomes (e.g., purchasing decisions, clinical outcomes) over longer timescales in ways that go beyond what was previously possible with self-report data alone. This approach can be used to reveal the connections between neural activity in laboratory contexts and longer-term, ecologically valid outcomes. We describe this approach and discuss its potential theoretical implications. We also review recent examples of studies that have used this approach, discuss methodological considerations, and provide specific guidelines for using it in future research.

Keywords: brain-as-predictor, prediction, neuroscience, ecological validity, brain-behavior relationship

Cascio, C. N., Dal Cin, S., & Falk, E. B. (2013). Health communications: Predicting behavior change from the brain. In P. Hall (Ed.), Social Neuroscience and Public Health: Foundations of an Emerging Discipline (pp. 57-51). Springer New York.   

Abstract: Factors influencing people’s health behaviors are multiple and complex. Both individual differences and environmental influences interact to influence behavior. Approaches to influencing health behaviors in the public sphere vary, ranging from physician advice to tax incentives. In addition, one prominent tool in the public health toolkit is the delivery of persuasive health messages via the mass media. Understanding how health communications influence behaviors has been a significant goal for researchers across a wide range of disciplines. In this chapter, we discuss how social neuroscience, and the emerging subfield of communication neuroscience, contribute to our understanding of the effects of health communications. We focus particularly on how neuroscience evidence pertaining to attitudes, persuasion, social influence, and behavior change can help bridge gaps in knowledge in ways that are not readily apparent through traditional methodological approaches. In addition, this chapter discusses future directions and methodological considerations that should be made when integrating neuroimaging methodology to aid in our understanding of health communications.

Falk, E. B., Hyde, L. W., Mitchell, C., Faul, J., Gonzalez, R., Heitzeg, M. M., Keating, D. P., Langa, K. M., Martz, M. E., Maslowsky, J., Morrison, F. J., Noll, D. C., Patrick, M. E., Pfeffer, F. T., Reuter-Lorenz, P. A., Thomason, M. E., Davis-Kean, P., Monk, C. S., & Schulenberg, J. (2013). What is a representative brain? Neuroscience meets population science. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110(44), 17615-17622.  

Abstract: The last decades of neuroscience research have produced immense progress in the methods available to understand brain structure and function. Social, cognitive, clinical, affective, economic, communication, and developmental neurosciences have begun to map the relationships between neuro-psychological processes and behavioral outcomes, yielding a new understanding of human behavior and promising interventions. However, a limitation of this fast moving research is that most findings are based on small samples of convenience. Furthermore, our understanding of individual differences may be distorted by unrepresentative samples, undermining findings regarding brain–behavior mechanisms. These limitations are issues that social demographers, epidemiologists, and other population scientists have tackled, with solutions that can be applied to neuroscience. By contrast, nearly all social science disciplines, including social demography, sociology, political science, economics, communication science, and psychology, make assumptions about processes that involve the brain, but have incorporated neural measures to differing, and often limited, degrees; many still treat the brain as a black box. In this article, we describe and promote a perspective—population neuroscience—that leverages interdisciplinary expertise to (i) emphasize the importance of sampling to more clearly define the relevant populations and sampling strategies needed when using neuroscience methods to address such questions; and (ii) deepen understanding of mechanisms within population science by providing insight regarding underlying neural mechanisms. Doing so will increase our confidence in the generalizability of the findings. We provide examples to illustrate the population neuroscience approach for specific types of research questions and discuss the potential for theoretical and applied advances from this approach across areas.

Keywords: neuroimaging, life course, statistics, survey methodology, physics

Falk, E. B., & Lieberman, M. D. (2013). The neural bases of attitudes, evaluation and behavior change. In F. Krueger & J. Grafman (Eds.), The Neural Basis of Human Belief Systems (Contemporary Topics in Cognitive Neuroscience) (1 edition, pp. 71–94). New York, NY: Psychology Press. 

Abstract: In this chapter, we review the ways in which people make evaluative judgments, regulate automatic evaluative tendencies, and the consequences that follow (e.g. attitude and behavior change). We begin with an overview of early fMRI work exploring the neural underpinnings of race bias and the regulation thereof, as well as current work pertaining to non-racial (e.g. political and gender) groups. We next review the neural bases of evaluation more broadly, focusing on a wider range of attitude objects and brand identity. Finally, we address the consequences that follow from exposure to external factors designed to change our attitudes and behaviors (e.g. responses to persuasive arguments).

