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Among the fantasy fans, movie moguls, cosplayers, and bloggers who descended on San Diego Comic-Con last year, IC student Julia Salvatore ’21 was on hand to share her research on how decades of iconic superhero portrayals in media can alter our perception of the human body’s ability to withstand injury. 

Julia and Edd Schneider, associate professor of strategic communication, presented “Heroism and Head Injury: Comic Books and Attitudes Towards Traumatic Brain Injury” as part of a session that offered opportunities for one-on-one discussions with attendees and fellow presenters. Their research, which was received with great interest, explored how popular comic books from different eras presented head injuries within their storylines.

Fueled by her own interest and her minor in psychology, Julia began her research during the spring semester of her freshman year, combing through comic books to record how many times head injuries occurred and the effects they had on the characters. At the convention, Julia used this information to talk about how behaviors and attitudes in comics translate to reality. 

“We examined dangerous behaviors in comics and compared them to real-life situations, such as returning to the game after sustaining a head injury playing football. You see superheroes getting hit left and right, and since they're ‘invincible,’ it's hard to conceive how much damage that would actually cause. I think getting information about how media influences our thoughts about that subject will help in showing the severity of head injuries that occur in activities like sports.”

Julia hopes that these connections will lead to less risky behaviors in the real world, although she acknowledges that “we are just at the beginning of understanding these influences and the lasting effects of these repetitive injuries.” Still, Julia says her experience at Comic-Con changed the way she thought about research: “It was definitely a huge learning experience for me. Not only was it a cool event, but I was also able to learn about how others did their research and what inspired them.”