Addictive behaviors with detrimental outcomes can quickly become embedded in daily life. It therefore remains a priority to prevent or modify these health behaviors early in the life course. Diffusion theory suggests that community norms are shaped by credible and influential “opinion leaders” who may be characterized by their values and traits, competence or expertise, and social position. With respect to health behaviors, opinion leaders can assume a variety of roles, including changing social norms and facilitating behavioral change. There is considerable variation in the methods used to identify opinion leaders for behavior change interventions, and these may have differential success. However, despite the potential consequences for intervention success, few studies have documented the processes for identifying, recruiting, and training opinion leaders to promote health, or have discussed the characteristics of those identified. One study that has acknowledged this is the effective UK-based ASSIST smoking-prevention program. The ASSIST Programme is an example of a peer-led intervention that has been shown to be successful in utilizing opinion leaders to influence health behaviors in schools. A “whole community” peer nomination process to identify opinion leaders underwent extensive developmental and piloting work prior to being administered in a randomized trial context. Influential students were identified through the use of three simple questions and trained as “peer supporters” to disseminate smoke-free messages through everyday conversations with their peers. In response to a need to understand the contribution of various elements of the intervention, and the degree to which these achieve their aim, a comprehensive assessment of the nomination process was conducted following intervention implementation. The nomination process was successful in identifying a diverse group of young people who represented a variety of social groups, and whom were predominantly considered suitable by their peers. The successful outcome of this approach demonstrates the importance of paying close attention to the design and development of strategies to identify opinion leaders. Importantly, the involvement of young people during the development phase may be key to increasing the effectiveness of peer education that relies on young people taking the lead role.
Jo Holliday, Suzanne Audrey, Rona Campbell, and Laurence Moore
Michael L. Hecht and Michelle Miller-Day
Adolescent substance use and abuse has long been the target of public health prevention messages. These messages have adopted a variety of communication strategies, including fear appeals, information campaigns, and social marketing/branding strategies. A case history of keepin’ it REAL, a narrative-based substance abuse prevention intervention that exemplifies a translational research approach, involves theory development testing, formative and evaluation research, dissemination, and assessment of how the intervention is being used in the field by practitioners. The project, which started as an attempt to test the notion that the performance of personal narratives was an effective intervention strategy, has since produced two theories, an approach to implementation science that focused on communication processes, and, of course, a school-based curriculum that is now the most widely disseminated drug prevention program in the world. At the core of the keepin’ it REAL program are the narratives that tell the story of how young people manage their health successfully through core skills or competencies, such as decision-making, risk assessment, communication, and relationship skills. Narrative forms not only the content of curriculum (e.g., what is taught) but also the pedagogy (e.g., how it is taught). This has enabled the developers to step inside the social worlds of youth from early childhood through young adulthood to describe how young people manage problematic health situations, such as drug offers. This knowledge was motivated by the need to create curricula that recount stories rather than preaching or scaring, that re-story health decisions and behaviors by providing skills that enable people to live healthy, safe, and responsible lives. Spin-offs from the main study have led to investigations of other problematic health situations, such as vaccination decisions and sexual pressure, in order to address crucial public health issues, such as cancer prevention and sex education, through community partnerships with organizations like D.A.R.E. America, 4-H clubs, and Planned Parenthood.
