Get to Know Prof. Richard Huskey

Wait, what!? You can study people’s brains while they play video games?

Huskey (Ph.D. University of California, Santa Barbara) is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication, principle investigator in the Cognitive Communication Science Lab, researcher in the Computational Communication Research Lab, researcher at the Center for Mind and Brain, and an officer of the International Communication Association’s Communication Science and Biology interest group. He studies how motivation influences the attitudes people hold, and the behaviors they adopt. He researches these questions using a variety of methodological techniques including: functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), computational methods, and lab-based experiments.

Using Video Games to Study Brains and Behavior

Sometimes we have to do things that require a tremendous amount of effort. A large body of research tells us that the amount of effort we expend will depend on how much reward we expect. That is, we are willing to try hard at something, but only if we expect a big reward. We also know that people tend to do things that minimize effort and maximize reward. This is undoubtedly true, but not always. Researchers are just starting to investigate why, contrary to classic thought, people willfully choose to do something because that something is hard. In fact, sometimes things are even more enjoyable precisely because they are hard. Think about playing a difficult video game, meeting someone for the first time, or watching a TV show with a complex narrative (Game of Thrones anyone?). Sometimes the most difficult things are the most fun.

Surprisingly, we know very little about why this is the case. We know even less about how this works in the brain. Studying this question is important because it can help us to design difficult tasks to make them more rewarding (think about studying for an exam, working in a high stress job, or even making things like video games more fun). But how can we study this?

To solve this problem, Huskey regularly uses video games and other, so-called naturalistic stimuli, in this research. For instance, he has had people play the first person shooter video game Tactical Ops: Assault on Terror while having their brains scanned in order to understand how brain network connectivity depends on the amount of distraction a player is experiencing. More recently, he has developed an open source video game called Asteroid Impact that lets him study how game difficulty influences how much effort players put into the game, how much enjoyment they experience, and how brain network connectivity changes as a function of game difficulty. It turns out that brain network connectivity is the highest, and people feel the most enjoyment, when both task difficulty, and their individual ability are very high. Practically speaking, this means that people should design for experiences that work to balance difficulty with an individual’s abilities (such as making an algorithm that dynamically adjusts how difficult a video game is depending on how well the player is doing).

Open Science and How to Get Involved

Huskey is a strong proponent of open science practices in scientific research. While the definition of open science is rather expansive, in his Cognitive Communication Science Lab it means: making data and code freely available, using open source analysis software such as Python and R, using open source operating systems such as Linux, making software open source, and working to make science more open and inclusive by promoting diversity and inclusivity.

To that end, all new studies in the lab are hosted on GitHub and the Open Science Framework. Moreover, his lab embraces and actively encourages members of different ages, genders, gender or sexual identities or expressions, ethnicities, races, religions, marital or family status, veteran status, socioeconomic status, national origin, political affiliation, ability or disability to consider working in the lab or participating in a research study.

Importantly, you do not already need to know how to code, or to have a degree in neuroscience or computer science to work in Huskey’s lab. He hosts weekly “learn to code” bootcamps and has trained a number of students how to use the fMRI scanner all on their own. He is actively recruiting highly motivated graduate and undergraduate students regardless of past experience.

In His Free Time?

When Huskey isn’t in teaching in the classroom, analyzing data in the lab, or scanning someone’s brain at the Center for Mind and Brain, he enjoys the chance to get outdoors. He is an avid hiker, snowboarder, and surfer. He has backpacked most of the Ansel Adams Wilderness and, this winter, plans a multi-day snowshoe pack around Yosemite’s south rim. He particularly enjoys UC Davis and the surrounding area precisely because it is so close to all the different outdoor activities he loves.

Want to Learn More?

If you’d like to learn more about Huskey or read some of his research on persuasion, morality, or how effort contributes to feelings of enjoyment, check out his lab website Cognitive Communication Science Lab or follow him on Twitter @richardhuskey.


