Introducing the 2016 Prize Winners

At our frank gathering, we awarded one $10,000 and three $1,500 prizes for scholarly research that helps inform and advance practice in public interest communications. Below are our winners for 2016:

$10,000 Prize Winner: Troy Campbell

Solution Aversion: On the Relation Between Ideology and Motivated Disbelief

Troy  H. Campbell, University of Oregon
Aaron C. Kay, Duke University

There is often a curious distinction between what the scientific community and the general population believe to be true of dire scientific issues, and this skepticism tends to vary markedly across groups. For instance, in the case of climate change, Republicans (conservatives) are especially skeptical of the relevant science, particularly when they are compared with Democrats (liberals). What causes such radical group differences? We suggest, as have previous accounts, that this phenomenon is often motivated. However, the source of this motivation is not necessarily an aversion to the problem, per se, but an aversion to the solutions associated with the problem. This difference in underlying process holds important implications for understanding, predicting, and influencing motivated skepticism. In 4 studies, we tested this solution aversion explanation for why people are often so divided over evidence and why this divide often occurs so saliently across political party lines.

 Modern psychology currently lacks macro models of motivated cognition that integrate many different motivations (e.g., ideology, identity, terror) and the precise triggers for these motivations (e.g., solutions, implications). Solution aversion is a step toward this end. To test the power of it, we examined it in one of the most politically contentious and arguably most important problems of modern times (environmental degradation, climate change) and an additional domain. This model shows that one must address denial that stems not just from basic fear but from complicated psychological motives such as ideology and identity. It extends theory, but does so in the direction of immediately practical value.

$1,500 Prize Winner: Julia Daisy Fraustino

CDC’s Use of Social Media and Humor in a Risk Campaign – “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse”

Julia Daisy Fraustino, West Virginia University
Liang Ma, University of Maryland

Recent public interest communication initiatives have leveraged social media, humor and pop culture in attempts to grab attention and prompt publics’ attitude and behavior change. However, research must determine whether, how, and to what extent these strategies are effective. This study places a spotlight on defining and evaluating effectiveness of such social change communication strategies surrounding risks and disasters. Using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) award-winning “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse” blog post and emergency-preparedness campaign as an illustration, this research uses mixed methods to assess awareness-based and behavioral-based campaign outcomes.

On one hand, the social-media-driven, humorous, pop-culture-referencing campaign quickly and cost effectively created media buzz, generating new audiences’ attention and awareness about emergency preparedness and the CDC. On the other hand, an experiment tapping into behaviors recommended by the campaign slogan showed that, in comparison to traditional all-hazards messaging, zombie messaging caused significantly lower intentions among viewers. Thus it appears that the strategies (i.e., pop-culture-relevant social-mediated humor) that spawned awareness and new audiences at the same time diminished some people’s likelihood to take recommended actions—a “zombie dilemma” for social change communications.

$1,500 Prize Winner: Jeff Niederdeppe

Inoculation and Narrative Strategies in Competitive Framing of Three Health Policy Issues

Jeff Niederdeppe, Cornell University
Kathryn Heley
Colleen L. Barry

Public debates about three major preventable health issues – obesity, tobacco use, and prescription drug abuse – share several traits, including (1) large industries that promote the use of products linked to these issues and (2) public discourse that places blame on individual users. Powerful industries promoting use of these products (big soda, tobacco and pharmaceutical companies) oppose these policies, outspend health policy advocates in policy debates by a very large margin, and act in the interest of their stakeholders. These interests often run directly counter to public interest in promoting population health and well-being.

This project examines a variety of theory-based message strategies designed to serve the public interest by offsetting resource imbalances in the debate about the pros and cons of regulating the marketing of soda, cigarettes, and prescription painkillers. We develop and test the effectiveness of two message strategies (inoculation and narrative) in promoting these policies through an innovative and rigorous methodology that permits us to examine the immediate and longer-term impact of these messages on public support for health policies, both in isolation and in direct competition with industry anti-policy arguments. This study offers considerable insight into the dynamics and impact of public interest communication under competition.