Katherine McComas


339 Kennedy Hall
(607) 255-7737

My research program examines how people communicate about health, science, and environmental risks. Such communication can take place in many venues- from the front page of the New York Times, to the website of the CDC, to the local public meeting, to the doctor's office, to the visitors' center in our national parks. I am particularly interested in how risk communication influences people's attitudes and behaviors, as well as incentives and barriers people face in the context of risk communication.

Research Focus

My research examines how the ways we communicate about science, health, and environmental risks influence people's risk perceptions, trust in risk managers, satisfaction with decisions, and willingness to engage in future community activities. I am currently examining ways to develop risk messages that encourage greater awareness of the public health implications of climate change, species conservation, and biodiversity.

Outreach and Extension Focus

Because my research often includes an applied component (e.g., Why do people attend public meetings during cancer cluster investigations? How can we encourage widespread community involvement in environmental decision making? Why don’t more people enroll in clinical trials? How can we motivate scientists and engineers to consider the societal and ethical implications of their research?), I consider it vital to provide pragmatic suggestions or solutions to practitioners and citizens grappling with these issues.

Teaching Focus

My teaching bridges two of the Department of Communication's undergraduate program focus areas, Communication and Social Influence and Communication of Environment, Science, and Health, where I teach courses in Communication and the Environment, Planning Communication Campaigns, Risk Communication, and Community Involvement in Environmental Decisions. In the graduate curriculum, I teach Risk Communication and a graduate version of Communication and the Environment.

Awards and Honors

  • Fellow (2014) Society for Risk Analysis
  • Councilor (2012) Society for Risk Analysis
  • Advisory Committee Service Award (2010) U.S. Food and Drug Administration
  • Fellow (2009) Cornell's Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future
  • Chauncey Starr Distinguished Young Risk Analyst award (2008) Society for Risk Analysis

Selected Publications

Journal Publications

  • McComas, K. A., Schuldt, J., Burge, C., & Roh, S. (2015). Communicating about marine disease: The effects of message frames on policy support. Marine Policy.
  • Roh, S., McComas, K. A., Rickard, L., & Decker, D. J. (2015). How motivated reasoning and temporal frames may polarize opinions about wildlife disease risk. Science Communication.
  • Hart, P., Stedman, R. C., & McComas, K. A. (2015). How physical proximity of climate mitigation projects influences the relationship between affect and public support. Journal of Environmental Pscyhology.
  • Dixon, G., Deline, M., McComas, K. A., Chambliss, L., & Hoffmann, M. P. (2015). Saving Energy at the Workplace: The Salience of Behavioral Antecedents and Sense of Community. Energy Research Social Science. 6:121-127.
  • Eosco, G., Tallapragada, M., McComas, K. A., & Brady, M. (2014). Exploring societal and ethical views of nanotechnology REUs. NanoEthics. 8:91-99.
  • McComas, K. A., Besley, J., & Steinhardt, J. (2014). Factors influencing U.S. consumer support for genetic modification to prevent crop disease. Appetite. 78:1767-1778.
  • McComas, K. A. (2014). Perspective on 'Four Questions for Risk Communication'. Journal of Risk Research. 17:1273-1276.
  • Besley, J., & McComas, K. A. (2014). Something old and something new: Comparing views about nanotechnology and nuclear energy. Journal of Risk Research.
  • Dixon, G., McComas, K. A., Deline, M., Chambliss, L., & Hoffmann, M. P. (2014). The use of comparative feedback to influence workplace energy conservation. Environment and Behavior.
  • Rickard, L. N., McComas, K. A., Clarke, C. E., Stedman, R. C., & Decker, D. J. (2013). Exploring risk attenuation and crisis communication after a plague death in Grand Canyon. Journal of Risk Research. 16:145-167.

Presentations and Activities

  • How do people think about marine health? Exploring motivated reasoning about the links between climate change, oyster disease, and human health. May 2014. ICA. Seattle, WA.