Vaping Advertisements, Messaging Grabs Attention of Psych Professor

Dr. Ben Rosenberg, assistant professor of Psychology, is watching the e-cigarette/vaping controversy nationwide with an eye on research as to how interested parties will continue to debate through advertisements and messaging aimed at teenagers.

“The types of campaigns that are often effective in convincing kids not to do something typically do one of three things,” says Dr. Rosenberg, an expert in health behavior and messaging who has conducted research on the restriction of behavioral freedom.

“One, fear appeal ads can be effective — but only under certain circumstances. By themselves, fear appeals are often too over-the-top and unbelievable; kids often write them off, saying that’ll never happen to me.

“Two, most health-related ads tell kids what to do in a directive way, which can threaten their freedom of choice; the result is often that they want to do the behavior even more than they did before.

“Three, ads that poke holes in kids’ perceptions of what’s normal can also be quite effective. These appeals, known as norm-based ads, seek to highlight common misunderstandings and correct them with accurate information. So, ads that can identify what kids think is normal and present what is actually occurring can be quite effective, as they prompt kids to bring their behavior closer in line with what their peers are actually doing.”

While a Ph.D. student at Claremont Graduate University, Dr. Rosenberg worked on a federally-funded research grant focused on evaluating the effectiveness of the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, which featured a series of ads targeting kids’ drug use. The research team was given exclusive access to the ads themselves and an enormous database of questions detailing kids’ perceptions of the ads.

The overall conclusion? “The kids thought they were unrealistic.”

Dr. Rosenberg plans to introduce the e-cigarette/vaping debate to his students. He says his students’ opinions and insights will be essential in determining the different routes researchers should take as it relates to teenagers’ reactions to freedom restriction and what influences them.

“The ideas relate. It’s the same ideas that make an effective campaign for marijuana use,” he says. “I’m trying to stay a step ahead of that by doing research about messages targeting kids before they use before they make the decision on whether to use, how we influence them so they have the proper knowledge and the information they need to make a decision.”

New to the Psychology department in the School of Liberal Arts and Education, Dr. Rosenberg says he likes to use his classroom as a vehicle to link abstract statistical and methodological concepts to real-world examples. In addition, when he taught psychology at Chapman University, he collaborated with as many as eight students on research each semester. Dr. Rosenberg plans to continue this trend at Dominican, as he hopes to begin recruiting student research assistants soon.

Given the small class sizes at Dominican, Dr. Rosenberg feels it’s an ideal learning environment.

“That helps us to be better at our jobs because we have a fuller picture of who the students are,” he says. “Getting to know students and seeing them in class more than once really gives you a chance to actually impact their lives.”

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