Recent developments in cognitive science present researchers with new opportunities for explaining risky behavior (such as drinking and driving) and identifying mechanisms for engendering behavioral change. This is important as there is little evidence to suggest that commonly used intervention strategies-public information and education-alone effectively reduce risk, particularly when audiences perceive benefits to continuing the risky behavior. Public information may often fall short in changing behavior because the risk information fails to translate into subjective risk perception. One possible impediment to this translation is that didactic information affects cognition at the explicit level whereas behavioral choice is heavily influenced by cognition operating on the implicit level. A second possible impediment is that under certain in vivo motivational conditions, recipients of risk information engage in cognitive responding to mitigate the influence of that risk information. A third possible impediment is messages that fail to engage affective responses, that is, they may fail to make recipients feel at risk. Finally, regarding risky drinking specifically, alcohol consumption has been found to influence what information people attend to in forming judgments and making decisions. Thus, the act of drinking might impede the use of risk information in deciding whether to drink and drive. This application describes an ambitious series of studies. The research first will demonstrate that the subtle manipulation of subjects'goals (represented as implicit cognitive structures) can temporarily alter attitudes towards alcohol and self-reported drinking-and-driving intentions. Second, the research will show that alcohol consumption (via the phenomenon of alcohol myopia) exacerbates the effect of cognitive manipulation. Thus, subtly priming the goal of safety should reduce drinking-and-driving intentions, particularly for individuals who have been dosed with alcohol. Third, the research will show that communicating risk information through implicit methods (versus explicit methods) circumvents cognitive response strategies that people use to resist persuasive influence. Finally, the research will demonstrate that the impact of risk information is significanly greater when participants are led to misattribute emotional responses to the message information.

Public Health Relevance

Alcohol contributes to an estimated 13,000 traffic fatalities and hundreds of thousands of injuries in the United States each year. Unfortunately, the most widely used strategies-education and public-information programs - for reducing drinking and driving and risky drinking in general have demonstrated little effect. The research proposed in this application applies recent developments in cognitive science to understand why risk information often translates into risk perceptions and how to overcome these impediments to engender healthful behavioral change. The research may identify new approaches for developing effective, real-world strategies that will change drinking and driving.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Research Project (R01)
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Risk, Prevention and Intervention for Addictions Study Section (RPIA)
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Witt, Ellen
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Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation
United States
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