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Rachel Smith

Rachel Smith

Associate Professor of Communication Arts & Sciences (CAS)
and Human Development & Family Studies (HDFS)

Emailras57@psu.edu

Phone: 814-867-4651

Office: W252 Millennium Science Complex

Research interests

I am a quantitative social scientist who studies how social interactions influence health and well-being. My research focuses on the communication within and the structural patterns of social interactions, and their influence on a variety of health and wellness issues, including infectious disease (a particularly social health context). I also am interested in understanding the systemic diffusion, maintenance, and elimination of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that may promote or inhibit health and well-being in domestic and international contexts.

My specific CIDD-related interests include:

  • Identifying critical message features and critical people within social networks that facilitate and inhibit the diffusion of beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors related to managing health and well-being
  • Identifying impacts of social influence (e.g., social networks, support, norms, and stigma) on communicators' susceptibility to health aliments and immunity
  • Developing and extending theoretical models of stigma communication and label management
  • Optimizing network-based interventions (e.g., opinion leader designs), entertainment-education interventions, and the diffusion and adaptation of evidence-based interventions to new target audiences and communities.

Recent work

Ongoing efforts with Mary Poss, Roxanne Parrott, Donna Coffman, and Sara Wienke to understand how couples process genetic test results to identify unintended consequences for their relationship and their well-being. The project tests a theoretical model of genomic/genetic medical decisions with couples in which a spouse has been diagnosed with AATD. AATD affects human lungs and liver, which increases the susceptibility and severity of many infections. This analysis lays the groundwork for a future, couple-based intervention to assist couples receiving genomic or genetic test results.

On-going collaboration with Matt Thomas, Andrew Read, Jill Findeis, and Jonathan Lynch on the social science aspects of malaria prevention and agricultural practice in Mozambique. (Funded under McKnight, USAID CRSP, and USDA-IES)

  • Investigate nature-human dynamics, such as malaria's impact on agricultural practices and the influence of bean adoption on malaria incidence, and poverty-prevention dynamics
  • Identifying social influences and system dynamics involved in malaria and agricultural practices
  • Design and evaluate strategies to improve prevention and promotion

Previous efforts include generating a theoretical framework and practical guide for understanding sustainable diffusion of family health innovations at scale to improve population health. (Funded by the Gates Foundation; Dearing, PI), and collaborating with Darla Lindberg, Tim Reluga, Jill Findeis, and Mary Poss on disease dynamics at international borders, specifically the Rio Grande, Texas-Mexico region.

Under the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and in collaboration with Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, we used social network information and community characteristics to:

  • Design and evaluate communication efforts to limit HIV transmission
  • Increase testing and treatment
  • Increase support for those living with HIV and their dependents
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