CCS Lab Moving to UC Davis

The Cognitive Communication Science Lab is moving to the the Department of Communication at the University of California, Davis! The lab will join forces with the C^2 Lab and the Center for Mind and Brain. We have really enjoyed our time at and appreciated the tremendous support of the School of Communication at The Ohio State University. While we are sad to say goodbye to our colleagues in the School and at the Center for Cognitive and Behavioral Brain Imaging, we are excited for what lies ahead at UCD!

2018-2019 Conferences

The lab is excited to share our research at several conferences this academic year. This page will be continuously updated as more conference details become available. This will include, presentation details as well as digital copies of the talk or poster presentation. Hope to see you, lets talk science!

International Communication Association, 2019

Huskey, R., Keene, J., Wilcox, S., Adams, R., Najera, C. J., & Petit, N. (2019, May). Flow dynamics during naturalistic gameplay: Results from two behavioral and one fMRI studies. 5/27/2018, @ 3:30pm Georgetown East

Social and Affective Neuroscience Society, 2019

Huskey, R., Keene, J., Wilcox, S., Adams, R., Najera, C. J., & Petit, N. (2019, May). Flow Dynamics During Naturalistic Gameplay: Results from Behavioral and Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Studies. Poster Award A12, 5/2/2019 @ 6:00pm

Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Society, 2019

Huskey, R., Keene, J., Wilcox, S., Adams, R., Najera, C. J., & Petit, N. (2019, March). Behavioral and functional magnetic resonance imaging evidence of flow state dynamics during naturalistic gameplay. Poster Session C

Moral Media, 2018

We are excited to host this year’s Moral Media meeting at The Ohio State University School of Communication. Interested in media and morality (broadly construed)? Then we hope to see you there!

National Communication Association, 2018

Hopp, F., Cornell, D., Fisher, J. T., Huskey, R., & Weber, R. The moral foundations dictionary for news (MFD-N): A crowd-sourced moral foundations dictionary for the automated analysis of news corpora. (Top 3 Paper Mass Communication Division) 8:00 – 9:15 am Salt Palace Convention Center Room: 255C (Level 2)

Huskey, R., Keene, J., Wilcox, S., Adams, R., & Petit, N. Interpreting the effects of media content on flow dynamics during naturalistic gameplay. Salt Palace Convention Center Room: Hall A (Level 1) Poster 09


The annual meeting of the International Communication Association (#ICA20) might be virtual this year, but we are still very excited to share our research at this meeting. This year, the lab will present six studies in Communication Science and Biology, Information Systems, and Mass Communication. The lab will also present a perspective on Open Science in the conference theme panel. Below, you can find complete details about these projects, including links to slides and presentation videos (where appropriate). Have questions? Let us know, we’d love to chat!

Bullock, O. M., Shulman, & Huskey, R. Enhancing our Understanding of When and Why Narrative Persuasion is Successful: A Test of Processing Fluency and Identification. Mass Communication Division.

Dienlin, T., Johannes, N., Bowman, N. D., Masur, P. K., Engesser, S., . . . , Huskey, R., . . . , & Vreese C. D. An Agenda for Open Science in Communication. Conference Theme Panel. Slides and Presentation.

Gong & Duff. An Exploration Account of Media Multitasking: The Exploration-Exploitation Model to Explain Media Multitasking Behavior. Communication Science and Biology Interest Group. Slides and Presentation.

Gong & Yegiyan. When to Switch? An Information Foraging Model of Media Switching Behaviors. Information Systems Division. Presentation.

Huskey, R. & Calcagnotto, L. Ground Truth of Measurement Error: Tools for Validating Reaction Time Stimuli in the Era of Open Science. Communication Science and Biology Interest Group. Slides and Presentation.

Wilcox, S., Huskey, R. & Deandrea, D. Social Distance and Attitudes
Top 4 Paper, Information Systems Division. Slides and Presentation.


