Your New BFF: Brain Food Fridays

Brain Book Friday graphic

Welcome to Brain Food Friday (BFF), a monthly blog of bite-sized morsels of the latest research on communication and behavior change.

In this edition, we highlight tasty research on topics that include recycling messaging, kindergarten bias, and inoculating college students against texting and driving.

Getting to the Root of Disparities

Focus on Audience Needs Makes Street Teams More Effective — Mental health and substance use disorder care has always been hard to access by people experiencing homelessness, but new services offered via street medicine are showing promise. USC’s Keck School of Medicine surveyed street medicine teams in California and found some novel approaches to delivering behavioral health services. Understanding the audience’s mobility and difficulty with attending appointments, providers are now prescribing longer-acting medications and providing telehealth access during visits, allowing them to speak directly with a psychiatric practitioner. Ultimately, researchers hope that further study will make these audience-focused approaches common practice, and just as importantly, reimbursable.

Bias Starts in Kindergarten — Getting to the root of educational disparities is challenging, but a study from Virginia Commonwealth University shows that teacher perceptions might be putting Black boys at a disadvantage as early as the first few days of kindergarten. More than 9,000 teachers were surveyed about their perceived conflict with various student groups. Kindergarten teachers rated their perceived conflict with Black boys as nearly 40% higher than white girls, and the research team didn’t find any differences based on teacher-child racial match. The researchers cited systemic racism as a reason for the results, rather than the bias of individual teachers. The team says the findings speak to a strong need for early and consistent teacher training in anti-racism practices.

A New Research Resource for Communicators — There are more than 45,000 academic journals publishing research, but a new one from the National Communication Association (NCA) is a welcome addition to the field. “Communication and Race” will launch in early 2024 with the goal of providing “a distinct space for building on the theories and epistemologies of Black, Ethnic, Latinx, Indigenous and Asian studies scholars — including non-Western perspectives.” The NCA intends for this journal to focus on the resilience and excellence of all people, not just the inequalities they experience. The journal will be published by Taylor & Francis.

Research and Behavior Change

Yes, You Can Inoculate Teens Against Texting and Driving — More than 90% of college students have reported texting while driving, and drivers under the age of 20 are the group with the highest proportion of distraction-related traffic fatalities. Researchers at the University of Kentucky put two types of messaging to the test — inoculation and narrative — to determine which one might be more effective at keeping teens from texting while driving. Narrative messages, which use storytelling techniques to engage the audience emotionally and convey a message through a compelling narrative or personal stories, were less effective with college audiences. Students weren’t persuaded by a story about a young adult who experienced a serious accident due to texting and driving. Inoculation messaging took a different approach. It acknowledged students’ attitudes and overconfidence about the issue, then presented facts to counter that argument. For example, one message included, “Texting and driving can lead to car crashes. You know this and agree with it, which is why you think that people should not text while driving. Despite this fact, recent research shows that the temptation to text and drive is too high for college students to be able to avoid it […].” The study found that this type of inoculation messaging was more effective, as it prepared students to counteract pressure to text and drive. Narrative messaging did not provide the same level of protection against persuasion, even though it might have been more engaging.

Overdoing it on Recycling Messages — For decades, recycling messages have motivated us to look for the blue bin any time we have something to discard. Unfortunately, the over-emphasis on just one waste management strategy has placed us in a conundrum. Recycling bins are ubiquitous, but there are a lot fewer items that can be easily recycled than we think. People keep doing it, because they’ve been told to and it’s an easy action that makes them feel good about themselves. As a result, the Earth is being suffocated by an oversupply of recycling and other waste from ineffective “wishcycling.” More importantly, the overuse of recycling messages is drowning out more effective methods of waste management, including the other Rs — reducing and reusing. This worldwide dilemma demonstrates the difficulty of conveying nuanced or subtle messages to encourage behavior change. Ultimately, environmental and waste reduction advocates will need to find new, simple ways to help consumers make better decisions for the planet.

Check back every month for more tasty treats from your new BFF! Have a wonderful weekend!