Meet Our Members

René Weber

René Weber, Ph.D., M.D.

Principal Researcher
René's Bio

René Weber (CV) received his Ph.D. (Dr.rer.nat.) in Psychology from the University of Technology in Berlin, Germany, and his M.D. (Dr.rer.medic.) in Psychiatry and Cognitive Neuroscience from the RWTH University in Aachen, Germany. He is a Professor in the Department of Communication in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of California in Santa Barbara, and director of UCSB’s Media Neuroscience Lab. His lab investigates complex cognitive responses to mass communication and mediated narratives with an emphasis on the neural mechanisms of moral conflict, persuasion, media violence, cognitive control, and flow experiences. Current projects focus on the relationships between media-multitasking and attention disorders (ADHD), compulsive media use, and on the analysis of moral narratives and moral conflict in global news and entertainment. He was the first communication scholar to regularly use fMRI to investigate various media effects, from the impact of violence in video games to the effectiveness of anti-drug PSAs. He has published four books and more than 160 journal articles and book chapters (October, 2022). His research has been supported by grants from national scientific foundations in the United States and Germany, as well as through private philanthropies and industry contracts. He is a Fellow of the International Communication Association.

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Musa Malik

Musa's Bio

Musa is a graduate student in the Department of Communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a researcher in the Media Neuroscience Lab. He is passionate about the development of algorithmic tools that facilitate research in computational communication science. He is also interested in leveraging advancements in natural language processing and computer vision to study phenomena such as prejudice, xenophobia, and conflict on social media. Musa holds a BS in Neuroscience from New York University, Shanghai. LinkedIn

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Sungbin Youk

Sungbin's Bio

Sungbin is a dedicated Ph.D. student in the Department of Communication at UCSB, with a strong academic background and a passionate curiosity that drives his exploration of the intersections between persuasion neuroscience, moral judgments, and multi-modal media consumption. is academic journey began at Korea University, where he earned his B.A. in International Studies and Media & Communication. Building on this foundation, he continued his academic pursuits at the same institution, culminating in the completion of an M.A. in Media & Communication in 2020. Sungbin’s enthusiasm for research and knowledge sharing is evident in his commitment to mentoring both undergraduate and high school students on various research projects. His dedication to teaching excellence was rightfully acknowledged when he received the prestigious Edwin Schoell Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2022. Furthermore, his unwavering commitment to his department and his fellow students led to the well-deserved recognition of the department’s Outstanding Graduate Student Service Award in 2023. CV | LinkedIn

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Kylie Woodman

Kylie's Bio

Kylie is a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her fascination with digital technologies, family dynamics, and neural reward processing brought her to the Media Neuroscience Lab. Kylie is a strong proponent for open science and exploring novel technologies to aid in the research process.

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Brittany Wheeler

Brittany's Bio

Brittany is a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a researcher in the Media Neuroscience Lab. Her research interests center around the intersection of online harassment and morality, and how the neuroscience of moral decision-making might shed light on online aggressive behavior. She received her B.A. in Psychology from California State University of Fullerton. She completed her M.S. in Psychology from Arizona State University in 2022.


This could be you!

We are recruiting PhD students.

We are seeking individuals who are deeply passionate about our research focuses in moral narratives/hate speech, attention disorders, and inclusion research. Interest and a solid background in statistics and Python programming, as well as natural aptitude for research, innovation, and ethical conduct, is a plus. Collaborative, proactive, and adaptable candidates who are committed to continuous learning and effective communication will find an ideal home within our research team. Join us in our pursuit of knowledge and meaningful impact in these critical fields.


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Paula T. Wang M.A

Paula T. Wang M.A.

Paula is interested in applying a neuroscientific lens to questions concerning cognitive control mechanisms and mass media effects. Paula received her BA in Media and Communication Studies from the University of Melbourne and MA in Communication from the University of California, Santa Barbara.


Frederic Hopp, Ph.D.

Frederic Hopp, Ph.D.

