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Study Finds Mass Media Campaigns Alone Can Effectively Reduce High-Risk Sexual Behavior Among Impulsive, Sensation-Seeking Young Adults

LEXINGTON, Ky., April 3, 2008 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Targeted mass media campaigns alone can be effective in convincing high sensation-seeking, impulsive decision-making young adults to adopt safer sex practices, according to a study conducted by the Department of Communication at the University of Kentucky with funding from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Past public health campaigns, particularly those promoting healthy behaviors, were rarely successful unless coupled with other interventions. But this study indicates that mass media campaigns can be successful alone, at least in the short-term, as long as well-documented principles -- such as formative research on the target audience and audience segmentation -- are followed.

"This study's findings suggest what we have long suspected and that other smaller studies have found -- that mass media campaigns crafted from sophisticated design principles can be effective in changing health behaviors, at least in the short-term, and that a reoccurring campaign presence may be necessary to sustain these safe behaviors," said Rick Zimmerman, Ph.D., lead researcher of the study and a Center Director in Louisville, KY for the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. Philip Palmgreen, Ph.D., Professor of Communication at the University of Kentucky, was the co-principal investigator on the study.

"The implications from this study are valuable for the public health community because it shows that when used properly, media alone can have significant, positive impacts on health-related attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors."

The 21-month-long study assessed the impact of a televised public service announcement (PSA) campaign on changing safer sex beliefs and behaviors. Specifically, the study found that the campaign effectively increased condom use among high-risk young adults, on average, by 13 percent. Similar effects were found on intentions to use condoms in the future and in perceived ability to use condoms. Impact analysis suggests that the campaign may have resulted in 181,224 fewer unprotected intercourse occasions among the targeted population than would have normally occurred without exposure to the PSAs.

The study compared the effects of the campaign that aired on television over a three-month period targeting high sensation-seeking, impulsive decision-making young adults in Lexington, KY with an identical group in Knoxville, TN not exposed to a campaign. Both are moderate-sized cities with similar demographics.

"High sensation-seekers and impulsive decision-makers were surveyed for the study because of their proclivity for engaging in risky behaviors. The characteristics of high-sensation-value messages provide practitioners with useful guidelines for developing effective and persuasive health-related messages and placing them in appropriate channels," said Zimmerman.

The campaign's success is attributable to formative research used to develop and test campaign messages. More than 40 sets of focus groups were used to gain a better understanding of sexual risk taking and to pretest messages aimed at educating young adults on the risks of unhealthy sexual behavior.

Data were collected 8 months before the three-month campaign was conducted and for 10 months after the campaign ended--between May 2002 and January 2004.

For more information or to obtain a copy of the published report, contact Chris Stoughton at (301) 755-2773 or Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation is dedicated to merging scientific knowledge and proven practice to create solutions that improve the health, safety, and well-being of individuals, communities, nations and the world. The Institute has a significant national presence in the area of prevention, with funded research projects at its ten research centers located around the country.

SOURCE Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation
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