Symposium Speakers 2017

Dolores Albarracín (University of Illinois)
Biographical Sketch

Dr. Dolores Albarracín, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she specializes in the study of attitudes and persuasion, intention-behavior relation, goals, predicting general activity patterns, predicting and changing health risk behaviors, and reviewing the effects of behavioral and clinical treatments. Dr. Albarracín conducts much of her research at the Social Action Lab at the University of Illinois, where she studies social cognition, attitude and belief formation, motivational processes in attitude and behavior change, cognitive processes, and applications of social cognition. She and her colleagues take an interdisciplinary approach to understand the mechanisms that explain thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors, and use a range of methods, including self-report, Internet research, behavioral observation, meta-analysis, and physiological recordings. One of her first lines of research examined the sequence of cognitive and motivational events that mediate the impact of persuasive communication on attitudes and behavior. Her most recent research has investigated how people form specific attitudes and goals based on fragmentary social information and thoughts. Early results have concluded that the way people think often has little resemblance to the measures of attitudes, beliefs, or intentions normally used in research. Dr. Albarracín is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards and has published her work extensively. She has co-edited two books, including the Handbook of Attitudes, which has become a source of reference with national and international reach. She is currently editing the second edition of the Handbook of Attitudes, and a new volume titled Handbook of Attitudes: Applied. She is a fellow of the Society for Experimental Social Psychology, the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, the American Psychological Association, and the Association for Psychological Science. She is currently Editor of Psychological Bulletin.

Actionable communications and interventions to change behavior: Cognitive and motivational processes and implications for practice

In my own work, I have asked a number of questions that I believe are central to our understanding of behavior, attitudes, intentions and goals as a function of personal and situational factors. A question addressed in my research is how much behaviors change and how they change. Specifically, I will discuss how asking new questions in subtle ways shapes our behavior. I will then describe how, ironically, behavior change can depend on people feeling strong enough to seek information that counters prior practices, how external information produces more behavior change when it is actionable, and how changes in behavior align with persuasive communications presented online and in real life.

Chloe Bird (RAND)
Biographical Sketch

Chloe E. Bird, PhD, is a Senior Sociologist at RAND, Professor of Policy Analysis at Pardee RAND Graduate School, Senior Advisor in the NIH Office for Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) and Editor of the journal Women’s Health Issues.  Her work focuses on assessing and addressing sex and gender differences in health and health care and working to improve the science on women’s health by increasing women’s representation as subjects in research and increasing the use of gender-based analysis to assess the extent to which research findings apply to women as well as men. Much of her research examines social and biological determinants of differences in men’s and women’s health and health care, including neighborhood effects.  Her current work includes assessing and mapping gender differences in health and mortality and in quality of care for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Her book, Gender and Health: The Effects of Constrained Choice and Social Policies integrates social and biological models to improve understanding of how differences in men’s and women’s lives contribute to differences in their health. This work expands the study of health and health disparities by shedding light on the how decision makers including employers and policy makers shape men’s and women’s opportunities to purse a healthy life, and emphasizes the need for research to inform these decisions. Dr. Bird is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the American Association of Health Behavior. She is also past chair of two sections of the American Sociological Association: the Medical Sociology Section and the Section on Sociological Practice and Public Sociology.


Insights on Addressing Social Psychological and Social Structural Impediments to Behavioral Change: The Case of Cisgender Women Newly Diagnosed with HIV

In the United States, to receive a diagnosis of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is to be expected to embark on a lifelong course of medical, lifestyle and interpersonal change. To preserve their health, people with HIV are expected to take daily medication, remain in medical care for HIV and get screened and treated for other co-occurring health problems, to develop and/or maintain a healthy lifestyle and to cope with the ongoing stigma and social isolation associated with the diagnosis. However, a wide array of social-psychological and social-structural barriers impend patients’ efforts to maintain these changes. Indeed, within the United State, only an estimated 25% of people with HIV are in care and maintain an undetectable viral load. In addition, cisgender women with HIV have significantly lower life expectancy than do cisgender men. An intersectionally-informed constrained choice approach allows us to systematically examine how decisions made and actions taken at the levels of family, work, community, and government can create barriers to change for cisgender women with HIV and how these barriers can be successfully remedied through local and state and federal policies.