Frederic is an assistant professor at the Amsterdam School of Communication Research at the University of Amsterdam and a former member of the Media Neuroscience Lab. His research integrates natural language processing and computational modeling with traditional social scientific and neuroscientific methodologies to examine how moral information permeates human narratives and motivates actions.


Emily Falk, Ph.D.

Emily Falk, Ph.D.

Emily Falk is an Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication and director of the Communication Neuroscience Lab. Emily’s research integrates methods from cognitive neuroscience, psychology, and communication studies to understand media effects at the individual, group and population levels. Emily is also interested in the spread of messages through social networks, and how social norms, values, and culture spread. A primary focus of her work is health behavior change and the construction of effective health campaigns. Read more about Emily’s methodological approach as well as her educational and funding history. The Media Neuroscience Lab collaborates with Emily and the Communication Neuroscience Lab in the area of Persuasion Neuroscience.


Jacob T. Fisher, Ph.D.

Jacob T. Fisher, Ph.D.

Jacob is an assistant professor in the College of Media at the University of Illinois and former member and social media manager of the Media Neuroscience Lab. He researches multimedia processing and media multitasking from a network neuroscience perspective. His current work investigates how certain digital environments can modulate attentional networks in the brain, and how these modulatory effects can be harnessed to develop novel treatments for cognitive processing disorders like ADHD.


Matt Grizzard, Ph.D.

Matt Grizzard, Ph.D.

Matthew is an assistant professor in the University at Buffalo-SUNY’s Department of Communication. His research examines the cognitive, emotional, and psychobiological effects of media entertainment; specifically, how media entertainment exploits evolutionarily-derived psychological processes. As related to the Media Neuroscience Lab, Matthew explores the relationship between repeated exposure to moral transgressions and desensitization. He also looks at the relationship between cooperative play and the production of oxytocin.

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Richard Huskey, Ph.D.

Richard Huskey, Ph.D.

Richard is an assistant professor in the School of Communication at The Ohio State University and former member and manager of the Media Neuroscience Lab. His research lies at the intersection of media psychology and cognitive neuroscience with a particular focus on how media content influence human cognition and behavior. Philosophically, this work understands the mind (and the communication phenomena it enables) as a physical property of the brain. From this multi-level view, neuroscientific research complements existing measures by providing an additional level of explanation for communication behavior (e.g., sociocultural, individual, biological, chemical, physical). It is from this perspective that Richard’s research investigates three core topics: attitude and behavior change, media enjoyment, and the influence of moral narratives.


Justin R. Keene, Ph.D.

Justin R. Keene, Ph.D.

Justin Robert Keene (PhD, 2014, Indiana University) is an Assistant Professor of Electronic Media and director of the Cognition & Emotion Lab in the College of Media & Communication at Texas Tech University. His research focuses on the cognitive processing of and emotional reactions to mediated messages from a dynamic, human-centered perspective.


Ben Turner, Ph.D.

Ben Turner, Ph.D.

Ben is an assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University. His primary research interest lies in developing and applying various fMRI analysis methods, as well as exploring novel applications of fMRI as a research tool in new fields. As a Media Neuroscience Lab collaborator, Ben works on understanding the neural systems of counter arguing. Importantly, this work includes development of new statistical procedures for analyzing brain imaging datasets that are collected in multi-modal, low controlled experimental settings.


Klaus Mathiak, Ph.D. M.D.

Klaus Mathiak, Ph.D., M.D.

Klaus Mathiak is Professor at the Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics at RWTH University in Aachen, Germany. As psychiatrist and cognitive neuroscientist he is interested in studying neural processes underlying complex social perception and behavior via state-of-the-art brain imaging technology (fMRI, MEG). Klaus and Rene pioneered the field of media neuroscience with their studies in the area of brain imaging of virtual violence. Klaus is an expert in developing brain imaging paradigms in multi-modal, low-controlled, and mediated environments.

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Stacy L. Smith, Ph.D.

