Doctoral Student Researches the Effects of Nostalgia on Health Communication

Posted on: July 19, 2017

It’s that feeling you get when you think about high school football games in your hometown, or how great the college years were. It’s thinking back to holidays surrounded by family and home-cooked meals. It’s that sentimental yearning for the joy experienced in another place or time. It’s nostalgia.Hussain Feature Old Site

This is the emotion that doctoral student Syed Ali Hussain is studying in the School of Journalism. His research focuses on understanding the art of persuasion and social influence in the context of designing health communication campaigns.

“Nostalgia is experienced by people of all ages, culture and gender as a strong emotional appeal,” said Hussain. “It has been used extensively in the advertising industry to sell products and services. I wondered if it could also be used to promote healthy behaviors and attitudes.”

Hussain said that nostalgia is most common when people are distressed or or feel uncertainty. They can’t help but think of the “good old days when things were better.”

This intensified level of nostalgia during difficult times in life is what led Hussain to research its effects on depression. He is looking to persuade people to move from unhealthy to healthy behaviors. In this case, he wants to persuade individuals to go from keeping depression to themselves to seeking professional help.

Nostalgia Video Leads to Empathy and Positivity

As part of a study supervised by ComArtSci assistant professor Dr. Saleem Alhabash, Hussain put together a video in an effort to convince individuals with depression to seek help at MSU’s counseling center. To induce nostalgia, the video used images and music to evoke the viewers’ childhood memories. But as the video moves into the teenage and college years, there is a significant change; the thoughts and emotions that come with depression become more and more present. The video ends with a message to seek counseling when in distress.

“The video was made after a lot of research because we don’t want anything to backfire or trigger something harmful [for viewers],” said Hussain. “The script was highly authenticated and based on interviews that I’ve done with people with depression and from blogs [about] depression.”

In the study, a control group watched a non-nostalgic video, while a second group watched the video Hussain had created. He then measured change in their emotions, attitude and level of intention to seek help. He found that the individuals that watched the nostalgic video had significantly higher feelings of nostalgia and that the video evoked a lot of positive emotions. This positivity led to a more positive attitude toward the counseling center, which in turn led to increased behavioral intention to seek professional help.

During this study, participants were also asked to write down their thoughts about the video after the viewing. Results showed that individuals who watched the nostalgic video wrote longer, more detailed and engaging responses than those in the control group. He also found that the individuals who watched the nostalgic video that had no depression were also more understanding toward those who do have depression.

“People without depression may not realize how it feels to be depressed. Many people give advice like “Why don’t you go for a walk,” or “Just snap out of it,”” said Hussain. “But in our study, we found that individuals without depression expressed a more positive and empathetic attitude towards people who do have depression, which is an important step towards reducing stigma.”

Images of Depression

Before using the nostalgic video as a research tool, Hussain conducted another study on visual narratives of depression under the supervision of Lucinda Davenport, a professor and the director of the J-School. In other words, he studied how people with depression express their emotions and feelings through images and photographs. During the study, he showed participants various depression-related images and asked them: “What do you see in this image? Tell me a story about it. Help me understand this image, give me an example.”

“All of the images were from blogs [about] depression on Tumblr, in which people have expressed their emotion through photographs and images, and less words,” said Hussain. “This is important because depression is an illness which is often hard to put into words alone.”

PowerPoint PresentationHussain said that the participants with moderately severe depression had stories and anecdotes to tell him about what each image meant to them. In this image, individuals picked up on the difference between the lighter and darker legs. They explained that the two legs in the forefront are like the lives that everyone else sees or what is shown on the surface, while the other legs are synonymous with the lives that they are truly living, being constantly worried about a million little things.

"In this research, I found that images are a good medium to use in a counseling session,” said Hussain. “The images help in creating rapport with the participants and sharing the narratives of depression with much ease.”

During this study, Hussain noticed that the participants also started to feel better after being given the opportunity to talk and ventilate their feelings. He was surprised to find just how much the individuals spoke. Sometimes he had to schedule additional sessions to complete the interview and finish discussing all of the images.

Global Impact

Before coming to the U.S., Hussain was working on behavior-changing communication projects with communities in his home country of Pakistan.

“I had a lot of experience working in villages on mother and child health during natural disasters,” said Hussain. “At one point I realized a need for more evidence-based interventions so I thought I would come to the U.S. for higher studies.”

