Grady AdPR Health Research: Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Dr. Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Dr. Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn is an assistant professor in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations. 

What is your research focus? (Any projects you can share with us at this time?) I am interested in how advanced digital media, specifically virtual environments, change traditional rules and norms about communication.  Because these environments enable us to do things we weren't able to do in the past (like transcend temporal and spatial boundaries), the traditional way of thinking about communication is no longer valid. I'm interested in learning about alternative communication rules and patterns within virtual environments so that I can discover how they may influence the way people think and behave.

What kinds of virtual technology do you use in your research?
Virtual environments encompass a variety of mediated contexts including video/computer games, social media, Internet, and immersive virtual worlds. These sophisticated digital media are apt at digitally mimicking perceptual information such as the sense of sight, hearing, and touch. Most of my research focuses in immersive virtual worlds that mimic rich layers of perceptual information. Inside immersive virtual worlds, people are able to see, hear, and feel as if they are in the physical world. 

How might virtual technology affect health behavior or obesity? Virtual worlds allow researchers to study health attitude and behavior as they have never been studied before.  Because we are able to transcend temporal and spatial boundaries within virtual worlds (that is, I can be anywhere I want, any time I want), I am able to observe very naturalistic responses in what may be very hypothetical situations.  For instance, when people watch anti-tobacco commercials, they may not respond to it as if it were happening to them.  But I can show a person an avatar of themselves (not an unfamiliar model) becoming desperately ill as a result of smoking 10 years down the road.  Suddenly, the message becomes very clear as well as personal. Because much of the health-related public service announcements give people hypothetical messages (i.e., "If you continue to behave this way... then you become..."), virtual reality has great potential in delivering high-impact messages that are vividly realistic as well as intensely personal. 

 Please list any grants/publications/awards that are associated with this research (if applicable). I have been awarded the University of Georgia Research Foundation's Junior Faculty Grant to study how virtual environments may be used to promote healthier drink choices. A number of studies show that sugar added beverages make significant contributions to the ever increasing problem of obesity, I am interested in figuring out how virtual simulations may motivate people to change their drinking habits to replace sugar-added drinks with water or white milk.

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