#ICA20 Top Paper Profile – Jovanova, Lydon-Staley, O’Donnell, Pandey, Parelman, Kang, Bassett, & Falk

Mia Jovanova – First Author

The Communication Science and Biology (CSaB) Interest Group awarded four teams top papers for #ICA20. These full-length papers were selected based on a blinded peer review process. Each paper received exceptionally high scores from three independent reviewers, and all three reviewers recommended accepting the submission. These papers truly reflect the outstanding scholarship in CSaB, and we are pleased to say that all top papers this year feature a trainee as first author. Below, we briefly profile a top paper from Jovanova, Lydon-Staley, O’Donnell, Pandey, Parelman, Kang, Bassett, & Falk. Be sure to check out their presentation at #ICA20!

CSaB: In a few short sentences, what is your study about?

Jovanova et al.: Health communication campaigns aim to tackle unhealthy lifestyle choices to improve health, but not everyone is equally receptive. For example, messages such as “Exercise can lower your risk of heart disease” might inspire some people to exercise, but not others. What makes some people more receptive to health messaging than others?

We looked at brain responses to health messages encouraging physical activity to address this question. Specifically, we examined how brain networks interact during message processing to predict who changes their behavior and who doesn’t. We focused on two brain networks central to how we process information. One, the default mode network, is implicated in how we think about ourselves, our preferences, values, and our understanding of others, among other functions. The other, the salience network, is involved in how we orient our attention to information and in many other functions.

CSaB: What did you discover?

Jovanova et al.: In an fMRI machine, 167 individuals with a sedentary lifestyle viewed messages emphasizing the benefits of physical activity, ways to engage in more exercise, and the risks associated with being inactive. They also wore fitness trackers to monitor their activity the weeks before and after they viewed the messages. We found that individuals whose brains showed more coordinated activity between the default mode network and the salience network were more likely to act on the health messages. That is, individuals with greater integration between these networks became more physically active in the following month, when compared to individuals with less brain network integration.
Interestingly, while people’s brain network patterns in the scanner predicted who would become more physically active in the next month, their own self-reported intentions to increase their activity did not.

CSaB: What are the implications of your research?

Jovanova et al.: This study has several important implications. First, looking at brain network integration from one individual to another can paint a richer picture of how message processing unfolds in the human brain; this helps us understand how the brain works in healthy humans. Second, data about how the brain works can help inform health communication theories about what mental calculations make some people more receptive to messages then others. Third, from a practical perspective, we may be able to better understand and then predict what communication strategies work more effectively for whom. This type of insight could help design more personalized health messaging interventions, and in turn help people make healthier choices.
Participants underwent an fMRI scan viewing health messages promoting physical activity. From the brain scan, we extracted blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) time series from regions of the default mode and the salience networks during message exposure. We next calculated default mode network and salience network integration, and used it to predict changes in physical activity in the month following message exposure, controlling for activity levels prior to message exposure. We measured changes in physical activity using wrist-worn fitness trackers.

CSaB: How can or how does CSaB help you as a scientist?

Jovanova et al.: CSaB provides me with a community of scholars with diverse backgrounds who have similar interests in combining communication science with biology. I am thankful for opportunities to discuss novel ideas, collaborate, and use interdisciplinary science to help make the world a better place.

CSaB: Tell us more about the team!

Mia Jovanova, MA @jovanova_mia
David Lydon-Staley, Ph.D. @DLydonStaley
Matt O’Donnell, Ph.D. @mdbod
Prateekshit Pandey, MA @shitPrateekSays
Jacob Parelman, MA @JM_Parelman
Yoona Kang, Ph.D. 
Dani Bassett, Ph.D. @DaniSBassett
Emily Falk, Ph.D. @falklab

Jovanova, M., Lydon-Staley, D., O’Donnell, M.B., Pandey, P., Parelman J., Kang, Y., Bassett, D.S., Falk, E.B. (2020, May). Default mode and salience brain network integration during messaging predicts health behavior change. The International Communication Association, Communication and Biology division. Virtual conference.