Dr. Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

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.

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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. 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.

The Role of Gamification in Enhancing Intrinsic Motivation to Use a Loyalty Program Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: Based on Self-Determination Theory (SDT), this study examined how rewards weaken intrinsic motivation to use a retail loyalty program. Two experiments were conducted. Study 1 revealed that individuals who received a salient reward (an explicit requirement and deadline for reward achievement and no reward options) reported lower intrinsic motivation to engage in the loyalty […]

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Virtual Experiences in Virtual Spaces Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: Research on the Proteus Effect suggests that embodying an avatar causes one to take on characteristics of that avatar, resulting in residual effects of the virtual experience that impact behavioral changes in the physical world. The present study tests whether a personality trait, narcissism, can be manipulated via the Proteus Effect, resulting in changes […]

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The Proteus Effect, narcissism, and consumer behavior. Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: Research on the Proteus Effect suggests that embodying an avatar causes one to take on characteristics of that avatar, resulting in residual effects of the virtual experience that impact behavioral changes in the physical world. The present study tests whether a personality trait, narcissism, can be manipulated via the Proteus Effect, resulting in changes in […]

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Using virtual reality to tell brand stories Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: This proposed special session aims to discuss the state of the art in using virtual environment technologies to tell compelling brand stories and explore how these developments impact how consumers produce and consume information. The session will combine up-to-date findings from academic researchers on virtual worlds with action plans and visions for the future presented by […]

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Self-endorsing in Digital Advertisement Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn and Joe Phua

Abstract: Self-endorsed advertisements (SEAs) are a novel form of digital advertisements, wherein a virtual self that looks like oneself in a digital advertisement persuades the physical self. Study 1 (N = 63) found that for unfamiliar brands, SEAs were more effective in promoting favorable brand attitudes using both verbal (name) and visual (picture) virtual self […]

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Virtual Reality Journalism Ivanka (Radovic) Pjesivac and Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn Read More
Experiencing nature Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: Immersive virtual environments (IVEs) produce simulations that mimic unmediated sensory experiences. Three experiments (N = 228) tested how different modalities increase environmental involvement by allowing users to inhabit the body of animals in IVEs or watch the experience on video. Embodying sensory-rich experiences of animals in IVEs led to greater feeling of embodiment, perception […]

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How does neighborhood quality moderate the association between online video game play and depression Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: The main objective of our study is to assess the relationship between playing online video games and mental wellbeing of adolescents based on a nationally representative sample. Data come from the Korean Children and Youth Panel Survey (KCYPS), a government-funded multiyear research project. Through a secondary analysis of W2 and W3 of data collected […]

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Processing information as a body of coral Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: Those examining the role of technology on learning and perception have generally assumed that spatial presence leads to favorable outcomes (Kim & Biocca, 1997). Guided by the efficiency framework, the current study aims to present a more nuanced investigation of spatial presence by comparing the level of spatial presence in users experiencing a coral […]

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Virtual Risks that Change Physical Behaviors Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract:  Risk perception stands at the core of many health and environmental behavior theories because of its strong correlation to behavior change. However, individuals are motivated to place psychological distances between themselves and a health or environment threat, considering themselves less susceptible than others. This presentation discusses the efficacy of immersive virtual environments (IVEs), popularly […]

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Native advertising as a new public relations tactic Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Using a pretest and posttest online experiment (N = 105), this study empirically explored the impact of native advertising sponsorship disclosure on organization–public relationships (OPR), credibility, brand attitude, and attitude toward the advertisement. Credibility and brand attitude predicted the two OPR factors; however, OPR was not affected by participants’ cognizance of ad sponsorship/disclosure. Brand attitude […]

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Explicating the “Like” on Facebook brand pages: The effect of intensity of Facebook use Joe Phua and Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: This study examined the relationship between the number of overall ‘likes’ and friends’ ‘likes’ on Facebook brand pages in influencing consumers’ brand attitude, brand trust, brand involvement, and purchase intention, drawing upon theoretical concepts including diffusion of innovations, social capital theory, strength of weak ties, sociometric versus perceptual popularity, and prior research in online […]

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Rewards that Undermine Customer Loyalty Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: Based on the Self-Determination Theory, this study examined the effects of rewards on undermining customers’ intrinsic motivation to engage in loyalty programs. Two experiments revealed that participants who received a salient reward (with an explicit requirement, deadline, without the option of choice) reported lower intrinsic motivation to use the loyalty program than those who […]

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Using virtual pets to increase fruit and vegetable consumption in children Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: A virtual pet in the form of a mid-sized dog was developed based on the framework of social cognitive theory and tested as a vehicle for promoting fruit and vegetable (F&V) consumption in children. Three groups of children (N = 68) between the ages of 7-13 were studied: baseline (no treatment), computer only, and […]

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The Digital Patient Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: This chapter reviews the past and current trends of one particularly intriguing aspect of virtual worlds—virtual representations commonly known as avatars—in the context of health behavior change.  Despite the growing interest in the influence of virtual representations on health behaviors, there has been a surprising dearth of research exploring the use of virtual representations […]

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Using virtual pets to promote physical activity in children Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: A virtual pet was developed based on the framework of the youth physical activity promotion model and tested as a vehicle for promoting physical activity in children. Children in the treatment group interacted with the virtual pet for three days, setting physical activity goals and teaching tricks to the virtual pet when their goals […]

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EAGER: Virtual STEM Buddies for Personalizing Learning Experiences in Free Choice Informal Learning Settings Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Abstract: We introduce the notion of a virtual STEM buddy (VSB), a visitor-tailored, virtually embodied agent that serves as both a co-learner and a mentor. Like a virtual museum guide, the VSB will be able to engage with child-visitors and their families through a social interface. However, unlike existing approaches, we propose for VSBs to […]

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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

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

Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn
In the News

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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