Targeting modulates audiences’ brain and behavioral responses to safe sex video ads

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Video ads promoting condom use are a key component of media campaigns to stem the HIV epidemic. Recent neuroimaging studies in the context of smoking cessation, point to personal relevance as one of the key variables that determine the effectiveness of public health messages. While minority men who have sex with men (MSM) are at the highest risk of HIV infection, most safe-sex ads feature predominantly Caucasian actors in heterosexual scenarios. We compared brain respons of 45 African American MSM to safe sex ads that were matched (i.e. ‘Targeted’) to participants’ sexual orientation and race, and ‘Untargeted’ ads that were un matched for these characteristics. Ad recall, perceived ‘convincingness’ and attitudes towards condom use were also assessed. We found that Targeted ads were better remembered than the Untargeted ads but perceived as equally convincing. Targeted ads engaged brain regions involved in self-referential processing and memory, including the amygdala, hippocampus, temporal and medial prefrontal cortices (MPFC) and the precuneus. Connectivity between MPFC and precuneus and middle temporal gyrus was stronger when viewing Targeted ads. Our results suggest that targeting may increase cognitive processing of safe sex ads and justify further prospective studies linking brain response to media public health interventions and clinical outcomes.

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