Stephen Higgins (University of Vermont)
Biographical Sketch

Stephen T. Higgins, Ph.D., is Director of the University of Vermont’s (UVM) Center on Behavior and Health, and Principle Investigator on five NIH grants on the general topic of behavior and health, including two center grants, two research grants, and an institutional training award. He is the Virginia H. Donaldson Endowed Professor of Translational Science in the Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology and serves as Vice Chair of Psychiatry. He has held many national scientific leadership positions, including terms as President of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence and the American Psychological Association’s Division on Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse. He is the author of more than 300 journal articles and invited book chapters and editor of a dozen volumes and therapist manuals in the area of behavior and health.


Tobacco Control and Regulatory Science Research on Motivating Behavior Change in Vulnerable Populations

U.S. population health lags far behind most other developed countries. Expert consensus identifies the domain of personal behavior (i.e., lifestyle) as the largest contributor to this pattern and the area where there is the greatest opportunity for producing meaningful improvements. Cigarette smoking stands out as the greatest preventable cause of poor health and premature death in developed countries being responsible for 480,000 annual deaths in the U.S. and 5,000,000 globally—and increases U.S. direct medical care costs by $170 billion annually. While there has been tremendous progress in reducing smoking since the landmark 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, the gains have been unevenly distributed. Smoking remains quite prevalent in socioeconomically disadvantaged groups, those with substance use or other psychiatric disorders, and certain racial/ethnic minority and gender/sexual minority groups. Reducing smoking in these vulnerable populations is going to require multi-faceted and innovative tobacco and regulatory science efforts. I will review progress and challenges in this topic area.

George Koob (NIAAA)
Biographical Sketch

George F. Koob, Ph.D., is an internationally-recognized expert on alcohol and stress, and the neurobiology of alcohol and drug addiction. He is the Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), where he provides leadership in the national effort to reduce the public health burden associated with alcohol misuse.

Dr. Koob earned his doctorate in Behavioral Physiology from Johns Hopkins University in 1972. He was a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Experimental Psychology and the MRC Neuropharmacology Unit at the University of Cambridge. Dr. Koob began his career investigating the neurobiology of emotion, particularly how the brain processes reward and stress. He subsequently applied basic research on emotions, including on the anatomical and neurochemical underpinnings of emotional function, to alcohol and drug addiction. Dr. Koob has authored more than 650 peer-reviewed scientific papers. He is the recipient of many prestigious honors and awards recognizing his contributions to research, mentorship, and international scientific collaboration. He was recently honored by the government of France with the insignia of Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honor) for developing scientific collaborations between France and the United States.


Motivating Change in Addiction Via Modulation of the Dark Side of Addiction

Addiction is a chronically relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking that is hypothesized to derive from multiple sources of motivational dysregulation. The construct of negative reinforcement, defined as drug taking that alleviates a negative emotional state that is created by drug abstinence, is particularly relevant as a driving force in both the withdrawal/negative affect and preoccupation/anticipation stages of the addiction cycle. This shift in motivation to negative reinforcement is termed the “dark side of addiction”, and is hypothesized to reflect an allostatic misregulation of hedonic tone such that drug taking makes the hedonic negative emotional state worse during the process of seeking temporary relief via compulsive drug taking. In animal models, repeated overstimulation of the reward system with drugs of abuse results in behavioral changes such as increased reward thresholds, decreased pain thresholds, anxiety-like and dysphoric-like responses that presumably reflect negative emotional -like states. Such negative emotional states that drive such negative reinforcement are hypothesized to derive from “within system” dysregulation of key neurochemical circuits that mediate incentive-salience/reward systems (dopamine, opioid peptides) in the ventral striatum and from the” between system” recruitment of brain stress systems (corticotropin-releasing factor, dynorphin, norepinephrine, hypocretin, vasopressin, glucocorticoids and neuroimmune factors) within or projecting to the extended amygdala. Excessive drug taking is also accompanied by deficits in executive function produced by neurocircuitry dysfunction in the medial prefrontal cortex that may facilitate the transition to compulsive-like responding and relapse. Thus, compelling evidence exists to argue that plasticity in the brain emotional systems is triggered by acute excessive drug intake, is sensitized during the development of compulsive drug taking with repeated withdrawal, persists into protracted abstinence, and contributes to the development and persistence of compulsive drug seeking.

