View from inside a car at night, looking out at the road ahead. A long exposure has created colorful trails from the lights
Communication Neuroscience Lab

Real World Neuroimaging

This project examines social and contextual influences on successful communication in a real world environment.

In this study, funded by the grant “Distinguishing brain states and resolving state transitions,” pairs of participants performed tasks while driving or as a passenger in a car, in actual traffic conditions. During these driving sessions, participants’ brain activity was monitored with EEG as they listened to, recalled, and discussed podcasts about health and news topics. We examined factors that facilitated successful communication, such as information valence in the podcasts, and found that humorous information is recalled more accurately than neutral information. We also found differential neural activity and neural synchrony during recall and discussion of humorous vs neutral information, as well as relationships connecting neural synchrony between passengers and drivers to recall for information. In addition, these data have allowed us to advance basic science knowledge about the brain (e.g., strengths and limitations of different methods for compute neural “synchrony” between communicating pairs), as well as how risk preferences may be transmitted between people in real-world situations.

Related Publications

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Schmaelzle, R., Cooper, N., O’Donnell, M. B., Tompson, S. H., Lee, S., Cantrell, J., Vettel, J., 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, 14:565772.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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. 
  8. 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), 131–155. 
  9. 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.
  10. 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 humans. NeuroImage, 210, 116498. 
  11. 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 mechanisms. Communication Research. Advanced online publication.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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 messages. Journal of Neuroscience, 39(7), 1293-1300.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. Pei, R., Kranzler, E. C., Suileman, A. B., & Falk, E. B. (2019). Promoting adolescent health: Insights from developmental and communication neuroscience. Behavioural Public Policy, 3(1), 47–71.
  18. 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.
  19. Baek, E.C. & Falk, E.B. (2018). Persuasion and Influence: What makes a successful persuader? Current Opinion in Psychology, 24, 53-57.
  20. Bayer, J.B., O’Donnell, M.B., Cascio, C.N., & Falk, E.B. (2018). Brain sensitivity to exclusion is associated with core network closure. Scientific Reports, 8(1), 16037.
  21. Falk, E., & Scholz, C. (2018). Persuasion, influence, and value: Perspectives from communication and social neuroscience. Annual Review of Psychology, 69(18), 329–356.
  22. 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, 115(40), 9974-9979.
  23. 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 neuroscience. Personality Neuroscience, 1(e5), 1–12.
  24. 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 structures. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 45(2), 253–271.
  25. Wasylyshyn, N., Hemenway Falk, B., Garcia, J. O., Cascio, C. N., O’Donnell, M. B., Bingham, C. R., … Falk, E. B. (2018). Global brain dynamics during social exclusion predict subsequent behavioral conformity. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 13(2), 182–191.
  26. 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.
  27. 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.
  28. 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 messages. Psychosomatic Medicine, 79(4), 379-387.
  29. 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 analyses. NeuroImage, 157, 118–128.
  30. 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.

Key Collaborators

  • Jean Vettel (Army Research Laboratory)
  • Javi Garcia (Army Research Laboratory)
  • Jason Metcalf (Army Research Laboratory)


ARL, Cognition and Neuroergonomics (CaN) Collaborative Technology Alliance (CTA)
Real-World Neuroimaging Science Area (RWN)
Bassett (PI)
Cooperative Agreement Number W911NF-10-2-0022, Subcontract Number APX02-0006)


Photo Credit (top image): Gabe Pierce / Unsplash