Falk, E. B., Morelli, S. A., Welborn, B. L, Dambacher, K., & Lieberman, M. D. (2013). Creating buzz: The neural correlates of effective message propagation. Psychological Science, 24(7), 1234-1242. 

Abstract: Social interaction promotes the spread of values, attitudes, and behaviors. Here we report on neural responses to ideas that are destined to spread. Message communicators were scanned using fMRI during their initial exposure to the to-be-communicated ideas. These message communicators then had the opportunity to spread the messages and their corresponding subjective evaluations to message recipients, outside the scanner. Successful ideas were associated with neural responses in the mentalizing system and the reward system when first heard, prior to spreading them. Similarly, individuals more able to spread their own views to others produced greater mentalizing system activity during initial encoding. Unlike prior social influence studies that focus on those being influenced, this investigation focused on the brains of influencers. Successful social influence is reliably associated with an influencer-tobe’s state of mind when first encoding ideas.

Keywords: social influence, mass media, social interaction, social behavior, neuroimaging


Antonucci, T. C., Ashton-Miller, J. A., Brandt, J., Falk, E. B., Halter, J. B., Hamdemir, L., Konrath, S. H., Lee, J. M., McCullough, W. R., Persad, C. C., Seydel, R., Smith, J. & Webster, N. J. (2012). The right to move: A multidisciplinary lifespan conceptual framework. Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research. Vo1. 2012, 873937. 

Abstract:  This paper addresses the health problems and opportunities that society will face in 2030. We propose a proactive model to combat the trend towards declining levels of physical activity and increasing obesity. The model emphasizes the need to increase physical activity among individuals of all ages. We focus on the right to move and the benefits of physical activity. The paper introduces a seven-level model that includes cells, creature (individual), clan (family), community, corporation, country, and culture. At each level the model delineates how increased or decreased physical activity influences health and well-being across the life span. It emphasizes the importance of combining multiple disciplines and corporate partners to produce a multifaceted cost-effective program that increases physical activity at all levels. The goal of this paper is to recognize exercise as a powerful, low-cost solution with positive benefits to cognitive, emotional, and physical health. Further, the model proposes that people of all ages should incorporate the “right to move” into their life style, thereby maximizing the potential to maintain health and well-being in a cost-effective, optimally influential manner.

Berkman, E. T., Falk, E. B., & Lieberman, M. D. (2012). Interactive effects of three core goal pursuit processes on brain control systems: Goal maintenance, performance monitoring, and response inhibitionPLoS ONE, 7(6), e40334. 

Abstract:  Goal attainment relies in part on one’s ability to maintain a cognitive representation of the desired goal (goal maintenance), monitor the current state vis-à-vis the targeted end state and remain vigilant for lapses in progress (performance monitoring), and inhibit counter-goal behaviors (response inhibition). Because neurocognitive studies have typically examined these three processes in isolation from one another, little is known regarding if and how they interact during goal pursuit. However, these processes frequently co-occur during online, real-world goal pursuit. The present study employed a novel task to investigate how goal maintenance, performance monitoring, and response inhibition interact with one another. We identified functional activations distinct to each of the processes that correspond to results of prior investigations. In addition, we report interactive effects between response inhibition and goal maintenance in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and between performance monitoring and goal maintenance in the superior frontal gyrus and supramarginal gyrus. Implications for studying the neural systems of in situ goals include the need for both experimental designs that distinguish between process, but also more complex, realistic tasks to begin to map interactions among these neurocognitive processes and how they are altered by the presence or absence of one another.

Keywords: prefrontal cortex, cognition, neuroimaging, occipital lobe, functional magnetic resonance imaging fMRI, behavior, cingulate cortex, working memory

Egol, M., McEuen, M. B., & Falk, E. B. (2012) The social life of brands. Strategy and Business, 68 

Abstract:  A marketing strategy informed by neuroscience can help companies enhance customer engagement — and make better use of tools like social media. 

