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Campaign Development: Formative Research

Should anti-tobacco messaging aimed at young people portray short-term or long-term consequences?

Anti-tobacco messaging often focuses on the severe long-term consequences of smoking (e.g., fatal lung disease, cancer), but it's unclear whether these long-term consequences are more likely to deter youth use than shorter term consequences (e.g., headaches, friend disapproval). Although belief in both types of consequences were associated with lower usage intentions and behavior, we found that short-term beliefs were more highly associated with anti-smoking (OR=1.40, 95% CI (1.30 to 1.51)) and anti-vaping (OR=2.10, 95% CI (1.75 to 2.52)) intentions and better predicted non-smoking behavior at follow-up, controlling for prior use (OR=1.75, 95% CI (1.33 to 2.31)).

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Should cigarette warning labels include an efficacy message?

Many emotional appeal theorists argue that negative affect and efficacy work together to promote adaptive behavioral responses to a threat, yet most research on cigarette warning label messages has not examined the intersection between negative affect, hope, and efficacy. The current study tests effects of exposure, at different points in a sequence, to an efficacy-focused warning label in the context of threat-focused warning labels. We conclude that “Quit” messaging on warning labels can inspire both hopeful feelings and efficacy beliefs.

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Should COVID-19 health campaigns debunk misinformation or target behavior-specific beliefs?

Wide-spread misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges for communicating public health recommendations. In this study, we examine whether belief in COVID-19 misinformation is directly associated with two behaviors (face mask wearing and social distancing), and whether behavior-specific beliefs can account for this association and better predict behavior, consistent with behavior-change theory. While belief in misinformation was negatively associated with both face mask wearing (B = −.27, SE =.06) and social-distancing behaviors (B = −.46, SE =.08) measured at the same time, misinformation did not predict concurrent or lagged behavior when the behavior-specific beliefs were incorporated in the models. With regard to misinformation, we recommend health campaigns aimed at promoting protective behaviors emphasize the benefits of these behaviors, rather than debunking unrelated false claims.

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Why might one change their mind about getting vaccinated?

Vaccine hesitancy remains a major barrier to ending the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States (U.S.) and an important target for communication interventions. Using longitudinal survey data, we examined whether baseline levels and changes in beliefs about the COVID-19 vaccines predicted change in vaccination intention/behavior. Changes in beliefs from T1 to T2 were significantly associated with change in vaccination outcomes for all belief types (safety B = 0.39, SE = 0.07; effectiveness for self B = 0.38, SE = 0.09; effectiveness for others B = 0.43, SE = 0.07). Cross-lagged models suggested a reciprocal causal relationship between pro-vaccine beliefs and vaccination intention/behavior: Intention to get vaccinated at T1 predicted strengthened safety and effectiveness beliefs at T2. T1 effectiveness beliefs predicted T2 vaccination intention/behavior, though T1 safety beliefs did not. Communication interventions highlighting the protective benefits of COVID-19 vaccines may be particularly successful in reducing vaccine hesitancy.

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