Your New BFF: Brain Food Friday’s

Welcome to June’s edition of Brain Food Friday (BFF), a monthly blog of bite-sized research morsels   aimed at shaping effective communication strategies. 

This month, we explore how community stress affects Black Americans’ mental health and examine the link between social media use and tobacco consumption among youth. We also focus on research findings about who donates at the checkout counter and when consumers prefer chatbots over human agents.   

Before we dig in, we wanted to highlight U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy’s announcement and call to mandate warning labels on social media platforms. He cites growing evidence of anxiety and depression among adolescents who spend substantial time on these platforms. Your BFF will be following this issue and bringing you the latest research on social media’s impact on youth mental health. Social media is an important tool for communicators, and we all want to be sure that it’s ultimately being used for the greater good. 

Mental Health and Community Impact 

Community Stress and Black Americans’ Mental Health 

A recent University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign study examined the relationship between Black Americans’ mental and emotional well-being and the quality of their communities.   

  • Community Stress Impacts Emotions: Black Americans who reported greater levels of perceived community stress also reported fewer happy feelings and more negative ones. This suggests community-building activities should be prioritized to foster safer and more supportive settings.  
  • Mental Health by Gender: Research indicates that Black women are more likely than men to experience mental illnesses associated with perceived stress in the community. To address this issue, the researchers suggest that specific mental health support services should be created for Black women, emphasizing social ties.  
  • Highlight Resilience and Advocate for Change: The study shows how supportive social networks in underprivileged areas may promote resilience, particularly among Black women. As communicators, we can advocate for changes and ensure that our storytelling highlights the power of community to support mental health.   

Social Media and Youth Behavior  

The Link Between Social Media and Tobacco Use

A study by Boston University School of Public Health found that frequent social media use increases the risk of youth starting to use tobacco products, including vaping.  

  • Current Trend: Despite declining national cigarette smoking rates since the mid-1990s, about 10% of middle and high school students currently use at least one tobacco product, with many engaging in dual use, especially with e-cigarettes.  
  • Targeted Youth Marketing: The tobacco industry has targeted youth by glamorizing smoking through candy-flavored products, celebrity endorsements, social settings and other enticing tactics. This approach is particularly effective on social media, like Instagram and TikTok, raising concerns about youth exposure to harmful promotional content.  
  • Increased Risk: Youth who use social media daily are 67% more likely to start smoking after one year, compared to those who use it less frequently.   
  • Key Takeaway: Despite a decline in tobacco use over recent decades, the increasing popularity of alternative tobacco products among youth highlights the need for stricter regulation of tobacco marketing on social media and improved methods for measuring content exposure to mitigate risky behaviors among youth.  

Consumer Behavior Insights  

Checkout Generosity: Young and Diverse Americans Lead 

About 1,400 Americans participated in a survey conducted by Binghamton University and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to determine who donates to charity at the register, including rounding up, adding a set amount or buying a display token.  

  • Younger, More Diverse Americans Donate: 53% of all surveyed Americans, with a strong showing by younger and more diverse individuals, say they donated to charity at checkout within the past year.  
  • Checkout Behavior Overcomes Donor Fatigue: Offering more random and convenient options to donate could address donor fatigue, placing more emphasis on infrequent donations than on regular contributions. Researchers recommend that charities openly outline the advantages and results of checkout contributions and make sure contributors are aware of their influence.  
  • Key Takeaway: Despite the growing move away from brick-and-mortar shopping, it looks like younger, more varied populations — including women, Black communities and middle-class people under 50 — can be persuaded to give when they do find themselves at the checkout counter.   

Chatbot Utilization  

Chatbot Over Human: Understanding Consumer Preferences

A study by Ohio State University found that consumers often prefer chatbots over human customer service agents, particularly when purchasing potentially embarrassing items or those related to sensitive concerns.  

  • Avoiding Discomfort: Research indicates that individuals feel less embarrassed interacting with chatbots, compared to humans, when they are worried about being judged. Notably, one study revealed that 81% of participants opted for chatbots over human agents when purchasing antidiarrheal medicine, while 91% preferred human agents for hay fever medication.  
  • Anything But a Human: Consumers prefer chatbots that clearly indicate they are not human. Consumers exhibit a preference for chatbots with clearly non-human characteristics and less emotional language, since human-like chatbots can still provoke feelings of embarrassment and discomfort.   
  • Key Takeaway: The findings suggest that chatbots provide an opportunity to alleviate embarrassment around sensitive topics and purchases. More research is needed to determine their usefulness in initial interventions around sensitive health topics, such as colonoscopies or gynecological visits.   

Stay tuned for next month’s buffet of communications research from your BFF!