Falk, E. B. (2012). Can neuroscience advance our understanding of core questions in communication studies? An overview of communication neuroscience. In. S. Jones (Ed.). Communication @ the Center. Hampton Press. ISBN:9781612890821 

Abstract:  Can neuroimaging methods offer any benefit to communication scholars? Although communication scholars draw on multiple, interdisciplinary methods, the field has not traditionally leveraged neuroimaging techniques (Cappella, 1996). By contrast, other social science disciplines have benefitted greatly from the use of neuroscience methodologies to test core theoretical questions (Adolphs, 2003; Cabeza & Nyberg, 2000a; Cacioppo, 2002; Cacioppo, Berntson, Sheridan, & McClintock, 2000; Lieberman, 2010; Loewenstein, Rick, & Cohen, 2008; Ochsner & Lieberman, 2001; Poldrack, 2008; Sanfey, Loewenstein, & Mcclure, 2006; Yarkoni, Poldrack, Van Essen, & Wager, 2010). The current chapter outlines a vision for how communication studies might leverage neuroimaging technologies moving forward. We begin by defining communication neuroscience as a subdiscipline and giving a brief overview of the most commonly employed neuroimaging methods. We follow this introduction with a discussion of the types of questions that neuroimaging is most equipped to answer and suggest areas for further exploration.

Falk, E. B., Berkman, E., & Lieberman, M. D. (2012). From neural responses to population behavior: Neural focus groups predicts population-level media effectsPsychological Science, 23(5), 439-445. (supplementary material

Abstract:  Can neural responses of a small group of individuals predict the behavior of large-scale populations? In this investigation, brain activations were recorded while smokers viewed three different television campaigns promoting the National Cancer Institute’s telephone hotline to help smokers quit (1-800-QUIT-NOW). The smokers also provided self-report predictions of the campaigns’ relative effectiveness. Population measures of the success of each campaign were computed by comparing call volume to 1-800-QUIT-NOW in the month before and the month after the launch of each campaign. This approach allowed us to directly compare the predictive value of self-reports with neural predictors of message effectiveness. Neural activity in a medial prefrontal region of interest, previously associated with individual behavior change, predicted the population response, whereas self-report judgments did not. This finding suggests a novel way of connecting neural signals to population responses that has not been previously demonstrated and provides information that may be difficult to obtain otherwise

Keywords: mass media, neuroimaging, health, cognitive neuroscience, neuromarketing, health communication, smoking

Falk, E. B., O’Donnell, M. B. & Lieberman, M. D. (2012). Getting the word out: Neural correlates of enthusiastic message propagationFrontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6(313). 

Abstract:  What happens in the mind of a person who first hears a potentially exciting idea?We examined the neural precursors of spreading ideas with enthusiasm, and dissected enthusiasm into component processes that can be identified through automated linguistic analysis, gestalt human ratings of combined linguistic and nonverbal cues, and points of convergence/divergence between the two. We combined tools from natural language processing (NLP) with data gathered using fMRI to link the neurocognitive mechanisms that are set in motion during initial exposure to ideas and subsequent behaviors of these message communicators outside of the scanner. Participants’ neural activity was recorded as they reviewed ideas for potential television show pilots. Participants’ language from video-taped interviews collected post-scan was transcribed and given to an automated linguistic sentiment analysis (SA) classifier, which returned ratings for evaluative language (evaluative vs. descriptive) and valence (positive vs. negative). Separately, human coders rated the enthusiasm with which participants transmitted each idea. More positive sentiment ratings by the automated classifier were associated with activation in neural regions including medial prefrontal cortex; MPFC, precuneus/ posterior cingulate cortex; PC/PCC, and medial temporal lobe; MTL. More evaluative, positive, descriptions were associated exclusively with neural activity in temporal-parietal junction (TPJ). Finally, human ratings indicative of more enthusiastic sentiment were associated with activation across these regions (MPFC, PC/ PCC, DMPFC, TPJ, and MTL) as well as in ventral striatum (VS), inferior parietal lobule and premotor cortex. Taken together, these data demonstrate novel links between neural activity during initial idea encoding and the enthusiasm with which the ideas are subsequently delivered. This research lays the groundwork to use machine learning and neuroimaging data to study word of mouth communication and the spread of ideas in both traditional and new media environments.