Hussain received a Fulbright scholarship that allowed him to come to the U.S. to earn his master’s. After completing that degree, he continued toward a Ph.D. Now that he’s going into his final year, Hussain plans to go back to Pakistan.

“I will go back and continue the research that I have learned in the U.S.,” said Hussain. “Over these years, I have realized that the kind of social issues we are facing need a multidisciplinary team of people to solve them. So I plan to go back to Pakistan and start building one.”

By Kaitlin Dudlets

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Online strategic communication degree empowers working professionals

Pretty woman is working in a café

Organizations seek out the abilities. Professionals strive for the knowledge and skills. And starting Spring 2017, the MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences will welcome its first class into a new online master’s program, convenient for working professionals, on strategic communications.

The Master of Arts in Strategic Communication represents the first time the College has offered a degree program 100 percent online. The program responds to the needs of professionals through its flexible delivery as well as through content that addresses the challenges of a 21st century communication environment.

"Given the rapidly changing communication ecosystem, mid-career professionals are eager for training to update their skills," says Prabu David, Dean of the College of ComArtSci. "Currently, communication professionals, including our own alumni, do not have rich, in-state options to learn new media techniques. This new online M.A. in strategic communication fills that gap."

Students in the nine-course, 30-credit program will examine how to leverage today's evolving media and digital mix into an integrated marketing and communications strategy for businesses, start-ups, non-profits or government agencies. Expert faculty will handle all aspects of course content and bring expertise in corporate messaging, news and information, fundamental communication processes, audience research and data analytics, and new technologies. Students will also complete a service-learning project that enables them to apply their newly acquired expertise within a community setting.

"The College of ComArtSci has long-standing leadership in an integrated theory-to-practice orientation toward effective communication strategy and tactics," says John Sherry, associate dean of for graduate studies in ComArtSci. "There is no other college in the world with such broad and deep coverage of these issues."

Students can complete courses and requirements from anywhere, anytime and at their own pace in one to three years. The program is ideally suited for working professionals with three to five years of experience in communications as well as for business and communication entrepreneurs. Students will also have opportunity to collaborate with other online learners, further enhancing their professional network.

"The ability for individuals to be located anywhere and enroll in this master's program is a distinct advantage," says ComArtSci Alum April M. Clobes, president and CEO of the MSU Federal Credit Union. "Being able to complete the program while working full-time is also essential for long-term success. MSU's high rankings in the field of communications along with excellent faculty, will make this a highly sought after degree."

The program is currently accepting applications and no GRE is required. To learn more about MSU's new online master's degree program in strategic communication through the College of ComArtSci, visit or contact the program director at

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Commencement Ceremonies Scheduled for May 2

Posted on: April 21, 2014

MSU Communication Arts and Sciences graduationMore than 700 College of Communication Arts and Sciences undergraduate students will graduate this spring and summer, and 98 will receive advanced degrees.

Graduating seniors are invited to participate in the CAS undergraduate spring commencement on Friday, May 2, at 7:30 p.m. at the Breslin Center. Acting Dean Steve Lacy will speak at the ceremony along with student representative Beau Hayhoe.

The following outstanding alumni and faculty also will be recognized at the ceremony:

Outstanding Alumni Award

  • Susan Dalebout (B.A., M.A. Audiology and Speech Sciences)
  • Rick Gosselin (B.A. Journalism)
  • Mary R. Grealy (B.A. Audiology and Speech Sciences)
  • Stephen Schram (B.A. Television and Radio)
  • Mike Sheldon (B.A. Advertising)
  • Ken Winter (B.A. Journalism)

Rising Star Award

  • HRH Prince Fahad Khaled Alsaud (B.A. Communication)

Honorary Alumni Award

  • Bobbie Arnold

Faculty Impact Award

The webcast of the CAS ceremony will be available a week after commencement at

All MSU graduating seniors also are invited to participate in the university's Spring (Undergraduate) Convocation on Friday, May 2, at 1 p.m. at the Breslin Center. Philanthropist Azim Premji, chairman of the global IT company Wipro Ltd., will address the graduates and will be awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters. Shirley Weis, MSU College of Nursing alumna, also will be awarded an honorary doctorate of science. Weis is the first woman and nonphysician to serve as chief administrative officer of Mayo Clinic.

