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When it comes to public service announcements, we’re pretty used to being told what to do, and what not to do.  But there’s one problem with this:  We hate it.

In collaborating with colleagues Dr. Ross Buck and Sara Picklesimer at the University of Connecticut, I’m working on a project that might alleviate this issue.  We call it TEEMs: Targeted Emotional Education Modules – or put simply, narratives about critical health and behavioral issues that focus not on what to do, but rather on how you can expect to feel if you choose to engage in a certain course of action.

TEEMs consist of stories where an individual describes an event (such as engaging in unprotected sex, or getting into an accident while texting and driving) and the emotions he or she felt while going through the event.  In preliminary studies, TEEMs have shown promise in prompting changes in viewers’ behavioral intentions.  So far, our implementations have involved constructing a texting-and-driving story framed as a popular AskReddit discussion from the web site reddit.com, and portraying a story about unprotected sex as a scene from an upcoming independent feature film.  Future studies will tackle more subjects through different formats, in an attempt to find the best mix of content, medium, and emotion to help people make better decisions going forward.

It sure beats being told what to do.