NCA Inside & Out

Norah Dunbar

5 Questions With…

May 10, 2018

NCA is pleased to introduce a new Inside & Out feature that will provide a closer look at some of your Communication colleagues. We’ll be asking NCA members five questions related to their research, the Communication discipline and higher education, and their experiences with NCA.

Our first interviewee is Norah Dunbar, Professor and Chair of Communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). Professor Dunbar is also an Affiliate Faculty member at UCSB’s Center for Information, Technology & Society; Center for Digital Games Research; Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences. She specializes in deception detection and nonverbal and interpersonal communication. Professor Dunbar has served on the editorial board of six disciplinary journals and as the Chair of the Nonverbal Division of NCA.

What is your current research focus, and can you share something interesting or exciting you’ve come across recently?

I study interpersonal deception and the effects that it has on trust and credibility. Lately, I have been working on a couple of games (called MACBETH and VERITAS) that are designed to teach professionals (e.g., law enforcement officers and the intelligence community) about their own biases and how to make accurate credibility assessments. My current project, funded by the Department of Defense, is a cross-cultural study in which people play a deception game and make interpersonal assessments about each other. The analysis is still underway, but the cultural differences in players’ strategies for creating trust is very interesting.

Can you tell us about one of your most inspiring mentors in the Communication discipline, and how they influenced your career and life?

I have been lucky enough to have had several strong female mentors who taught me many lessons about how to be a successful woman in academe. Of course, my Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Judee Burgoon, is the perfect example of this. Although I finished my Ph.D. many years ago, we still collaborate on research projects and grants and write articles and book chapters together.  

What is one of your favorite experiences from attending NCA Annual Conventions?

My first NCA Annual Convention was in San Antonio in 1995. I remember being starstruck with all the famous scholars I would run into in elevators or in the line for the bar at a party. That's actually how I met Judee Burgoon for the first time, getting cheese and crackers from a buffet at a reception, and I was amazed that these famous scholars wore their nametags and would talk to a lowly student like myself. I was a total nerd, but I loved every minute of it. It has happened to me a couple of times now where a student will recognize my name from my work and want to talk to me about it. It's the best part about NCA, I think.

If you had to do it over again and were just starting out as a young Communication scholar, what advice would you give to your younger self?

I think the field is more interdisciplinary now, and my work in particular has branched out beyond Communication. To tackle the world's big problems like understanding how to stop fake news or combating pseudoscience, we need interdisciplinary solutions. I work with computer scientists and people in information science and linguistics. I wish I had taken more classes outside my field, because it would have been easier to speak the language of my colleagues when writing grant proposals and doing research with them.

What is one of your biggest career goals for the next five years?

Tackling big problems and studying populations other than college students in the United States requires funding, so I have turned my attention in the past decade to getting grants and studying other populations. I want to continue on this track and mentor my grad students to do it as well. Even though I have been working for a while and people might see me as a senior scholar, I feel I still have much to learn!