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Susan J. Persky, Ph.D.

Susan J. Persky
Associate Investigator
Social and Behavioral Research Branch

Immersive Virtual Environment Test Unit

B.A. Northwestern University, 2000
M.A. University of California, Santa Barbara, 2002
Ph.D. University of California, Santa Barbara, 2004

T: (301) 443-0098
F: (301) 480-3108
Building 31, Room B1B36
31 CENTER DR, MSC 2073
BETHESDA, MD 20892-2073

Selected Publications

The Communication, Attitudes and Behavior Unit (CABU) encompasses the Immersive Virtual Testing Area (IVETA), an experimental behavioral science research laboratory at the NIH Clinical Center. The testing area specializes in virtual reality (VR) and other innovative technologies. It is home to several collaborations in which these technologies are applied to projects that advance knowledge at the intersections of genomics, human behavior and society. The IVETA enables forward-looking research questions and the application of forward-looking methodologies. Work in the IVETA also aims to refine and extend VR and related methodological and measurement approaches.

Building on social psychological and communication research foundations, Dr. Persky's program of research explores the function of new genomic knowledge in interactions between health care providers and patients, as well as in the discourse that occurs in community communication contexts. Her work uses VR-based healthcare simulations to investigate how information about genomic discoveries related to common health conditions (obesity, diabetes) influences such outcomes as health care communication; relationships between patients and providers; medical decision-making; and beliefs, emotions and behavior of individuals. Dr. Persky is particularly interested in how genomic information might influence social stigma, health disparities and other forms of unequal treatment. This work also examines the context and ways in which genomic information is disseminated more broadly (e.g., via social and mass media), as well as the health-relevant effects of that dissemination. Ultimately, this work aims to inform optimal, context-sensitive communication strategies for genomic translation.


Dr. Susan Persky is an associate investigator and head of the Immersive Virtual Environment Testing Unit where she directs the Immersive Virtual Environment Testing Area (IVETA) within in the Social and Behavioral Research Branch (SBRB), National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), NIH. She earned a B.A. in psychology for Northwestern University. She earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara where she studied at the Research Center for Virtual Environments and Behavior. After conducting postdoctoral research at Columbia University, she came to the SBRB in 2005. Here, she built the IVETA, an immersive VR -based experimental research lab within the SBRB, founded in 2006.

Dr. Persky splits her effort between providing leadership for the IVETA and conducting her programmatic research. Her work investigates the function of new genomic knowledge about common health conditions like obesity and diabetes in interactions between health care providers and patients and in public and online discourse. Dr. Persky has published extensively in the areas of health communication, genomics, and virtual reality methods, and has presented her work in venues such as the Smithsonian Institution and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. She is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Virtual and Augmented Reality.

Scientific Summary

Last Updated: March 1, 2019