The Lab is excited to present our latest work on the neural basis of flow at this year’s meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society! This work investigates the brain network dynamics of flow relative to boredom and frustration. It finds that there are specific brain network topologies related to flow, but the topological architecture of these experiences changes over time.

In addition to downloading the poster, you can watch Xuanjun (Jason) Gong present our main findings. The full abstract is posted below. Send us a message if you have any questions! We look forward to your feedback.

A Network Neuroscience Investigation of the Psychological State of Flow

Richard Huskey(1), Justin Robert Keene(2), Shelby Wilcox(3), Xuanjun (Jason) Gong(1), Robyn Adams(4), and Christina Jimenez Najera(2)

(1) Cognitive Communication Science Lab, C2 Lab, Center for Mind and Brain, Department of Communication, University of California Davis

(2) Cognition and Emotion Lab, College of Media and Communication, Texas Tech University

(3) Neuroscience of Messages Lab, Department of Communication, Michigan State University

(4) Department of Advertising and Public Relations, Michigan State University

Abstract Flow is a positively valenced psychological state characterized by high levels of intrinsic reward during goal-directed behavior. Flow occurs when there is a high level of task difficulty as well as when an individual has a high level of ability at the task. Empirical evidence shows that, when task difficulty and individual ability are both high, participants self-report the highest levels of flow and behavioral studies show that flow requires high levels of attention. Neurally, flow is associated with increased functional connectivity between fronto-parietal control and subcortical reward networks. Network neuroscience results show that flow is characterized by a brain-network topology that is energetically efficient and studies using tDCS demonstrate that default mode network down-regulation is causally implicated in the flow experience. However, little is known about the network dynamics that underpin flow, or how the network topology that characterizes flow experiences emerges over time. In this fMRI study (n=35), we use multi-layer network analyses to address this gap (GitHub: We apply a multi-layer community detection algorithm to investigate node flexibility – how many times a node changes community – in the network. We show that nodes in the fronto-parietal control network are characterized by a high level of flexibility early on, but that this flexibility stabilizes over time. By comparison, subcortical reward network nodes exhibit relatively low flexibility during task. These results provide support for the Synchronization Theory of Flow by demonstrating that the discrete brain network topology characterizing flow emerges and becomes stable over time. Asteroid Impact, the stimulus used in this study, is also available for download on GitHub (

Code Management & You!

Research suggests that computational scientists spend up to 30% of their work week writing code. 90% of computational scientists are self-trained. This means that many best-practices for code development and maintenance are often not formally articulated or trained. This talk presents a high-level overview of best practices in code management. Interested readers should check out the following papers:

Slides for this talk can be downloaded here.

Lab to Present at NCA19

The Cognitive Communication Science Lab is presenting research at the annual meeting of the National Communication Association in Baltimore, MD. Members of the lab helped organize the Getting Results that Survive: Improving Communication Science pre-conference (OSF). Talks include:

Huskey, R. Do we need to rethink data sharing? (2019, November). Wednesday, 11/13 343 (300 Level) Baltimore Convention Center 8:30am

Huskey R., Couture Bue, A., Eden, A., Grall, C., Meshi, D., Prena, K., Schmälzle, R., Scholz, C., Turner, B., & Wilcox, S. (2019, November). Is Communication Neuroscience Just Another Subfield in an Already Crowded Discipline? 11/14, Paca (Third Level) Hilton 5:00pm

Lab to Present at the Annual C^2 Retreat

Lab Members Xuanjun (Jason) Gong and Richard Huskey will present at the annual C^2 Retreat. The retreat is an opportunity for members of the C^2 community to share ideas, get feedback on research, and build community among computational social scientists in the Department of Communication at the University of California, Davis. Lab talks include:

Gong: Information Foraging Theory – An ecological model of information seeking behavior applied in media behavior studies

Huskey: Moralizing mass shooting: Do mass shooters use moral language to justify their behavior?