Study will develop and test messages that empower college students to take action, even when alcohol is involved
ATLANTA – Alcohol use increases the risk of sexual violence, research has shown, while also reducing the likelihood that bystanders will intervene.
To address this dangerous combination, a team of researchers at Georgia State University will develop and test social media messages that seek to empower bystanders to take action to prevent sexual assault. Their two-year project—which will incorporate focus groups, eye-tracking technology and a randomized trail—is funded by a $409,000 grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
“We know that alcohol is a major risk factor for sexual violence victimization and perpetration, and it’s also been shown to decrease the likelihood of bystander intervention,” said principal investigator Anne Marie Schipani-McLaughlin, a Research Assistant Professor in the School of Public Health’s Department of Health Policy and Behavioral Sciences. “The social media messages that will be developed through this project are designed to overcome the barriers of alcohol on bystander intervention so that students will be more likely to intervene.”
She noted that approximately 84% of college-aged adults use social media, making it an ideal medium to reach students with messages that promote healthy behaviors. The messages that Schipani-McLaughlin and her team are developing seek to help college students better identify sexual violence risk situations in settings where alcohol is involved and to educate them on how to intervene safely and effectively, even if they are drinking or intoxicated. Common tactics include scanning the room to identify unsafe situations and separating the person at risk from the potential perpetrator.
Schipani-McLaughlin and her team will develop digital media messages—ranging from text-only content to short videos—targeted specifically at college students who engage in binge drinking and then systematically examine their effectiveness. To help inform the development of the messages, the team will conduct focus groups with college students who engage in binge drinking and assess their attention to the messages using eye-tracking technology.
After the messages are developed and refined, they will be tested in pilot study that randomly assigns students to receive the targeted social media messages or placebo messages. Schipani-McLaughlin said the messages will be disseminated through Instagram because the platform is commonly used by college-aged students, but that the messages have the potential to be used on other social media platforms, as well.
“This project is really focused on developing messages in a data driven way, implementing them in a social media intervention and testing them in a randomized trial,” Schipani-McLaughlin said. “Ultimately, it has the potential to be implemented in a variety of settings, either at the college or university level or within groups like sororities and fraternities.”
Schipani-McLaughlin’s co-investigators on the project are:
- Karen Nielsen, Assistant Professor, Department of Population Health Sciences, GSU School of Public Health
- Laura Salazar, Professor, Department of Health Policy and Behavioral Sciences, GSU School of Public Health; and
- Erin Tone, Professor, Department of Psychology, GSU College of Arts and Sciences
Research reported in this news release was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health under award number 1R21AA030385-01A1. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
Writer: Sam Fahmy, [email protected]
Anne Marie Schipani-McLaughlin
Research Assistant Professor
Department of Health Policy and Behavioral Sciences
School of Public Health
Anne Marie Schipani-McLaughlin, PhD, MPH is a Research Assistant Professor at the Georgia State University School of Public Health in the Department of Health Policy and Behavioral Sciences. She is affiliated with the Center for Research on Interpersonal Violence and the Urban Drivers for Resilient Youth (ResY) Initiative. Her research focuses on developing and evaluating eHealth and technology-based interventions addressing alcohol use and interpersonal violence across levels of the socio-ecological model, with a focus on alcohol use and bystander intervention. Schipani-McLaughlin’s research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and Office of Population Affairs.