Dr. Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Director of the GAVEL Lab; Associate Professor, Advertising

About: Dr. Ahn teaches undergraduate-level research methods, graduate-level user experience research, communication theory, and advertising and society. Her research examines how social media, video/internet games, and immersive virtual environments influence user attitudes and behaviors. She also directs the Games and Virtual Environments Lab (GAVEL), and is the co-director of the new VERGE Lab.

View Curriculum Vitae


Ph.D., Communication, Stanford University
M.A., Communication, Stanford University
B.A., Communication/Business Administration, Seoul National University

Research Interests and Activities

Dr. Ahn is the director of the Games and Virtual Environments Lab and the co-director of the VERGE Lab. Her main program of research investigates how interactive digital media transform traditional rules of communication and social interactions, looking at how virtual experiences shape the way the way that people think, feel, and behave in the physical world. Her work has helped establish foundations for the theoretical advancement of virtual experiences in mediated environments and how their effects transfer into the physical world in four different contexts: health, consumer psychology, conservation, and education. Her ongoing work includes a NSF funded project exploring the application of virtual agents to promote STEM learning for children in informal learning environments, such as children’s museums. Her work has been published in a number of flagship outlets, including Journal of Advertising, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Communication Research, Journal of Health Communication, Human-Computer Interaction, and Media Psychology.

Virtual Reality Experience in Tourism Advertising: Roles of Immersion and Advertising Engagement Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn and Jihoon (Jay) Kim

Abstract: Building favorable destination image and evoking positive feelings toward tourism ads are essential to the success of destination marketing in the competitive tourism business environment. The current study investigated the potential of virtual reality (VR) in providing new and innovative avenues for promoting destination image in tourism and testing its impact on advertising engagement […]

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A second chance to protect yourself and others: The impact of interactivity and efficacy messages on influenza vaccination intentions in virtual reality Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn and Jooyoung Kim

Lee, Joomi (Grady postdoctoral research associate), Ahn, Sun Joo (Grace), Wu, D., Lin, J.-H., & Kim, Jooyoung. (2021). A second chance to protect yourself and others: The impact of interactivity and efficacy messages on influenza vaccination intentions in virtual reality

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IEEEVR2020: Exploring the first steps toward standalone virtual conferences Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: The global COVID-19 pandemic forced all large in-person events to pivot to virtual or online platforms. IEEEVR2020 coincided with rising concerns and restrictions on travel and large gatherings, becoming one of the first academic conferences to rapidly adapt its programming to a completely virtual format. The global pandemic provided an impetus to re-examine the […]

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Academic caregivers on organizational and community resilience in academia (F*** individual resilience). Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: Crises, whether society-wide or personal, are endemic to the human condition. Yet academia and its associated institutions persist in having insufficient scaffolding to support its members during periods of crisis. No one knows this more acutely than academic caregivers of children, elders, disabled adults, and other loved ones with special needs. Academic caregivers are disproportionately women, and the COVID-19 […]

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Open science, closed doors? Countering marginalization through an agenda for ethical, inclusive research in Communication Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: The open science (OS) movement has advocated for increased transparency in certain aspects of research. Communication is taking its first steps towards OS as some journals have adopted OS guidelines codified by another discipline. We find this pursuit troubling as OS prioritizes openness while insufficiently addressing essential ethical principles: respect for persons, beneficence, and […]

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Virtual tours promote behavioral intention and willingness to pay via spatial presence, enjoyment, and destination image Jihoon (Jay) Kim and Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: Virtual reality (VR) tourism provides individuals with a brief, but realistic, preview of travel destinations. Despite the increasing popularity of VR tourism in destination advertising, outcomes and underlying mechanisms of virtual tours remain underexplored. Guided by the theoretical framework of spatial presence perception, this experiment (N = 118) investigated how VR tourism affects behavioral intentions to travel […]

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Embodied congruence as a framework for understanding user experiences with immersive technologies Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Smink, Anne R. (former Grady visiting doctoral student), Hahn, Lindsay (former Grady postdoctoral research associate), Trude, Bryan (Grady doctoral student), & Ahn, Sun Joo (Grace) (2021). Embodied congruence as a framework for understanding user experiences with immersive technologies. Paper presented at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Conference, virtual conference due to COVID-19, August 4-7. ** Top Theory Paper in the […]

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onfronting whiteness through virtual humans: A systematic review of 20 years of research in prejudice and racial bias using virtual environments Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Hatfield, Haley (Grady doctoral student), Ahn, Sun Joo (Grace), Klein, Matthew (Grady doctoral student), & Nowak, K. N. (2021). Confronting whiteness through virtual humans: A systematic review of 20 years of research in prejudice and racial bias using virtual environments. Paper to be presented at the National Communication Association Annual Conference, Seattle, WA, November 18-21. ** Top Paper in the Human […]

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Salient, Interactive, Relevant, Confidence, and Action (SIRCA): Using Virtual Reality Storm Surge Simulations to Increase Risk Perception and Prevention Behaviors. Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

PIs and Co-PIs: Matthew Browning (Multiple PI, Clemson University), Jill Gambill (Co-PI, University of Georgia) Funding Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Total Amount:  $499,931 Project period: 2 years Project Summary: The project will be looking at using virtual reality (VR) to better communicate and educate about the risks of climate change among coastal […]