MSU's advanced degree commencement ceremony is Friday, May 2, at 3:30 p.m. at the Breslin Center. Norman Augustine, retired CEO and chairman of the aeronautics company Lockheed Martin Corp., will address the graduates. Clifton Haley, former president of MSU College of Law and former CEO of Budget Rent-A-Car, will be awarded an honorary doctorate of laws.

No admission tickets are required for any of the commencement ceremonies.

For more information, see MSU's Commencement website.

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Research Showcase Honors Eight CAS Scholars

Posted on: January 14, 2014

research-mattersThe College of Communication Arts & Sciences' research showcase on the main floor of the CAS Building has eight new honorees.

The college started the research showcase in 2012 as a way to recognize the outstanding work of our research faculty. Each semester, eight new honorees are selected from all departments and their portraits hung in the research showcase on the main floor of the CAS Building, serving as an inspiration for our students, as well as other faculty, staff, visiting alumni and friends.

Congratulations go out to the 2014 spring semester research showcase honorees for their outstanding research and scholarly achievements:

  • Daniel Bergan, Associate Professor, Communication
  • Shelia Cotten, Professor, Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media
  • Karl Gude, Graphics Editor in Residence, School of Journalism and Media Sandbox
  • Eric Hunter, Associate Professor, Communicative Sciences and Disorders
  • Anna McAlister, Assistant Professor, Advertising + Public Relations
  • Bruno Takahashi, Assistant Professor, Communication and School of Journalism
  • Brian Winn, Associate Professor, Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media
  • Susan Wyche, Assistant Professor, Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media
Daniel Bergan, Ph.D.

Dan BerganBergan's main research interests involve the influence of advocacy efforts on public policy. He has conducted field experiments evaluating the effectiveness of different advocacy efforts on public policy, and in particular, the influence of constituent contacts to policymakers on health policy outcomes.

In a recent study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Bergan, along with (then Ph.D. student) Genevieve Risner, tested the influence of issue ads about health reform on attitudes about reform. He also has explored public attitudes on tobacco policy and anti-bullying.

"My main results so far have shown that legislators' voting behavior is influenced when people contact their legislators. This is encouraging for people who have thought about contacting their legislator or for citizen groups that rely on their membership to influence public policy," Bergan said. "In future work, I will be trying to better understand these results by exploring when, and under what circumstances, constituent contacts and other forms of advocacy influence policy outcomes."

Shelia Cotten, Ph.D.

Sheila CottonCotten's research examines how people use information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the health, social and educational impacts of this use for people in varying generational groups. She also focuses on how larger scale social and digital inequalities affect ICT use and a range of health and quality of life outcomes.

One of her current projects, funded by the National Institute on Aging, examines how computer use impacts the quality of life for older adults. In this randomized controlled trial, approximately 300 older adults living in assisted and independent living communities have been trained to use computers and the Internet.

"We have found that using the Internet reduces depression, reduces loneliness, increases contact with social ties, and increases both the quality and the quantity of contact with friends and family members," Cotten said. "Participants in this study also have learned how to overcome social and spatial barriers that are present in the types of communities in which they reside."

Karl Gude

Karl GudeGude currently is working on a project funded by the National Science Foundation to disseminate understanding of phylogenesis, the evolutionary development and diversification of a species or group of organisms, and the tree of life that is used to visualize the various categories that all life falls into.

Working with students and outside professionals, Gude and his team are using a variety of social media to inform the public and scientific community about their educational site. They also are building awareness for a larger, connected project being conducted at other universities to build an online tool that scientists can work with to conduct and share phylogenetic research. Additionally, Gude is involved in building an educational website to engage and teach the public about the science behind the tree of life.

"There are a variety of online efforts to explain the evolutionary tree of life, but they fail to engage and inform the user because they use standard, text-heavy web designs. Very few contain interactive graphics that can pull the user in and explain the science, and those that exist are simple and don't go far enough," Gude said.

"Our site will be text-light and highly visual using interactive graphics that will compel the user to explore the content. Deeper explanations for the different parts of the tree will be revealed as you mouse over different parts of the graphics. This approach to science education is seldom used, and our site hopes to raise the standards for all science education sites, not just in the field of evolutionary biology."