Keywords: fMRI, sentiment analysis, natural language processing, information diffusion, word-of-mouth

Falk, E. B., Spunt, R. P., & Lieberman, M. D. (2012). Ascribing beliefs to ingroup and outgroup political candidates: Neural correlates of perspective taking, issue importance, and days until the election. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 367(1589), 731-743. (supplementary material

Abstract:  We used the five weeks leading up to the 2008 presidential election as a backdrop to examine the ways that the brain processes attitudes and beliefs under different circumstances. We examined individual differences in personal issue importance and trait perspective-taking, as well as the temporal context in which attitude representation took place (i.e. number of days until the election). Finally, we examined the extent to which similar or dissimilar processes were recruited when considering the attitudes of political ingroup and outgroup candidates. Brain regions involved in social cognition and theory of mind, and to a lesser extent the limbic system, were modulated by these factors. Higher issue importance led to greater recruitment of neural regions involved in social cognition, across target perspectives. Higher trait perspective-taking was also associated with greater recruitment of several regions involved in social cognition, but differed depending on target perspective; greater activity was observed in prefrontal regions associated with social cognition when considering the perspective of one’s own candidate compared with the opponent, and this effect was amplified closer to the election. Taken together, these results highlight ways in which ability and motivational relevance modulate socio-affective processing of the attitudes of others.

Keywords: functional magnetic resonance imaging; perspective-taking; political; attitudes; ingroup; outgroup

Falk, E. B., Way, B., & Jasinska, A. (2012). An imaging genetics approach to understanding social influenceFrontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6(168). 

Abstract:  Normative social influences shape nearly every aspect of our lives, yet the biological processes mediating the impact of these social influences on behavior remain incompletely understood. In this Hypothesis, we outline a theoretical framework and an integrative research approach to the study of social influences on the brain and genetic moderators of such effects. First, we review neuroimaging evidence linking social influence and conformity to the brain’s reward system. We next review neuroimaging evidence linking social punishment (exclusion) to brain systems involved in the experience of pain, as well as evidence linking exclusion to conformity. We suggest that genetic variants that increase sensitivity to social cues may predispose individuals to be more sensitive to either social rewards or punishments (or potentially both), which in turn increases conformity and susceptibility to normative social influences more broadly. To this end, we review evidence for genetic moderators of neurochemical responses in the brain, and suggest ways in which genes and pharmacology may modulate sensitivity to social influences. We conclude by proposing an integrative imaging genetics approach to the study of brain mediators and genetic modulators of a variety of social influences on human attitudes, beliefs, and actions.

Keywords: social influence, persuasion, fMRI, imaging genetics, reward, punishment, dopamine, serotonin

Jasinska, A. J., Yasuda, M., Burant, C. F., Gregor, N., Khatri, S., Sweet, M. & Falk, E. B. (2012) Impulsivity and inhibitory control deficits are associated with unhealthy eating in young adults. Appetite, 59(3), 738-747. 

Abstract:  Heightened impulsivity and inefficient inhibitory control are increasingly recognized as risk factors for unhealthy eating and obesity but the underlying processes are not fully understood. We used structural equation modeling to investigate the relationships between impulsivity, inhibitory control, eating behavior, and body mass index (BMI) in 210 undergraduates who ranged from underweight to obese. We demonstrate that impulsivity and inhibitory control deficits are positively associated with several facets of unhealthy eating, including overeating in response to external food cues and in response to negative emotional states, and making food choices based on taste preferences without consideration of health value. We further show that such unhealthy eating is, for the most part, associated with increased BMI, with the exception of Restraint Eating, which is negatively associated with BMI. These results add to our understanding of the impact of individual differences in impulsivity and inhibitory control on key aspects of unhealthy eating and may have implications for the treatment and prevention of obesity.

Keywords: cognitive control, executive function, response inhibition, decision making, eating, obesity, structural equation modeling.

Muscatell, K. A., Morelli, S. A., Falk, E. B., Way, B. M., Pfeifer, J. H, Galinsky, A. D., Lieberman, M. D., Dapretto, M. & Eisenberger, N. I. (2012). Social status modulates neural activity in the mentalizing network. Neuroimage, 60(3), 1771-1777. (supplementary material

Abstract: The current research explored the neural mechanisms linking social status to perceptions of the social world. Two fMRI studies provide converging evidence that individuals lower in social status are more likely to engage neural circuitry often involved in ‘mentalizing’ or thinking about others’ thoughts and feelings. Study 1 found that college students’ perception of their social status in the university community was related to neural activity in the mentalizing network (e.g., DMPFC, MPFC, precuneus/PCC) while encoding social information, with lower social status predicting greater neural activity in this network. Study 2 demonstrated that socioeconomic status, an objective indicator of global standing, predicted adolescents’ neural activity during the processing of threatening faces, with individuals lower in social status displaying greater activity in the DMPFC, previously associated with mentalizing, and the amygdala, previously associated with emotion/ salience processing. These studies demonstrate that social status is fundamentally and neurocognitively linked to how people process and navigate their social worlds.

