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.

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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 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.

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

Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn
In the News

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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