Eric Hunter, Ph.D.

Eric HunterHunter's principal research area is on individuals who use their voice as a primary tool of the trade, or occupational voice users.

"I explore what environmental, physiological and social factors might increase the risk of vocal health issues in these population of workers. Using this information, we are developing strategies to reduce increased incidences of vocal health problems," Hunter said.

In one of his current projects, supported by the National Institute On Deafness and Other Communication Disorders of the National Institutes of Health, he aims to quantify gender-specific voice accommodation strategies used by teachers and call center workers (as compared to non-occupational voice users) in occupational settings and acoustic environments.

Another area of his research explores how the voice changes with age.

"Traditional studies of the aging voice compares two populations of voice users (young, elderly). However, my research uses databases of speeches from single individuals, allowing me to examine how the voices of these individuals change over nearly 50 years of recordings," Hunter said. "Through longitudinal data, we can more accurately observe what are normal or abnormal changes."

Anna McAlister, Ph.D.

Anna McAlisterMcAlister's research focuses on consumer behavior, child development and public policy. She is especially interested in understanding how very young children (e.g., 3- to 5-year-olds) learn about food and beverage brands and subsequently develop taste preferences.

"My research is helping parents, teachers, caregivers and other child advocates to understand the ways in which children are targeted by advertisers and marketers. This provides a step in the right direction for leveling the playing field where marketing to kids is big business. Parents frequently express frustration about not knowing how their children come to be 'addicted' to brands at an early age," McAlister said. "Given the rapid expansion of technology, parents are raising kids whose access to commercial media is almost unlimited. The current generation of parents is struggling to understand marketing practices that barely existed during their childhoods."

One of McAlister's current projects, funded by Cornell's Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition, investigates children's responsiveness to a school lunchroom intervention program where healthy menu choices were promoted using child-friendly themes (e.g., in the dinosaur-themed week children saw a lunch menu on which the healthier items were listed as the "triceratops picks" for the week).

Bruno Takahashi, Ph.D.

BrunoTakahashi's research focuses on environmental communication, environmental journalism practices and international news.

"Most of my research has an international or intercultural component. For example, I have been analyzing climate change communication in Latin America, as well as comparative studies looking at media coverage of climate change between the U.S. and Canada, and about hydraulic fracturing between the U.S. and Spain," Takahashi said. "I think my research is helping to better understand how different groups (media, policy makers, public) in developing nations socially construct environmental issues, which allows these groups to better communicate such issues."

Takahashi currently is conducting research on news decision-making about environmental issues in Spanish language media in the United States and is starting work on crisis and risk communication of environmental issues through social media.

He also is completing a study that looks at New York farmers' risk perceptions related to climate change. That project is funded by a grant from the Environmental Finance Center with funds from the United States Department of Agriculture, Rural Development.

Brian Winn

Brian WinnWinn researches interactive media design, including game design, digital game-based learning and interactive health communication. His expertise is in designing engaging serious games that balancing learning, pedagogical and gameplay objectives.

"As a new media and game designer, my goal is to use the power and versatility of interactive media technologies to have a positive impact on the world. This is accomplished through both the entertainment and learning games that are created and played by various audiences around the world, and from the knowledge generated from my work that helps advance the field of game design and development," Winn said.

One of his current research projects, funded by a three-year, $1.2 million grant from NASA, aims at keeping astronauts motivated to exercise during space flight through use of virtual workout partners.

Susan Wyche, Ph.D.

Susan WycheWyche's research focuses on human-computer interaction, information and communication technologies and development.

The goal of her current research is to provide technology developers with an empirically accurate understanding of technology use in sub-Saharan Africa to improve design and to motivate other innovative and creative technological interventions. Wyche conducts fieldwork in Kenya, studying mobile phone and social media use in Nairobi's informal settlements, in rural cyber cafes and in off-grid villages.

Wyche aims to make understanding and designing effective information and communication technologies (ICT) in sub-Saharan Africa a more integral part of human-computer interaction.

"Understanding rural Africans' ICT needs and practices opens up possibilities for improving on existing initiatives and developing entirely new types of interventions that have the potential for widespread and long-term impact. This knowledge can also inform and motivate environmentally sustainable and innovative design for users in industrialized nations," Wyche wrote in her research statement.

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