Keywords: social status, SES, mentalizing, fMRI


Berkman, E. T., Dickenson, J., Falk, E. B. & Lieberman, M. D. (2011). Using SMS text messaging to assess moderators of smoking cessation: Validating a new tool for ecological measurement of health behaviorsHealth Psychology, 30(2), 186-194. 

Abstract:  Objective: Understanding the psychological processes that contribute to smoking reduction will yield population health benefits. Negative mood may moderate smoking lapse during cessation, but this relationship has been difficult to measure in ongoing daily experience. We used a novel form of ecological momentary assessment to test a self-control model of negative mood and craving leading to smoking lapse.  Design: We validated short message service (SMS) text as a user-friendly and low-cost option for ecologically measuring real-time health behaviors. We sent text messages to cigarette smokers attempting to quit eight times daily for the first 21 days of cessation (N-obs = 3,811).  Main outcome measures: Approximately every two hours, we assessed cigarette count, mood, and cravings, and examined between- and within-day patterns and time-lagged relationships among these variables. Exhaled carbon monoxide was assessed pre- and posttreatment.  Results: Negative mood and craving predicted smoking two hours later, but craving mediated the mood–smoking relationship. Also, this mediation relationship predicted smoking over the next two, but not four, hours.  Conclusion: Results clarify conflicting previous findings on the relation between affect and smoking, validate a new low-cost and user-friendly method for collecting fine-grained health behavior assessments, and emphasize the importance of rapid, real-time measurement of smoking moderators.

Keywords: smoking cessation, self-control, ecological momentary assessment, text messaging, craving

Berkman, E. T., Falk, E. B. & Lieberman, M. D. (2011). In the trenches of real-world self-control: Neural correlates of breaking the link between craving and smoking. Psychological Science, 22(4), 498-506. (supplementary material)  

Abstract: Successful goal pursuit involves repeatedly engaging self-control against temptations or distractions that arise along the way. Laboratory studies have identified the brain systems recruited during isolated instances of selfcontrol, and ecological studies have linked self-control capacity to goal outcomes. However, no study has identified the neural systems of everyday self-control during long-term goal pursuit. The present study integrated neuroimaging and experience-sampling methods to investigate the brain systems of successful selfcontrol among smokers attempting to quit. A sample of 27 cigarette smokers completed a go/no-go task during functional magnetic resonance imaging before they attempted to quit smoking and then reported everyday self-control using experience sampling eight times daily for 3 weeks while they attempted to quit. Increased activation in right inferior frontal gyrus, pre-supplementary motor area, and basal ganglia regions of interest during response inhibition at baseline was associated with an attenuated association between cravings and subsequent smoking. These findings support the ecological validity of neurocognitive tasks as indices of everyday response inhibition.

Keywords: self-control, smoking cessation, brain-as-predictor, right inferior frontal gyrus, response inhibition, text messaging

Falk, E., Berkman, E., Whalen, D., & Lieberman, M. D. (2011). Neural activity during health messaging predicts reductions in smoking above and beyond self-reportHealth Psychology, 30(2), 177-185. (supplementary material

Abstract:  Objective: The current study tested whether neural activity in response to messages designed to help smokers quit could predict smoking reduction, above and beyond self-report.  Design: Using neural activity in an a priori region of interest (a subregion of medial prefrontal cortex [MPFC]), in response to ads designed to help smokers quit smoking, we prospectively predicted reductions in smoking in a community sample of smokers (N = 28) who were attempting to quit smoking. Smoking was assessed via expired carbon monoxide (CO; a biological measure of recent smoking) at baseline and 1 month following exposure to professionally developed quitting ads.  Results: A positive relationship was observed between activity in the MPFC region of interest and successful quitting (increased activity in MPFC was associated with a greater decrease in expired CO). The addition of neural activity to a model predicting changes in CO from self-reported intentions, self-efficacy, and ability to relate to the messages significantly improved model fit, doubling the variance explained (R²self-report = .15, R²self-report + neural activity = .35, R²change = .20).  Conclusion: Neural activity is a useful complement to existing self-report measures. In this investigation, we extend prior work predicting behavior change based on neural activity in response to persuasive media to an important health domain and discuss potential psychological interpretations of the brain–behavior link. Our results support a novel use of neuroimaging technology for understanding the psychology of behavior change and facilitating health promotion.

