Real-World Influence from Virtual-World Health Campaigns: How “Virtual Transportation” Might Overcome Message Resistance

BY: Hart Blanton, Department of Communication, Texas A&M University

Dr. Blanton will introduce research conducted in his research laboratory charting “new worlds” for health communicators.  These are the virtual gaming worlds that are heavily populated by adolescent and young adult populations, often targeted by health campaigns.  Their initial work in this area has focused on empirically testing whether it is possible to influence health cognitions by subtly embedding “real world” health communications into the backgrounds of virtual gaming worlds. Their strategy has been to move these messages into immersive 3D gaming scenes in a manner that might increase the perceived realism of the gaming experience (e.g., placing anti-DUI posters on the walls of a virtual DMV office or on billboards placed in the background of virtual cityscapes).  They’ve not only found evidence that we can influence health attitudes and intentions through this approach,  but their studies also suggest that by “transporting” gamers into the immersive virtual gaming worlds that deliver background health communications, they can circumnavigate some of the normal message-resistance tendencies that often undermine health campaigns. They have found similar patterns of results using both violent and non-violent video games to deliver both high-fear and low-fear health messages. Through transportation into gaming worlds, at-risk individuals seem to become open to health-risk prevention messages that they might otherwise resist.  The studies he will present focus mostly on their attempts to influence attitudes towards alcohol-impaired driving, but he will close by discussing the broader range of social and consumer marketing studies they are conducting and the strategies health communicators might pursue to move their campaigns from the real world to the virtual.

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