Melanie C. Green and Kaitlin Fitzgerald
Transportation Theory: Narrative transportation theory focuses on the causes and consequences of an individual being immersed in a story, or transported into a narrative world. Transportation refers to the feeling of being so absorbed in a story that connection to the real world is lost for some time; it includes cognitive engagement, emotional experience, and the presence of mental imagery. This experience is a key mechanism underlying narrative influence on recipients’ attitudes and beliefs, particularly in combination with enjoyment and character identification. Narrative persuasion through transportation has been demonstrated with a wide variety of topics, including health, social issues, and consumer products. Transportation can occur across media (through written, audio, or video narratives) and for both factual and fictional stories. It is typically measured with a self-report scale, which has been well-validated (Green & Brock, 2000). Transportation is conceptually similar to flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) and presence (Klimmt & Vorderer, 2003), although both flow and presence pertain more to being immersed in an experience, rather than specifically in a narrative. While individuals are transported, their mental systems and capacities become concentrated on events occurring in the story, causing them to lose track of time, lack awareness of the surrounding environment, and experience powerful emotions as a result of their immersion in the narrative. Transported recipients may also lose some access to real-world knowledge, making them more likely to adapt their real-world beliefs and behaviors to be more consistent with the story to which they are exposed. Transportation theory suggests several mechanisms to explain this phenomenon, including reduced counterarguing, connections with characters, heightened perceptions of realism, the formation of vivid mental imagery, and emotional engagement. Personality factors can also affect the extent of transportation: narrative recipients vary in transportability, or their dispositional tendency to become transported; and they may be influenced differently by narratives due to a difference in their need for affect (individuals high in need for affect are more likely to be transported into narratives). Additional factors such as story quality and points of similarity between the reader and the story can also influence transportation.
Health and risk policymaking focuses on decisions made and actions undertaken to set standards and pass laws to promote healthcare and public health quality, while achieving global health security. Policymakers in governments and institutions deliberate for the purposes of achieving effective and efficient policies, revealing both acceptance and rejection of evidence from health and risk, prevention, and economic sciences, as well as gaps in these domains. Health and risk communicators function implicitly within the boundaries of these decisions and actions, while contributing to prevention science related to strategic messaging and information dissemination. Policymakers face barriers to their efforts residing in the sheer volume of health and risk sciences research; the lack of evidence demonstrating that policies lead to intended outcomes (often, because a policy has not been trialed/implemented); and the absence of economic analyses associated with costs of interventions proposed and undertaken. The precautionary principle (PP) based on adopting caution when evidence is absent, uncertain, or ambiguous regarding possible harm to humans or the environment may function as a guide in some situations. Advocates may draw attention to particular issues in other cases. Policies may be stalled owing to the policy context, including election cycles, legislative and institutional bureaucracies, competing agendas, and fragmented systems of healthcare. Health and risk communicators may collaborate with policymakers and work to translate evidence into useful formats to facilitate the application of evidence to policymaking decisions and actions.
Fuschia M. Sirois
Whether viewed as a domain-specific behavior or as an enduring tendency, procrastination is a common form of self-regulation failure that is increasingly recognized as having implications for health-related outcomes. Central to procrastination is the prioritization of reducing immediate negative mood at the cost of decisions and actions that provide long-term rewards, such as engaging in health behaviors. Because people tend to procrastinate on tasks they find difficult, unpleasant, or challenging, many health-promoting behaviors are possible candidates for procrastination. As modifiable risk factors for the prevention of disease and disability, health behaviors are often the target of health risk communications aimed at health behavior change and reducing health procrastination. Research has consistently demonstrated the deleterious effects of chronic procrastination on health outcomes, including poor physical health, fewer health promoting behaviors, and higher stress in healthy adults and those already living with a chronic health condition. Examining the factors and psychological characteristics associated with chronic procrastination can provide insights into the processes involved in procrastination more generally, as well as the qualities of the health messages that can promote or prevent procrastination of the targeted behaviors. Low future orientation, avoidant coping, low tolerance for negative emotions, and low self-efficacy need to be considered when designing effective health risk communications to reduce procrastination of health behaviors. Yet, health risk communications aimed at reducing procrastination of important health behaviors such as healthy eating, regular physical activity, screening behaviors, and cessation of risky health behaviors often use fear appeals to motivate taking protective actions to reduce health risks. Such approaches may not be effective because they amplify the negative feelings towards the health behaviors, which can engender maladaptive coping responses and motivate procrastination rather than adaptive responding. This is especially likely among individuals prone to procrastination more generally, or specifically with respect to health. Health risk communication approaches that minimize the negative emotions associated with risk messages and instead highlight short-term benefits of engaging in health behaviors may be necessary to reduce further health behavior procrastination among individuals prone to this form of self-regulation failure.