Rachel Smith, Ph.D. | The Methodology Center

Rachel Smith, Ph.D.

Rachel Smith, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Communication Arts & Sciences

Investigator, The Methodology Center

Co-Hire, Huck Institute


The Methodology Center

The Pennsylvania State University

400 Calder Square II

State College, PA 16801



Personal Website

CAS Website

CIDD Website





Ph.D., Michigan State University, 2003 (Communication)

M.S., University of Arizona, 1999 (Communication)

B.S., Boston University (Broadcast TV/ Film); B.A., Boston University (Psychology)



Research Interests

Quantitative methods for addressing issues of social structure and nonindependence, including social network analysis and dyadic analysis. I study how social interactions influence health and well-being. My research focuses on the communication within and the structural patterns of social interactions, and the influence of communication and interaction patterns on a variety of health and wellness issues, including infectious disease (a particularly social health context). I have great interest in understanding the systemic diffusion, maintenance, and elimination of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that may promote or inhibit health and well-being in domestic and international contexts. Specific interests include identifying critical message features and critical people within social networks that facilitate and inhibit message diffusion, decision-making, and behavioral adoption in managing health ailments; identifying impacts of social influence (e.g., support, norms, and stigma) on communicators' susceptibility to health aliments and immunity; developing and extending theoretical models of stigma communication and label management; and developing models for compliance (or “user resistance”) to behavioral interventions.


Methodology Center Research Areas: System sciences; Optimizing network-based interventions; Latent class analysis; Analysis of interdependence (networks, dyads, etc); Multiphase optimization strategy (MOST); Causal inference.



Current Projects and Collaborators

I am collaborating with Donna Coffman on causal inference in interdependent situations (e.g., how a husband’s communication shapes his wife's communication). I am also collaborating with Linda Collins on issues of factorial mediation in experiments attempting to test communication theories.


I am working with Bethany Bray and Megan Piper to investigate whether different smokers maintain different kinds of support networks, and whether particular support networks are more likely to be associated with attempts to quit smoking. The dynamic version of this question is to assess whether the participants’ social networks change over time and as a function of their attempts to quit, and we are using latent transition analysis for this analysis. Identifying different profiles (or audience segments) of support networks would allow for one to target at-risk groups in future interventions.


In addition, I collaborate with Jill Findeis, Jonathan Lynch, Matt Thomas, and Andrew Read on a project addressing malaria and food security in Mozambique. The ultimate goal is to diffuse new malaria and agricultural technologies that translate well into the lives of their users. To do this, we need to understand and model the complex system dynamics involved in user uptake. These activities are supported through Penn State’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Our activities also include Ag 2 Africa: Development of an International-US Learning Laboratory, funded by the USDA. The overarching goal is to create a self-sustaining learning laboratory with sites in Africa and the US that trains multidiciplinary graduate-undergraduate teams to understand key food systems-disease interactions. The approach is to use on-the-ground and in-class training, using the very best methodologies and systems thinking, to build this understanding. The project will involve collaborations with the University of Johannesburg NS international and national agencies active in Eastern Africa, including the Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT) and the Instituto de Investigação Agrária de Moçambique (IIAM).

Recent Teaching

CAS 597C: Quantitative Methods for Handling Interdependence (Spring 2012)

CAS 597X: International Health Campaigns (Fall 2012)

CAS 597B: International Health Campaigns (Fall 2010)

CAS 597e: Quantitative Methods for Handling Interdependence (Fall 2009) 


Honors and Awards

2009: Fellow, Rock Ethics Institute/Schreyer Honors College Ethics Seminar, PSU

2009: Faculty Scholar, Methodology Center, PSU

2009: Fellow, Institute on System Science and Health (NIH), Michigan

2007: Teaching Excellence Award, University of Texas Austin

2006: Nominee, Distinction in Teaching, Phi Beta Kappa for Alpha of Texas Chapter

2006: Top paper, Mass Communication Division, ICA

2006: Outstanding Student Organization, UT’s American Red Cross Club (Faculty Advisor)

2006: Good Neighbor Award, American Red Cross of Central Texas



Alpha-1 & Couples: Beliefs, Communication, and Well-Being

Alpha-1 Foundation Pilot Project

Role: Principal Investigator


Family Health Diffusion System Project

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Role: Consultant (James Dearing at Kaiser Permanente, PI)


