Grace L. Anderson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Communication Studies
My research agenda includes interpersonal and intercultural communication as well as health message campaigns. I examine these areas in terms of their evolutionary origins. Many of the factors that influenced our human ancestors continue to influence our behavior in present day. You can view my publications by selecting the category ‘papers’ that appears by placing your cursor over the ‘research’ category link above.
In my interpersonal investigations, I research the way women become aggressive towards other women by gossiping, spreading rumors, and socially excluding them. Women tend to communicate indirect, verbal aggression rather than physical aggression, typical of men, because women are more likely to experience injury from physical aggression in comparison to men. This is one way in which aggression among women in present day can be predicted by similar factors of aggression among ancestral women. Another important factor of aggression among women is how physically attractive they are. Much research shows that those who are more attractive experience the benefits of social popularity, like job promotions, rich & attractive mates. Attractive women feel entitled to ‘win’ competitions and become aggressive when their less attractive counterpart does not acquiesce. I was awarded the Brython Davis Endowment Fellowship for my work in this area and continue to present my findings at academic conferences.
I have complementary research interests in health communication and public health campaigns. Health is intimately related to one’s physical attractiveness. I have contributed to projects measuring the effects of health messages embedded within video games, and a project measuring fMRI brain activity when people view public service announcements.
I also research intercultural communication and how the cultural groups to which people belong shape their communication. People typically maintain close social ties with cultural in-group members and avoid cultural out-group members. This becomes more extreme when there is risk of disease in one’s environment. A person from another country may be immune but in fact carry pathogens that could make a person of another nationality very ill, perhaps fatally ill. This was the case for many Native Americans when the European colonialists arrived, for instance. My research with colleagues shows that native speakers of the English language experience xenophobic reactions to those who speak with foreign-accented English when they see cues of disease. This suggests that humans evolved to avoid foreign others when they believe disease is a risk in their surroundings.
These are some of the ways in which humans evolved to communicate in present day. In future works, I plan to investigate these same processes in religious groups. As an evolutionary researcher employed by a Southern Baptist institution, I feel privileged to be in a position to investigate this line of research.