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Xiaoli Nan

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Professor, Communication

(301) 405-0640

2102 Skinner Building
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Ph.D., University of Minnesota

Research Expertise

Crisis & Risk Communication
Health Communication
Media Studies

Curriculum Vitae

Dr. Xiaoli Nan is a Distinguished Scholar-Teacher and Professor of Communication Science at the University of Maryland-College Park, where she is the Director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication. Dr. Nan is an affiliate professor in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health, a faculty associate of the Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and a full member of the Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center's Population Science Program.

Dr. Nan’s research is broadly concerned with health and risk communication, focusing on a) the design of persuasive messages to influence health risk perceptions and behaviors and b) the role of traditional and emerging media (e.g., social media, mobile media, virtual reality) in promoting (and hindering) public health. Dr. Nan’s research addresses the basic processes of human judgment and decision making and the implications of these processes for effective health and risk communication. Dr. Nan’s interdisciplinary work tackles pressing public health challenges including cancer prevention, vaccination, food safety and nutrition, and climate change. At Maryland, Dr. Nan regularly teaches courses on health communication, persuasion and attitude change, media effects, and quantitative research methods.

Dr. Nan has published extensively in her areas of specialization with over 70 peer-reviewed journal articles. Dr. Nan’s work appears in top communication and interdisciplinary journals including Human Communication ResearchCommunication ResearchHealth CommunicationJournal of Health CommunicationJournalism and Mass Communication QuarterlyJournal of AdvertisingPsychology and MarketingMarketing TheoryHealth Education, and Vaccine.

Dr. Nan has been a Principal Investigator or Co-Principal Investigator on grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Homeland Security, totaling over $7.5 million. She has served as a PI on three NIH-funded projects on cancer communication strategies targeting under-served populations. Dr. Nan’s current funded research addresses public health messaging on HPV and COVID-19 vaccination.

Dr. Nan has been a senior editor for the journal Health Communication since 2018 and serves on the editorial boards of several academic journals including Human Communication ResearchCommunication Research, the Journal of Health Communication, and the Journal of Advertising. She was an elected member of the executive committee of the Communication Theory and Methodology Division of AEJMC and served on the research committee of the American Academy of Advertising. Dr. Nan previously served as the Vice-Chair and Chair of the Health Communication Division of the National Communication Association.

Dr. Nan received the Mayhew Derryberry Award from the American Public Health Association in 2018 for outstanding contributions to health education research and theory. She was recently named a Lewis Donohew Outstanding Health Communication Scholar, conferred biennially by the Kentucky Conference on Health Communication.

For more information about Dr. Xiaoli Nan, visit

Graduate Advising Philosophy


Public Health Messaging during the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond: Lessons from Communication Science

A review of decades of research from the interdisciplinary field of communication science and evidence-based recommendations for COVID-19 public health messaging.


Lead: Xiaoli Nan
Non-ARHU Contributor(s): Irina A. Iles, Bo Yang, Zexin Ma

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that effective public health messaging is an indispensable component of a robust pandemic response system. In this article, we review decades of research from the interdisciplinary field of communication science and provide evidence-based recommendations for COVID-19 public health messaging. We take a principled approach by systematically examining the communication process, focusing on decisions about what to say in a message (i.e., message content) and how to say it (i.e., message executions), and how these decisions impact message persuasiveness. Following a synthesis of each major line of literature, we discuss how science-based principles of message design can be used in COVID-19 public health messaging. Additionally, we identify emerging challenges for public health messaging during the COVID-19 pandemic and discuss possible remedies. We conclude that communication science offers promising public health messaging strategies for combatting COVID-19 and future pandemics.

Emotion and Virality of Food Safety Risk Communication Messages on Social Media

Study investigates how the emotional tone of food safety risk communication messages predicts message virality on social media.


Lead: Xiaoli Nan
Contributor(s): Yuan Wang, Leah Waks
Non-ARHU Contributor(s): Lead author: Xiaojing Wang Samantha Stanley, Daniel Broniatowski

This study investigates how the emotional tone of food safety risk communication messages predicts message virality on social media. Through a professional Internet content tracking service, we gathered news articles written about the 2018 romaine lettuce recall published online between October 30 and November 29, 2018. We retrieved the number of times each article was shared on Twitter and Pinterest, and the number of engagements (shares, likes, and comments) for each article on Facebook and Reddit. We randomly selected 10% of the articles (n = 377) and characterized the emotional tone of each article using machine learning, including emotional characteristics such as discrete emotions, emotional valence, arousal, and dominance. Conveying negative valence, low arousal, and high dominance, as well as anger and sadness emotions were associated with greater virality of articles on social media. Implications of these findings for risk communication in the age of social media are discussed.

Impact of Self-Affirmation on Responses to Health Warning Messages: Does Consideration of Future Consequences Matter?

An experimental study in which 925 African American smokers were instructed to self-affirm (or not) prior to viewing graphic cigarette warning labels.


Lead: Xiaoli Nan

Self-affirmation theory has inspired numerous studies that have tried to understand the effects of self-affirmation on defensive processing of threatening health messages and subsequent behavior. Despite the overall positive effects of self-affirmation, psychological processes through which self-affirmation exerts such impact remain unclear. We examined Consideration of Future Consequences (CFC) as a potential moderator of the effects of self-affirmation on responses to graphic cigarette warning warnings, in an attempt to shed light on the psychological processes. We conducted an experimental study in which 925 African American smokers were instructed to self-affirm (or not) prior to viewing graphic cigarette warning labels. We found that smokers with stronger present time orientation (PTO) experienced higher defensive responses as measured by anger, perceived message manipulation, and message derogation, after viewing graphic cigarette warning labels; whereas smokers with stronger future time orientation (FTO) reported less message derogation. PTO interacted with self-affirmation in predicting defensive processing measures, such that self-affirmation reduced message derogation at lower levels of PTO and increased message derogation and perceived message manipulation at higher levels of PTO. Self-affirmation also had a conditional indirect effect on smoking intentions and intention to quit smoking through measures of defensive processing. We discuss implications of our study.