Keywords: functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), neuroimaging, behavior change, smoking


Falk, E. B. (2010). Communication neuroscience as a tool for health psychologists. Health Psychology, 29(4), 355-357. 

Abstract: Public service announcements, school-based interventions, and global policy initiatives all seek to promote healthier behaviors and reduce harmful behaviors. Health psychologists interested in promoting healthy behaviors approach this problem at many different levels of analysis ranging from the ways that macrolevel policies, social norms, cultural, and demographic factors influence our behaviors to lower-level affective and cognitive processes that lead people to attend to certain health messages. One major strength of health psychology’s approach to affecting behavior change is the interdisciplinary nature of the field. 

Falk, E. B., Berkman, E. T., Mann, T., Harrison, B., & Lieberman, M. D. (2010). Predicting persuasion-induced behavior change from the brain. Journal of Neuroscience, 30(25), 8421-8424. (supplementary material, and download ROI masks here

Abstract: Although persuasive messages often alter people’s self-reported attitudes and intentions to perform behaviors, these self-reports do not necessarily predict behavior change. We demonstrate that neural responses to persuasive messages can predict variability in behavior change in the subsequent week. Specifically, an a priori region of interest (ROI) in medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) was reliably associated with behavior change (r = 0.49, p < 0.05). Additionally, an iterative cross-validation approach using activity in this MPFC ROI predicted an average 23% of the variance in behavior change beyond the variance predicted by self-reported attitudes and intentions. Thus, neural signals can predict behavioral changes that are not predicted from selfreported attitudes and intentions alone. Additionally, this is the first functional magnetic resonance imaging study to demonstrate that a neural signal can predict complex real world behavior days in advance. 

Falk, E. B., Rameson, L., Berkman, E. T., Liao, B., Kang, Y., Inagaki, T., & Lieberman, M. D. (2010). The neural correlates of persuasion: A common network across cultures and media. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 22(11), 2447-2459. 

Abstract: Persuasion is at the root of countless social exchanges in which one person or group is motivated to have another share its beliefs, desires, or behavioral intentions. Here, we report the first three functional magnetic resonance imaging studies to investigate the neurocognitive networks associated with feeling persuaded by an argument. In the first two studies, American and Korean participants, respectively, were exposed to a number of text-based persuasive messages. In both Study 1 and Study 2, feeling persuaded was associated with increased activity in posterior superior temporal sulcus bilaterally, temporal pole bilaterally, and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. The findings suggest a discrete set of underlying mechanisms in the moment that the persuasion process occurs, and are strengthened by the fact that the results replicated across two diverse linguistic and cultural groups. Additionally, a third study using region-of-interest analyses demonstrated that neural activity in this network was also associated with persuasion when a sample of American participants viewed video-based messages. In sum, across three studies, including two different cultural groups and two types of media, persuasion was associated with a consistent network of regions in the brain. Activity in this network has been associated with social cognition and mentalizing and is consistent with models of persuasion that emphasize the importance of social cognitive processing in determining the efficacy of persuasive communication. 

Spunt, R. P., Falk, E. B., & Lieberman, M. D. (2010). Dissociable neural systems support retrieval of how and why action knowledgePsychological Science, 21(11), 1593-1598. (supplementary material

Abstract: In everyday discourse, people typically represent actions in one of two ways: how they are performed or why they are performed. In the present study, we determined the neural systems that support these natural modes of representing actions. Participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while identifying how and why people perform various familiar actions. Identifying how actions are performed produced activity in premotor areas that support the execution of actions and in higher-order visual areas that support the perception of action-related objects; this finding supports an embodied view of action knowledge. However, identifying why actions are performed preferentially engaged areas of the brain associated with representing and reasoning about mental states; these areas were right temporoparietal junction, precuneus, dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, and posterior superior temporal sulcus. Our results suggest that why action knowledge is not sufficiently constituted by information in motor and visual systems, but requires a system for representing states of mind, which do not have reliable motor correlates or visual appearance.

Keywords: semantic memory, motor processes, theory of mind, social cognition, cognitive neuroscience