Stacy L. Smith, Ph.D.

Stacy L. Smith is the Founder of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the leading global think tank studying inequality in entertainment. Dr. Smith’s groundbreaking research examines inclusion (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, the LGBT community, people with disabilities, mental health) across film, TV and digital platforms, the music industry, and film criticism. She has authored over 100 articles, book chapters, and reports, and is covered regularly in popular press outlets. Dr. Smith crafts compelling and innovative solutions to inequality. In partnership with TIME’S UP, Tessa Thompson, and others, she launched the #4percentchallenge. She served on the Recording Academy Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion and is a Founding Board Member of She Is The Music. Dr. Smith has received numerous honors; LA Weekly named her the most influential person in Los Angeles (2015), she appeared on Billboard’s Women in Music List (2018), and was one of The Hollywood Reporter’s 50 Agents of Change (2019).


UCSB Neuroscience Research Institute


The UCSB Neuroscience Research Institute is a group of investigators whose collective goal is to create an intellectual atmosphere conducive to exploration at the frontiers of human knowledge where disciplinary boundaries disappear. Investigators in the NRI recognize that the interests of neuroscience extend broadly from repair and prevention of human disease to the principles that underlie the earliest nervous systems, from the human mind to the single molecular building blocks of the brain.

Affiliated Scholars


Gary Bente, Ph.D.

Gary Bente, Ph.D.

Gary Bente is a Professor in the Department of Communication at Michigan State University. He is currently Editor in Chief of the Journal of Media Psychology and Co-Editor of the German Textbook on Media Psychology. His research interests cover two areas: (1) interpersonal communication including face-to-face as well as mediated interactions, and (2) emotional effects of mass media with a special emphasis on objective process measures. His current work focuses on the production and perception of nonverbal behavior across cultures and its influence on impression formation and trust. Recent work also addresses the neural mechanisms underlying nonverbal communication and person perception. His work has been published in major communication as well as cognitive science and neuroscience journals and in four authored and edited books.


Allison Eden Ph.D.

Allison Eden, Ph.D.

Dr. Allison Eden is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Michigan State University. Her work focuses on understanding media enjoyment from a psychological perspective. She focuses on the role enjoyment plays in attention to and selection of media content, and more broadly the effects of entertainment on behavior and well-being. Dr. Eden’s research has been published in the Journal of Communication, Journal of Media Psychology, Media Psychology, and Mass Communication and Society, among others. She is an affiliated scholar of the Media Neuroscience Lab at UC Santa Barbara, and is a founding member of the Communication and Biology interest group at ICA.

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Michael Gazzaniga Ph.D.

Michael Gazzaniga, Ph.D.

Michael Gazzaniga is a Professor of Psychology and the Director of the SAGE Center for the Study of Mind at the University of California Santa Barbara. Michael’s work investigating how the brain enables the mind is both foundational and inspirational to the Media Neuroscience Lab. Over the course of several decades, a major focus of Michael’s research has been an extensive study of patients that have undergone split-brain surgery and revealed lateralization of functions across the cerebral hemispheres. In addition to his numerous positions and honors, Michael is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Michael serves as the Media Neuroscience Lab’s trusted advisor and thought leader.


Scott Grafton Ph.D.

Scott Grafton, Ph.D.

Scott Grafton is a Professor of Psychology, Director of the Brain Imaging Center, and Co-Director of the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies at the University of California Santa Barbara. Broadly, Scott’s work focuses on how people organize movement into goal-oriented action. The emphasis is on elucidating the cognitive architecture that underlies action representation. This is developed with studies of sequence and skill acquisition, motor simulation, sensorimotor transformation, on-line control and action observation experiments. Scott lends his expertise in these areas to help understand the relationship between media, morality, and cognitive-behavioral outcomes.


Dan Linz, Ph.D.

Dan Linz, Ph.D.

