A shop gate in Barcelona.
I am fundamentally a pragmatic social scientist who uses multiple research methodologies in order to address applied, real-world issues and problems while attempting to advance theorizing about communication processes. Specifically, I am a health communication research who specializes in the development and evaluation of large-scale campaigns. I pay particular attention to issues of message design, including variables such as non-literal language (e.g. metaphors and analogies), message sensation value, message tailoring to individuals, and the development of messages appropriate for individuals in cultural communities. I collaborate extensively with community partners as well as academic colleagues in the U.S. and Europe on a variety of projects. My work in health communication has been supported by approximately $12M in federal and state funding as a Principal Investigator, co-PI, or co-Investigator.
Communication and Cancer Clinical Trials
There are many interrelated issues involved with the promotion of clinical trials to test the efficacy of new cancer treatment protocols, including the way in which the media present information about clinical trials, mistrust of the medical system, the health literacy of target populations, insurance coverage of study-based treatments, the language used in informed consent documents, physician attitudes about clinical research, and system-based issues, including reimbursement rates for participation in trials. Through extensive focus group research of 63 clinical trial and research recruiters, we have identified a number of interpersonal communication strategies used by recruiters when talking about the prospect of participating in studies. Future research will identify which strategies predict higher patient enrollment in clinical trials. We have partnered with the Hoosier Oncology Group, IU Medical Center, and the University of Miami Health System on these studies.
Another important project that involves extensive collaboration between the School of Communication faculty (Kim Grinfeder and Barbara Millet) and people at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and the University of Miami Health System is a complete redesign of the clinical trials website in order to make it more patient-centered. We will be rolling out a new easy-to-use search tool that will provide information about research studies and clinical trials in a way that ordinary patients can understand. A related project involves a collaboration with health economist Margaret Byrne to add in greater interactivity to a clinical trial participation decision aid for patients. Eventually, the two projects will be merged to create a highly adaptive and interactive site that should help improve accrual rates.
Drug Abuse Prevention for "Thinking High Sensation Seekers": Message Sensation Value and Message Cognition Value
This is an extension of my work on message sensation value that began a decade ago. At the time, I realized that not all high sensation seekers would respond to the "bells and whistles" that high message sensation value messages offer (though that has proven to be a good place to begin!). For sensation seekers who are also high in need for cognition, other message variables may help to create PSAs that are more effective with this target population. In this project, we hope to identify those variables.
Past Campaigns and Projects Related to Organ Donation
Organ Donation and Minority Populations in Chicago
I have been working with Dr. Brian Quick (U of Illinois) on several studies designed to improve understanding of effective public education messages for African American and Latino (as well as Caucasian) populations in both urban and rural areas in Illinois. In particular, we have tested the effectiveness of several different types of mailer campaigns for 18-year olds who are newly eligible to register as organ donors, as well as the effectiveness of several types of radio ad campaigns that are geared toward adults in the African American and Latino communities. Manuscripts describing the results have appeared in transplant and health communication journals.
Show Us Your Heart Campaign (co-Principal Investigator)
This is an $826,000 outreach campaign (originally intended to be a modified replication of the Drive for Life campaign) to promote Michigan’s organ donor registry. Michigan has a very low rate of enrollment relative to other states and the goal was to increase the number of people who receive transplants in Michigan, particularly African Americans who represent a high percentage of people who are on the transplant waiting list. The project tested the effect of mass media campaigns, grassroots campaigns, and point-of-decision campaigns (within DMV offices) in succession, building and then subtracting interventions while tracking the number of registrations monthly in 6-month waves. Results demonstrated a dramatic impact of various campaign elements on the number of people registering to be potential donors. Numbers of registrants have actually declined in control counties. This project has led to numerous replication projects across the country.
Media depictions of organ donation II
In an effort to finally nail down exactly what happens when viewers watch entertainment television episodes that present inaccurate information about organ donation, we conducted a lab study where beliefs and behavioral intent of people who watch “bad” episodes (of Grey’s Anatomy, for example) are contrasted with those of people who watch episodes without organ donation-related content. Results (reported in the Journal of Communication) indicate that respondents’ beliefs reflect what they have seen on TV.
The Drive for Life Campaign (Principal Investigator)
This project received $1M in federal funding to contrast two groups of four counties against a third group of counties that served as controls. An alternating time-series design attempted to test which types of campaigns were the most effective in persuading Kentuckians to register as organ donors at the DMV. Our community partner organizations were the Trust for Life and Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates.
Donate Life Hollywood (Board of Directors)
Based on the data I collected from recent media studies, a coalition of transplant-related organizations as well as concerned individuals created an initiative called Donate Life Hollywood (DLH). This is a proactive advocacy group that builds relationships with television writers and producers in order to improve depictions of organ donation in entertainment media. In addition to putting writers and producers in touch with important informational resources and advocating for the use of accurate information (and the discontinuation of plotlines based on myths about donation), Donate Life Hollywood also reacts to negative depictions of organ donation. When necessary, media alerts are issued to stakeholder groups and members are encouraged to write letters of protest. DHL also sends letters directly to writers, producers, and studio heads to describe problematic content and to offer correct information.
The University Worksite Organ Donation Project (Principal Investigator)
This was a 6-state project (NJ, TX, AZ, AL, NC, PA) with two community partners: The New Jersey Sharing Network and the Southwest Transplant Alliance. Two types of campaigns were contrasted against a control group. In addition, we ran sidebar studies of how families (both African American and non-African American) communicate about organ donation. This project was the first to establish that having an interpersonal outreach component greatly increased the effectiveness of this type of campaign. Our project-related studies started being published in 2005 and have appeared in medical and social science journals.
Media depictions of organ donation and effects on the public
This project came about almost accidentally. I received supplemental grant funding to monitor national and regional media for potential confounds to the findings of our University Worksite project. When we became inundated with shows that featured organ donation, we started looking more closely at the content of these programs. When we saw how negative depictions of organ donation were and how they played on common myths about donation, we did systematic content analyses to document what was happening. Coincidently, our family communication studies were demonstrating that media content was showing up in conversations about donation, which indicated that it was having some sort of effect on the public. A subsequent study with collaborators at USC-Annenberg added further evidence that specific false content on television shows was having a direct effect on viewers’ beliefs about donation as well as their willingness to donate.
The LifeShare Project (co-Principal Investigator)
This was a $600K grant funded project in Charlotte, North Carolina to promote organ donation within the African American community. Partnerships between the Black Medical Association, LifeShare of the Carolinas, prominent African American pastors of Black churches, and media outlets that primarily serve the African American community helped to create a grassroots and media campaign. DMV organ donor registrations were tracked every month of the project and increases between African Americans and non-African Americans were contrasted. My community partner on this project was LifeShare of the Carolinas.
The New Jersey Workplace Partnership for Life (WPFL) (Principal Investigator)
WPFL was a $1.7M funded project that tests the effectiveness of different types of worksite campaigns and the impact of organizational features on campaign success. A total of 45 organizations participated in the project. Worksites were quite diverse and included manufacturing, finance, R and D, pharmaceutical, law, medical, educational, and service organizations. Our community partner was the New Jersey Sharing Network.
Here is a (relatively) recent version of my CV: