The Media Neuroscience Lab is involved in areas
of research at the intersection of media, neuroscience,
evolutionary theory, and research methodology.


Lab-Based Tools


The Moral Narrative Analyzer (MoNA) extracts moral information from media messages using a hybrid approach between automated computational methods and hand coding.


We provide validated, hybrid content analysis pipeline combining human and artificial intelligence to assess diversity, equity, and inclusion metrics across textual and audiovisual content.


iCoRe provides a computational pipeline that allows researchers to access, explore, and analyze the Global Database of Events, Language and Tone (GDELT; Leetaru & Schrodt, 2013)

Asteroid Impact

Asteroid Impact is an open-source naturalistic video game stimulus and designed for applications in behavioral, psychophysiological, and brain imaging research paradigms.

Research Areas

Persuasion Neuroscience

Dynamics of Persuasion

Media theory has shifted from “effects” models to “processing” models. In this project, the process of persuasion is examined over time during message receipt.


Multilevel Analysis of PSA Effectiveness

In this project, we contrast predictions of anti-drug message effectiveness from three different theoretical perspectives (ELM, AMIE, and LC4MP). We use televised anti-marijuana messages, young-adult samples, and a multilevel approach to test competing hypotheses.


The Neural Systems of Counterarguing

Building on multilevel analyses of PSA effectiveness, in this project we focus on the counterarguing (or biased processing) phenomenon in persuasion research. With a new approach in brain imaging data analysis (intersubject correlation analysis) we identify the neural systems of biased processing and develop a sensitive marker for counterarguing detection.

Narratives and Morality

Moral Language and Pathogen Prevalence

Regional variation in pathogen prevalence predicts increased media attention and higher levels of moralizing language in COVID-19 news Link.


Social Norm Violations in TV Drama

Longitudinal studies utilizing disposition theory predict audience responses to soap operas. Audience enjoyment of the TV dramas increases when characters are perceived as morally deserving the outcomes that befall them.


TV Drama Exposure & Salience of Moral Intuitions

Extended exposure to daytime soap operas influences viewers’ dispositions toward characters, as well as their real-world moral judgements.


Neural Responses to Social Norm Violations in TV Drama

Individuals’ attentional and moral networks synchronize during TV drama scenes featuring immoral characters who suffer negative consequences.


Morality in Narratives, Synchronized Exposure, and Cooperation

The ability of humans to synchronize our thoughts and emotions with others through morally-salient narratives might be one important mechanism driving trust and cooperation in large groups.


Automated Analysis of Moral Content in Online Communication Sources

In collaboration with colleagues from the Institutue for Collaborative Technologies at the University of Southern California, the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies at the University of California Santa Barbara, and the Army Research Lab, we developed the extended Moral Foundations Dictionary (eMFDscore) –  a system to automatically classify the moral content of text gathered from the Internet by leveraging both communication theory and sophisticated data-mining methods.

Narratives and Violence

Neuroimaging & Video Game Violence

Teens and adolescents play video games frequently, and a significant portion of the games contain increasingly realistic portrayals of violence. A brain imaging (fMRI) study demonstrates that virtual violence in video game playing results in neural patterns that are considered characteristic for aggressive cognition and behavior.


Brain Correlates of Semi-Natural Behavior: fMRI During Violent Video Games

Virtual environments provide a useful tool for the study of neuronal processes involved in semi-naturalistic behavior as determined by content analysis. A brain imaging (fMRI) study observed 13 males as they played a violent first-person shooter game and identified potential neural correlates associated with violent behavior.


Video Games & Interactivity

Interactivity is a common, but under-specified concept in the video game literature. The lab’s research identifies six dimensions of interactivity including: feature-based interactivity, customization & co-creation, controller responsiveness, artificial intelligence, perceptual persuasiveness, and exploration.


Character Attachment in Interactive Environments

In interactive video games, there is no parasocial interaction with a fictitious character, no felt connection per se, but an actual, tangible connection between the gamer and a fully functional, completely controllable avatar. The lab’s character attachment scale provides a way to measure the connection between player and avatar.


The Internet and Aggression

The Internet is an environment of instant connections and opportunity. It is also an instrument of great social and personal penetration. In an edited chapter, we consider the relationship between motivation, disinhibitory, and opportunity aspects of Internet use that are associated with aggression.

Flow and Cognitive Control

Motivated attention to media

Recent work in the lab has reviewed and theoretically updated the Limited Capacity Model of Motivated Mediated Message Processing (LC4MP) in view of modern media neuroscience work [Link]


Neural underpinnings of flow experiences

In collaboration with Richard Huskey, lab alum and assistant professor at UC Davis, the lab investigates the neural precursors and correlates of flow experiences during video game play [Link]


Designing interventions at the intersection of neuroscience and media design

Recent work from the lab (forthcoming in New Technologies for Health-Related Cognitive and Behavioral Change) highlights how neuroimaging and multimedia design can be combined to create new and more effective health-related interventions.


