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When Public Health Campaigns Warn You, but Your Friends Like to Drink – Connecting Computational Social Science and Neuroscience to Understand Real-World Health Behavior

Project description

Communicating our way to better health

Health communication professionals can play a powerful role in motivating people to eat better, quit smoking, and exercise. Creating an effective campaign – one that encourages long-lasting behaviour changes and improved public health outcomes – is not that easy. Campaigns face tough competition in a crowded media marketplace and need to compete with social trends. The EU-funded TheRealCompetition project will examine how to optimise public health campaigns in the context of health, investigating unhealthy media and peer content on social media. The project will implement a game-changing approach, connecting computational social science and neuroimaging to understand the neuropsychological processes that explain campaign effects.


Malleable unhealthy behaviors excessively burden global societies. Public health media campaigns could offer cost-effective, large-scale interventions, but affect behavior only minimally. To date, health campaigns are optimized to outperform alternative health campaigns in their effects on behavior (e.g. comparing gain to loss-framed messages). Yet, in real life campaigns face other competitors like campaign-related media and peer-produced content. These sources are amplified by popular social media and thus often presented in close proximity to health campaigns. Each source may favor healthy or unhealthy viewpoints, causing health campaign-consistent or -contradictory updates to an individual’s evaluation of a behavior. Ignoring real-world competitors of public health campaigns is a grave oversight that can reduce or even reverse campaign effects on behavior. I seek to understand and optimize public health campaigns in the context of TheRealCompetition, namely healthy and unhealthy media and peer content on social media. This is non-trivial. Self-reporting media exposure and psychological processes underlying media effects overburdens lay participants who struggle to recall and explain how they integrate multiple competing influences on their behavior. In a game-changing interdisciplinary approach, I connect computational social science and neuroimaging to objectively and unobtrusively quantify daily exposure to campaign-related social media content, and understand the neuropsychological processes that explain campaign effects in the context of other sources of influence. Results offer actionable recommendations for practitioners and ecologically validate basic decision-making models. This action brings my unique dual expertise in media effects and neuroscience to Europe, adds computational social science to my skills, and develops my interdisciplinary team leader skills. I will answer novel questions, broaden collaborations, and significantly accelerate my career.


Net EU contribution
€ 175 572,48
Spui 21
1012WX Amsterdam

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West-Nederland Noord-Holland Groot-Amsterdam
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00