Ag 2 Africa: Development of an International-US Learning Laboratory

USDA CSREES International Science and Education (ISE)

2009-2013; Role: Investigator


Pilot Proejct: A Systems Science Approach to Modeling Compliance Dynamics

NIDA/NIH, P50-DA10075

2010 - present; Role: Principal Investigator


Selected Recent Publications

Peer-Reviewed Articles

Smith, R. A., Greenberg, M., & Parrott, R. L. (2013). Segmenting by risk perceptions: Predicting young adults’ genetic-belief profiles with health and opinion-leader covariates. Health Communication. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s10897-013-9639-6

Smith, R. A., Hernandez, R., & Catona, D. (2013). Investigating initial disclosures and reactions to unexpected, positive HPV diagnosis. Western Journal of Communication. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/10570314.2013.786120 PMC Journal- In Process

Smith, R. A., Wienke, S. E., & Coffman, D. L. (2013). Alpha-1 couples: Interpersonal and intrapersonal predictors of spousal communication and stress. Journal of Genetic Counseling. NIHMSID: NIHMS514665 http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10897-013-9639-6

Smith, R. A. (2012). An experimental test of stigma communication content with a hypothetical infectious disease alert. Communication Monographs, 79, 522-538. doi: 10.1080/03637751.2012.723811 PMC Journal-In Process

Smith, R. A., & Baker, M. (2012). At the edge? HIV stigma and centrality in a community’s social network in Namibia. AIDS and Behavior, 16(3), 525-534. doi: 10.1007/s10461-012-0154-9 PMCID: PMC3337518

Smith, R. A., & Parrott, R. (2012). Mental representations of HPV in Appalachia: Gender, semantic network analysis, and knowledge gaps. Journal of Health Psychology, 17, 917-928.  PMCID: PMC3772554

Smith, R. A., & Findeis, J. (2011). Investigating adopter categories for an agricultural innovation in Mozambique with latent class analysis. Journal of Health Communication, 10, 200. PMCID: PMC3152939

Smith, R. A., & Parrott, R. L. (2011). Mental representations of HPV in Appalachia: Gender, semantic network analysis, and knowledge gaps. Journal of Health Psychology. Advanced online publication. doi: 10.1177/1359105311428534

Smith, R. A., & Lanza, S. T. (2011). Testing theoretical network classes and HIV-related correlates with latent class analysis. AIDS Care, 23, 1274-1281. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/09540121.2011.555747 PMCID: PMC3181093

Smith, R. A., Barclay, V. C., & Findeis, J. L. (2011). Investigating preferences for mosquito-control technologies in Mozambique with latent class analysis. Malaria Journal,10, 200. doi:10.1186/1475-2875-10-200.  PMCID: PMC3152939

Feeley, T. H., Smith, R. A., Moon, S., & Anker, A. E. (2010). A journal-level analysis of health communication. Health Communication, 25, 516-521.

Smith, R. A., & Fink, E. (2010). Compliance dynamics within a simulated friendship network I: The effects of agency, tactic, and node centrality. Human Communication Research, 36, 232-260.

Smith, R. A., & Hipper, T. (2010). Label management: Investigating how confidants encourage the use of communication strategies to avoid stigmatization. Health Communication, 25, 410-422.


Book Chapters

Smith, R. A. (2011). Stigma communication and health. In T. L. Thompson, R. Parrott, & J. Nussbaum (Eds.), Handbook of health communication (2nd ed., pp. 455-468). London, UK: Taylor & Francis.

Rossetto, K., Smith, R. A., & Jones, B. (2010). Stigma and politeness: Challenging family health discussions. In M. Miller-Day (Ed.), Family communication and health transitions: Going through this together (pp. 165-192). New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing.



Choi, H. J., & Smith, R. A. (2011, November). Members, isolates, and liaisons: Meta-analysis of adolescents’ network positions and their smoking behavior. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Communication Association: New Orleans, LA.

Choi, H. J. & Smith, R. A. (2011, June). Isolated smokers: A meta-analytic perspective on adolescent research. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Prevention Research: Washington, DC.

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