Greg Madden (Utah State University)
Biographical Sketch

Dr. Madden is a professor in the Department of Psychology at Utah State University. He received his BS in psychology and MS in behavioral analysis from University of North Texas, followed by a Ph.D. from West Virginia University in 1995.  In 1998 he completed a post-doctoral research fellowship in behavioral economics at the University of Vermont.  His primary area of research is in behavioral economics and impulsive decision-making; particular. His delay-discounting research has been foundational in documenting the relation between impulsivity and drug dependence in humans and that impulsivity in rodents is predictive of acquisition of cocaine self-administration. Recent research has investigated methods for producing trait-like changes in impulsive choice.  In addition to his laboratory research, for the last 5 years he has collaborated on behavioral-economic research designed to improve healthy eating in elementary schools. With funding from the USDA his research group developed the FIT Game, a game-based intervention that uses virtual instead of tangible rewards to incentivize fruits and vegetable consumption in elementary students.  Dr. Madden was the G. Stanley Hall Lecturer for the American Psychological Association in 2011 and is a fellow of the Association for Behavioral Analysis International.  His work has been extensively funded by NIDA and the USDA.


It’s All Lunch & Games:  Increasing Healthy Eating in Elementary Schools

Most children know vegetables are good for them but, like most adults, they eat them infrequently. Behavioral-economic models of decision-making offer explanations and suggest interventions for addressing this deficit in vegetable consumption: Improve their taste, reduce their costs, eliminate substitutes, and incentivize their consumption. Evidence for and against each of these interventions will be reviewed, with the bulk of the research having focused on incentives in elementary schools. Generally speaking, incentives work, but they are not without their drawbacks: Tangible incentives are costly, they must be managed by teachers, they can induce children to cheat, and parents and educators often object to paying children to engage in self-interested acts. Our research group has developed a cooperative game in which healthy eating in the school cafeteria is tied to virtual outcomes within the game’s narrative. The advantages of this approach are a) virtual rewards are far cheaper than tangible incentives, b) the cooperative nature of the game nearly eliminates cheating and management expenses, and c) parents and teachers don’t detect (and, therefore, don’t object to) the pay-for-performance nature of the game. The efficacy of this “FIT Game” will be reviewed, as will remaining challenges. Thoughts on combining the Game with other behavioral-economic interventions, with the goal of long-term behavior change, will be discussed.

Connie Roser-Renouf (George Mason University)
Biographical Sketch

Connie Roser-Renouf is an Associate Research Professor at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University. Her research focuses on understanding how diverse audiences use, interpret and respond to information on climate change. The objective of this work is to identify effective communication strategies that inform and engage the public, while contributing to the theoretical literature on science communication, risk communication and social marketing.

Since 2008, Dr. Roser-Renouf has served as Co-Principal Investigator of the Yale/George Mason University Climate Change in the American Mind audience research program, which tracks public opinion about climate change. She has previously held positions at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Denver. Dr. Roser-Renouf earned her PhD in Communication Research at Stanford University in 1986.


Strategic Communication, Public Opinion, and Climate Change: A Program of Translational Research to Build Public Engagement with a Contested Threat

The Center for Climate Change Communication was established to advance societal action on climate change through audience research, message testing, and the application of theories in science and risk communication. In this talk, we will review the center’s three-pronged research program to: (1) illuminate public understanding of and engagement with climate change; (2) identify messages and strategies that enhance public engagement; and (3) implement these strategies in collaboration with credible, trusted sources.  In short, we have been engaged in a notable translational research enterprise.

The first prong of this work is grounded in bi-annual, nationally-representative surveys, conducted in collaboration with colleagues at Yale to assess climate change-related beliefs, attitudes, values, policy preferences and behaviors. The surveys have been used to identify six distinct segments of the American public, Global Warming’s Six Americas, that differ in their informational needs, ability and motivation to process information on climate change, and propensity for motivated reasoning.

The second prong entails experimental research. We have, for example, shown that understanding of the scientific consensus on climate change is a gateway belief that foster other key beliefs – i.e., the climate change is real, harmful, human-caused, and solvable. Additional experiments on consensus communication have shown that audiences can be inoculated against disinformation on the issue.

In the third prong of our research program, we have been engaging new, credible voices on climate change to reach disengaged and skeptical segments of the public. These include conservative elites who accept the science of climate change; TV weathercasters who are interested in discussing local impacts of climate change in their broadcasts; and medical societies that are training doctors in public out-reach.

Over the past two years, public acceptance of and concern about climate change has been growing steadily in the U.S. Prospects for the coming years are uncertain, however, and new strategies and messages will be needed. Recognizing that climate change represents a major threat to the health and well-being of all species, including humans, we look forward to discussing how to advance the public conversation on the issue in the coming years.