Cognitive load, perceptual load, and attention to media

Cognitive and perceptual operations load the human processing system in different ways, leading to different outcomes. Recent work from the lab (forthcoming in Media & Communication) shows that perceptual complexity in messages influence attention in a modality-specific manner, whereas cognitive complexity influences attention in a modality-general manner.


Network neuroscience of attention and media

In a recent publication in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience [Link], we investigate the dynamics of attention networks in the brain during an interactive video game, showing that attention networks exhibit curvilinear patterns of robustness in the presence of increasing distraction.

Sex, Race, & Inclusion

Cinematic Representation of Muslim Characters

Computer vision and natural language processing techniques are used to identify and examine overall cinematic representation of Muslim characters


Representations of Racial Minorities

We developed a content analytic framework for identifying visual and structural racial biases in film productions.


Theory Development

A Synchronization Theory of Flow

The Synchronization Theory of Flow offers a neurological explanation for flow experiences. In this view, flow is a discrete, energetically optimized, and gratifying experience resulting from the synchronization of attentional and reward networks under conditions of a balance between challenge and skill. [Link]


The Neurophysiological Perspective in Mass Communication Research

The neurophysiological perspective argues for a paradigm shift to a new way of thinking about mass communication that goes beyond the nomothetic deductive models of the past and embraces current scientific ontology and epistemology.


Flow Theory: Advances in Experimental Manipulation & Measurement

An experimental study manipulates level of challenge in a video game and makes a case for the use of secondary task response times as a continuous, unobtrusive measure of flow.

Methods Development

The Handbook of Communication Science and Biology

The Handbook of Communication Science and Biology charts the state of the art in the field, describing relevant areas of communication studies where a biological approach has been successfully applied. The book synthesizes theoretical and empirical development in this area thus far and proposes a roadmap for future research. LEARN MORE


Null Hypothesis Significance Testing in Communication Research

We consider theoretical and methodological issues associated with null hypothesis significance testing (NHST) and offer a  practical guide for NHST.


Effect & Equivalence Testing – SPSS Custom Dialogs

Although equivalence testing is needed when a researcher’s goal is to support the null hypothesis (i.e., no substantial effect), equivalence tests are virtually unknown and unused in communication research. We provide the rationale for and theoretical background of effect- and equivalence testing. SPSS custom dialogs are provided to assist the research community in conducting tests of statistical effects and statistical equivalence. Find out more at Effect & Equivalence Testing under Service.


Neusrel – Nonlinear Structural Equation Modeling

The Media Neuroscience Lab is a scientific collaborator of Neusrel Causal Analytics. This collaboration seeks to advance nonlinear structural equation modeling methods by incorporating machine learning techniques (e.g., neural networks). This statistical approach is of particular interest to the lab as it expands the researcher’s toolbox when analyzing brain imaging data and other complex datasets. Find out more at Neusrel Causal Analytics.

Computational Methods


The Moral Narrative Analyzer (MoNA; is a hybrid content analytical platform developed by UCSB’s Media Neuroscience Lab. The primary task of MoNA is to extract latent moral content that permeate a wide range of narratives, spanning movie scripts, online news articles, song lyrics, books, and many more.



The GDELT interface for communication research (iCoRe, introduces a pipeline to access, explore, and analyze the Global Database of Events, Language and Tone (GDELT; Leetaru & Schrodt, 2013). GDELT provides a vast, open source, and constantly updated repository of online news and event metadata collected from tens of thousands of news outlets around the world. Link to paper.



eMFDscore is a python library that allows for the fast and flexible extraction of moral information metrics from textual input data. eMFDscore is built on spaCy for faster execution and performs minimal preprocessing consisting of tokenization, syntactic dependency parsing, lower-casing, and stopword/punctuation/whitespace removal. eMFDscore lets users score documents with multiple Moral Foundations Dictionaries, provides various metrics for analyzing moral information, and extracts moral patient, agent, and attribute words related to entities. To use, visit the eMFDscore Github. To learn more about the development process, see our paper.


Asteroid Impact

Asteroid Impact is a point-and-click style video game where subjects use a cursor to collect crystal-shaped targets that are displayed at different locations while avoiding asteroids that bounce around the screen. All aspects of the game can be manipulated with a high level of experimental control. The stimulus records all game events with 16ms temporal resolution, which are then output as a .csv file. Asteroid Impact is written in Python, is platform agnostic, and can synchronize with TTL triggers. The game features an open source license (CC BY-SA 4.0), and is freely available to the research community. Those wishing to further develop Asteroid Impact or download experimental releases can do so on Github.