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Victoria Ledford

Photo of doctoral candidate Victoria Ledford

Graduate Student, Communication

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Research Expertise

Communication Education
Health Communication
Strategic Communication

Victoria Ledford is a 4th-year doctoral candidate in communication science and social cognition at the University of Maryland. Her Bachelor's and Master’s degrees are both in communication, with a special focus on persuasion and health communication. Victoria investigates the cognitive and affective processes involved in persuasion and decision-making. Her research intersects health, persuasion, and stigma literatures as she undertakes studies that seek to isolate what types of messages can positively influence people’s cognitions, emotions, and behaviors and promote inclusive language toward marginalized groups. She explores the design, dissemination, and effects of these strategic communication messages in a variety of contexts (like Opioid Use Disorders, HPV, Autism Spectrum Disorders, COVID-19 messages) and through a variety of channels (including news media, websites, social media, and even interpersonal communication) Victoria has published research in Health Communication, Communication EducationThe Basic Course Communication Annual, and the International Encyclopedia of Media Psychology

At UMD, Victoria is an active teacher-scholar. She has been recognized as an Outstanding Teacher by the Department of Communication (2019) and the UMD Graduate School (2021) and has received national conference recognition for her research on inclusive teaching practices. She has served in administrative roles with the Center for Health and Risk Communication, taught four courses at UMD including courses on public speaking (COMM 107), argumentation and debate (COMM 230), and argumentation and public policy (COMM 330), worked as a research assistant for an NIH-funded grant, and served her department, university, and communication discipline communities. She is the current President of the Communication Graduate Student Association and the Faculty Advisor for the undergraduate student group Female Forward. She was also the 2019-2020 Graduate Student Representative to the National Communication Association’s Health Communication Division. 

Victoria is always happy to talk about teaching and pedagogy, research collaboration opportunities, and her experiences as a first-generation college graduate navigating the academy. She’s also a competitive speech and debate alumna and always enjoys a good intellectual chat over coffee. 

You can find out more about Victoria by visiting her website:


Expanding and constraining critical communication pedagogy in the introductory communication course: A critique of assessment rubrics

Study presents an interpretive analysis of the presentational speaking rubrics used in the introductory communication course at 20 institutions in the United States.


Lead: Drew Ashby-King
Contributor(s): Jeannette Iannacone, Victoria Ledford, Alyson Farzad-Phillips, Matthew Salzano, Lindsey Anderson

Rubrics are a commonly used tool to evaluate student work in the introductory communication course. Although rubrics may appear objective, they are continually interpreted by both instructors and students, often reflecting traditional classroom power dynamics. In order to understand how rubrics constrain as well as expand opportunities for the enactment of critical communication pedagogy, we conducted an interpretive analysis of the presentational speaking rubrics used in the introductory communication course at 20 institutions in the United States. In doing so, we identified three levels of rubric context: high, low, and shared. These contexts inform important theoretical and pedagogical implications for the introductory course, as they highlight existing power dynamics, instructor grading practices, and student agency.

The Influence of Stigmatizing Messages on Danger Appraisal: Examining the Model of Stigma Communication for Opioid-Related Stigma, Policy Support, and Related Outcomes

This study used the model of stigma communication in two online factorial experiments.


Lead: Victoria Ledford
Contributor(s): JungKyu Lim, Kang Namkoong, Junhan Chen, Yan Qin

Drug overdose is a leading cause of injury and death in the United States, and opioids are among the most significant of causes. For people with opioid use disorders (OUDs), opioid stigma can lead to devastating consequences, including anxiety and depression. Still, mass media may stigmatize people with OUDs by ascribing stigmatizing labels (e.g., “opioid addict”) and other stigma features to those individuals. However, it is unclear how these stigmatizing messages influence public perceptions of people with OUDs and public support for rehabilitation and Naloxone administration policies. The model of stigma communication (MSC) provides a framework for understanding these relationships. This study used the MSC in two online factorial experiments, the first among college undergraduates (N = 231) and the second among Amazon Mechanical Turk workers (N = 245), to examine how stigmatizing messages about people with OUDs influence stigma-related outcomes. Results reveal that opioid stigma messages influence different outcomes depending on the content of those messages. Classification messages with a stigmatizing mark (e.g., “Alex appears unkempt”) and label (e.g., “opioid addict”) led to greater perceptions of dangerousness and threat in both studies. High stigma classification messages also led to an increased desire for behavioral regulation and social distance in Study 2. Structural equation modeling in Study 1 also supported the applicability of the MSC in the opioid context. Implications for health communication theory development and practice are discussed.

A cover from the journal Health Communication

Increasing Perceived Risk of Opioid Misuse: The Effects of Concrete Language and Image

Using a factorial online experiment, this study found that messages using concrete language made people think more concretely about the negative consequences of opioid misuse.


Lead: Yan Qin
Contributor(s): Junhan Chen, Kang Namkoong, Victoria Ledford, JungKyu Lim

Risk perception is a critical determinant for individuals’ health behavior change, especially for behaviors with distal future consequences. Building on construal-level theory, this study investigates if and how thinking concretely about the negative consequences of opioid misuse influences people’s risk perception toward opioid misuse. Two message cues – images and concrete (vs. abstract) language – are proposed to influence concrete thinking and perceived temporal distance, which in turn influence risk perception directly and through negative affect. Using a factorial online experiment with Amazon Mechanical Turk workers (N = 220), this study found that messages using concrete language made people think more concretely about the negative consequences of opioid misuse. Perceived concreteness, in turn, increased risk perception and negative affect. Negative affect also increased risk perception. The use of images decreased perceived temporal distance, which in turn, changed risk perception through its influence on negative affect. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.