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Using Immersive Virtual Reality to Improve the Beliefs and Intentions of Influenza Vaccine Avoidant 18-to-49-Year-Olds: Considerations, Effects, and Lessons Learned. Nathaniel J. Evans, Glen Nowak, Bartosz Wojdynski, Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn & María E. Len-Ríos

Abstract: Only one-third of adults 18 to 49 years old in the United States receive a recommended annual influenza vaccination. This study examined whether supplementing vaccine information statements (VIS) with an immersive virtual reality (VR), short video or electronic pamphlet story designed to convey the community immunity benefits of influenza vaccination would improve influenza vaccine […]

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Interactive virtual reality reduces quadriceps pain intensity during high-intensity interval leg cycling exercise. Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Poster presented at the World Congress of Pain of the International Association for the Study of Pain, September 12-16, Boston, MA.

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Book Chapter: Gaming and behavior change Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: This chapter explores how video games interact with individual characteristics to afford unique opportunities for behavior change. It first considers how video games differ from traditional media, and more specifically how they create virtual situations that may be perceived differently from those naturally occurring in reality. In this regard, the concept of situational affordance […]

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Book Chapter: Designing for persuasion through embodied experiences in immersive virtual environments Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: Embodied experiences in virtual reality (VR) involves the reproduction of sufficiently realistic sensory information so that users are able to see, hear, and feel experiences as if they are going through them at the moment. A growing body of literature evinces that the effects of these virtual experiences carry over into the physical world […]

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Feeling the weight of calories: Using haptic feedback as virtual exemplars to promote risk perception among young females on unhealthy snack choices Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn and Jung Min Hahm

Abstract: Virtual simulations allow users to feel and manipulate objects as they would in the physical world. Guided by exemplification theory and risk communication research, a virtual exemplar was developed to allow users to feel the weight of the caloric density of unhealthy snacks (e.g., potato chips) to heighten risk perceptions on snack choices. A […]

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Is desirability of the trait a boundary condition of the Proteus effect? A pilot study. Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: Although previous research has shown that individuals take on aspects of the avatars they embody in virtual environments, studies have not yet tested whether this phenomenon, known as the Proteus Effect, extends to traits that are undesirable to have, such as narcissism. One hundred thirty-three female participants completed a shopping simulation in virtual reality. […]

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Points-based reward systems in gamification impact children’s physical activity strategies and psychological needs Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: Gamification is an increasingly popular form of health intervention but its efficacy remains elusive due to a lack of clarity in its conceptualization and operationalization. This study aimed to isolate and determine the direct causal effect of one of the most popular game elements used in gamified interventions, the points-based reward system, on PA […]

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Virtual exemplars in health promotion campaigns: Heightening perceived risk and involvement to reduce soft drink consumption in young adults. Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: Virtual simulations allow individuals to concretely view future negative health consequences of present dietary choices. Integrating exemplification theory with risk communication research, the effect of using virtual simulations to exemplify health risks of soft drink consumption was assessed across three weeks. A three-group pre-test, post-test, delayed post-test design (N= 62) compared the effect of […]

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Teaching Specialties

Dr. Ahn’s teaching specialties include advertising research, user experience research, advertising society, communication theory, media processes and effects, digital media technology, and communication and children.


Prior to obtaining her Ph.D. degree, Dr. Ahn worked as the Assistant Manager of the Survey & Research Division for the Korea Foundation for Asian Culture Exchange under the Korean Ministry of Culture & Tourism. She also worked as an interpreter and translator at the Korean Ministry of Finance & Economy and holds over a decade’s experience in interpretation and translation as a freelancer.

Awards and Fellowships

2019: AEJMC Krieghbaum Under-40 Award
2019: University of Georgia Office of Instruction First-Year Odyssey Teaching Award
2017: University of Georgia Charles B. Knapp Early Career Scholar Award
2017: AEJMC Emerging Scholar Grant
2017: Department of Advertising and Public Relations, Outstanding Teacher Award nominee
2015: Mary Alice Shaver Promising Professor Award, American Academy of Advertising
2015: Top Paper/Poster in the Health Communication Division, International Communication Association
2014: Top Paper in the Communication and Technology Division, International Communication Association
2014: Best Paper at IEEE VR 2014 Conference
2014: University of Georgia’s Superstar Researcher Recognition, Office of the Provost
2014: University of Georgia Career Center Faculty Recognition for high impact on student career development
2013: University of Georgia, Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, Faculty Summer Support ($5,000)
2009: Top Paper Award in the Nonverbal Communication Division, National Communication Association

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Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn
In the News

Ahn leads VR project with grant from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association

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Virtual reality research wins best paper for I/ITSEC simulation committee; advances to best conference paper competition

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Ahn named co-editor of ‘Media Psychology’

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Grady associate professor tests virtual reality program in Brunswick

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Grace Ahn named 2019 Krieghbaum Under-40 Award recipient

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Grace Ahn of Grady faculty leads $3.3 million grant award

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Sun Joo “Grace” Ahn named Early Career Scholar

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Two Grady College professors receive 2017 Emerging Scholar Grant

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Research finds consumers are more accepting of native advertisements

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"Can VR Make You a Better Person?" via NBC News

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"Self-endorsing in digital advertisements: Using virtual selves to persuade physical selves" via ScienceDirect

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