Your New BFF: Brain Food Fridays

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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 mediated contact theory, farmers fighting climate change on TikTok, Black American media consumption, countering misinformation, and the myth that America is full of sports fanatics.

Putting Mediated Contact Theory to the Test — Patrick Corrigan’s contact theory has served as the basis for countless public health campaigns and interventions. Researchers at Ohio State University recently delved into mediated contact theory, which was the basis of SAMHSA’s Voice Awards. Rather than direct contact, mediated contact theory exposes audiences to groups through media, including television and films. They asked research participants to watch one of three episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, focusing on depression, cancer and schizophrenia. The viewers ultimately identified best with the storylines depicting depression — the most prevalent illness of the three. The study suggests that mediated contact theory works best when the audience already has exposure to a particular illness. While there’s still research to pursue in this area, the findings are promising for continued efforts to reduce self-stigma and encourage help-seeking behaviors.

Farmers as Climate Educators, TikTok Edition — Farmers are using TikTok to grow something new — empathy. In a study from Penn State University, researchers analyzed responses to videos that have been posted by farmers about climate change. When farmers demonstrated their own commitment to climate-friendly practices, viewers showed emotional empathy and engaged in civil dialogue with the posts. The study authors believe that these reactions come from an innate shared values system about farming, food production and rural life. Videos that were more entertaining tended to elicit cognitive empathy, which involves critical thinking and is necessary to move toward support and behavior change.

Despite Super Bowl Ratings, Most U.S. Adults Don’t Closely Follow Sports — As you wade through a sea of football jerseys on your weekend errands, consider a new Pew Research Center study that shows more than 60% of Americans don’t closely follow professional or college sports — or even talk about them. In particular, younger Americans, women and those with lower incomes are less likely to follow sports, and nearly 40% of adults say they don’t follow any sports. Survey respondents cited lack of interest as the top reason for their disengagement, while more than half of adults said sports get too much attention in society. Given that sports promotions and partnerships are a common communications tactic, it’s important to figure out whether your target audience is engaged enough to make the effort worthwhile.

Understanding Black Americans’ Relationship with Local News — Following previous research showing that Black Americans are more likely than members of other racial and ethnic groups to closely follow local news, a recent Pew Research Center study confirms that local news is still a key information source for Black Americans. Overall, 41% of Black adults say they get news and information from local news outlets extremely or fairly often. This is slightly higher than the shares who say the same about national news outlets (35%), social media sites (35%), or friends, family and acquaintances (33%). A majority (58%) of Black Americans perceive local journalists as being in touch with their community, and they overwhelmingly find local news coverage fair (44% fair vs. 12% unfair). Older Black adults and those residing in predominantly Black communities are the most likely to engage with local news. Overall, Black Americans express a more positive outlook on local journalism and news coverage, which correlates with their sense of attachment to their local community and trust in local news outlets.

Is Interactive Data the Way to Counter Misinformation? — A recent study from Lehigh University explores the power of interactive data visualization in increasing understanding and engagement of content. Presenting data interactively led to more effective information recognition and recall compared to traditional text descriptions or static visualizations. This approach can play a pivotal role in mitigating misinformation and enhancing transparency. By presenting data in an interactive format, readers can systematically process numerical information, enhancing their understanding and engagement. This could be an invaluable strategy for communicators seeking to raise credibility and trust with the public.

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