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


Current Projects


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

Asteroid Impact

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

fMRI Method/Theory

Several recent projects and manuscripts are aimed at improving method-theory synergy in communication neuroscience with a focus on open science, reproducible practices.

Recent Publications

Huskey, R., Bowman, N., Eden, A., Grizzard, M., Hahn, L., Lewis, R., Matthews, N., Tamborini, R., Walther, J.B., & Weber, R. (2018). Things we know about media and morality. Nature Human Behavior. Link.


Weber, R., Mangus, J. M., Huskey, R., Hopp, F. R., Amir, O., Swanson, R., Gordon, A., Khooshabeh, P., Hahn, L., & Tamborini, R. (2018). Extracting latent moral information from text narratives: Relevance, challenges, and solutions. Communication Methods and Measures. Link.


Weber, R., Alicea, B., Huskey, R., & Mathiak, K. (2018). Network dynamics of attention during a naturalistic behavioral paradigm. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 22, 182. Link.


Rains, S. A., Levine, T. R., & Weber, R. (2018). Sixty years of quantitative communication research summarized: Lessons from 149 meta-analyses. Annals of the International Communication Association. 42(2), 105-124. Link.


Weber, R., Fisher, J. T., Hopp, F. R., & Lonergan, C. (2017). Taking messages into the magnet: Method-theory synergy in communication neuroscience. Communication Monographs, 85(1), 81-102. Link.

Huskey, R., Mangus, J. M., Turner, B., & Weber, R.* (2017). The persuasion network is modulated by drug-use risk and predicts anti-drug message effectiveness. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 12(12), 1902-1915. Link.


Swanson, R., Gordon, A., Khooshabeh, P., Sagae, K., Huskey, R., Mangus, J. M., Amir, O., & Weber, R. (2017). An empirical analysis of subjectivity and narrative levels in weblog storytelling across cultures. Dialogue and Discourse, 8(2), 105-128. Link.


Grizzard, M., Tamborini, R., Sherry, J., & Weber, R. (2017). Repeated play reduces video games’ ability to elicit guilt: Evidence from a longitudinal experiment. Media Psychology, 20, 267-290. Link.


Lewis, R. J., Grizzard, M., Mangus, J. M., Rashidian, P., & Weber, R.* (2017). Moral clarity in narratives elicits greater cooperation than moral ambiguity. Media Psychology, 20(4), 533-556. Link

Other Projects

Narratives and Morality

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 are developing a system to automatically classify the moral content of text gathered from the Internet by leveraging both communication theory and sophisticated data-mining methods.

Interactive Narratives & 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.

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.

Theories & Methods

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.


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 scientfic 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.

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.


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.