Dr. Brian Southwell

Brian Southwell, PhD

Adjunct Associate Professor
Department of Health Behavior
Graduate Faculty
School of Media and Journalism
PO Box 12194
3040 E. Cornwallis Rd.
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709


Brian Southwell is an expert in communication and human behavior. He serves as director of the Science in the Public Sphere Program in the Center for Communication Science at RTI International. In addition to his faculty positions at UNC, Dr. Southwell is an adjunct professor with Duke University.

Before moving to North Carolina, he served for almost a decade at the University of Minnesota, most recently as associate professor and director of graduate studies in Journalism and Mass Communication with an adjunct appointment in Public Health. He also has worked for nonprofit and government organizations.

Dr. Southwell’s award-winning contributions appear in more than 100 publications. In 2013, Johns Hopkins University Press released his book, Social Networks and Popular Understanding of Science and Health, and in 2018, the University of Texas Press published Misinformation and Mass Audiences. He has served as senior editor for Health Communication and on nine other editorial boards. He hosts a weekly public radio show for WNCU called 'The Measure of Everyday Life.'

Health Affairs blog post (05/07/2021)
A Future Of Trusted Clinical Trials: Communication Strategies To Encourage Trust And Transparency

Representative Courses

JOMC 671, Social Marketing

JOMC 445, Process and Effects of Mass Communication

Research Activities

Adolescent health
Health behavior change
Health communication
Infectious diseases, especially Ebola and Zika
Misinformation diffusion
Peer and social support for cancer management
Social networks

Service Activities

Dr. Southwell's extensive background in communication and human behavior has allowed him to lead various RTI International initiatives to understand public understanding of health. To examine public attitudes and perceptions concerning the Zika virus, for example, he led a study in Guatemala to understand how the public views the virus and explore how to prevent transmission.

Practice Activities

Health behavior change
Health communication
Implementation science

Key Publications

Misinformation and Mass Audiences. Southwell, B. G., Thorson, E. A., & Sheble, L. (Eds.)  (2018). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Social Networks and Popular Understanding of Science and Health: Sharing Disparities. Southwell, B. G. (2013). Baltimore, MD, and Research Triangle Park, NC: Johns Hopkins University Press and RTI Press.

Weatherization behavior and social context: The influences of factual knowledge and social interaction. Southwell, B. G., & Murphy, J. (2014). Energy Research & Social Science, 2(1), 59-65.

Zika virus-related news coverage and online behavior, United States, Guatemala, and Brazil. Southwell, B. G., Dolina, S., Jimenez-Magdaleno, K., Squiers, L. B., & Kelly, B. J. (2016). Emerging Infectious Diseases, 22(7), 1320-1321.

Staff/Administrative Duties

For the Department of Health Behavior:
     Collaborates on research with faculty and students
     Guest lectures
     Serves as dissertation committee member


  • PhD, Communication, University of Pennsylvania, 2002
  • MA, Communication, University of Pennsylvania, 1997