Dan Linz is Professor in the Department of Communication at University of California Santa Barbara. His research involves empirically testing the social psychological assumptions made by the law and legal actors in the area of the First Amendment and freedom of speech, communication in the courtroom, and the application of scientific principles to legal decision making generally: an area he defines as “Forensic Communication.” Dan’s research spans the topics of media violence, pornography, other sex-oriented entertainment, pretrial publicity, news and race, censorship and on-line privacy. Consistent with the Lab’s mission, Dan’s research agenda seeks to empirically test evolutionary/biological explanations for phenomena at the intersection of law, media, and communication.


Chelsea Lonergan, Ph.D.


Chelsea is a former Media Neuroscience Lab Member. Her research interests include cognitive communication science and interactive media. Specifically, her research focuses on the relationship between cognitive sex differences, media usage, and media effects. She graduated and received her Ph.D. in 2020 with her dissertation entitled “Extending the Model of Intuitive Morality and Exemplars: Sex Differences in Evaluations of Moral Conflict in Narratives”.


Dana Mastro, Ph.D.

Dana Mastro, Ph.D.

Dana Mastro is Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of California Santa Barbara. Her research investigates the media’s role in interracial/interethnic dynamics in society. Specifically, her work examines the influence of exposure to racial/ethnic representations in the media on perceptions of self and other as well as on intergroup relations. This program of research includes four primary areas of inquiry (read more). In testing these relationships, Dana’s research utilizes quantitative cognitive and biological measures (e.g., implicit association test, electrocardiography, skin conductance level) as well as experiments, content analyses, and surveys. Just as her work incorporates multiple methodologies, Dana’s research considers a broad range of social scientific literature (e.g., social identity, stereotyping and discrimination, media effects).


Scott Reid, Ph.D.

Scott Reid, Ph.D.

Scott Reid is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of California Santa Barbara. In accord with the lab´s core theoretical foundation and mission, Scott´s research program investigates evolutionary explanations for human communicationand considers questions at the intersection of communication, social identity, and intergrouprelations. For example, Scott´s evolutionary work has provided evidence for the hypothesis that people track accents and religious groups to avoid novel pathogens. In other work, Scott has investigated proximal mechanisms involved in social judgments of media influence and judgments of the hostility contained in mediated messages.


John Sherry, Ph.D.

John Sherry, Ph.D.

John Sherry is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and the Cognitive Science Program at Michigan State University. He takes a cognitive science approach to questions of communication dynamics in two domains. First, he is interested in the use of media for education; in particular how to use flow to embed educational content. Additionally, he is researching the cognitive substrates of game engagement and learning; including, individual differences in cognitive skills, attentional mechanisms, and working memory capacity. Second, he has recently begun research on how to study interpersonal communication dynamically, as a system of interactions. As such, he is interested in investigating communication synchronization phenomena.


Ron Tamborini, Ph.D.

Ron Tamborini, Ph.D.

Ron Tamborini is Professor and Director of Doctoral Programs in the Department of Communciation at Michigan State University. His recent work explores the exposure to educational and entertaining content in traditional and new media. His entertainment research spans the psychology of comedy, suspenseful and violent drama, horror, tragedy, erotica, and sports. His new media research focuses on the experience of virtual and augmented reality. Ron’s work on narratives and morality is of particular relevance to the Media Neuroscience Lab. Using his model of intuitive morality and exemplars (MIME), Ron’s research program examines simple and complex processes thought to shape the reciprocal influences that connect media narratives and morality.


Peter Vorderer, Ph.D.

Peter Vorderer, Ph.D.

Peter Vorderer is Professor of Media and Communication Studies at the University of Mannheim. Previous affiliations include the University of Music, Theater and the Media in Hannover, the Annenberg School for Communication at USC and the Free University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on users’ interest in entertainment and in new media, as well as on consequences of using them. Currently, he is particularly interested in people’s habit to be (almost) permanently online and connected with others. His research has been published in major communication journals and in 11 authored and edited books. He is also President-elect select of the International Communication Association.