Videos more effective than texts in getting women to take action against breast cancer risks

By | November 18, 2013

The study shows the importance of translating complex scientific information, like recent findings in breast cancer risk research, into information that the average person can understand, and hopefully act upon. This study used the medium of videos as a way to further translate breast cancer risk information beyond simply relying on distilling information through traditional textual means.

"Videos add an element of realness and richness to complicated topics," says the study’s lead author, Evan K. Perrault, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication at Michigan State University in East Lansing. "Videos can show people how to take action, instead of just text that can only tell them how."

The study was based around the creation of a website designed to warn mothers about the potential risks to their daughters in regard to a substance called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which has been linked to increased breast cancer risk. The substance is used in the manufacturing of non-stick and stain-resistant coatings and is found in many household products such as flooring treatments, cookware and furniture.

It has been estimated that environmental factors account for roughly two-thirds of U.S. cancers in the United States, but the extent of risk from any given toxin is extremely difficult to determine. The public health campaign discussed in this study was a precautionary one aimed at eliminating adolescent girls’ exposure to PFOA, although the actual threat from the chemical is unclear. Rapidly replicating breast cells during puberty make this a crucial time period for girls to avoid potential breast cancer risks.

In the study, Perrault and Communication Professor Kami J. Silk of Michigan State University, recruited 197 mothers of young girls and divided them into two groups. The first group, which ended up including 115 women, was told to access a website with seven pages of text information about the potential hazards of PFOA and how to avoid them. The second group of 82 women was directed to another site, which had the same text but also included video clips on four of the pages.

The mothers were recruited using messages posted on Facebook pages of national mothering organizations, from Craigslist postings and via ads in community newsletters. The mothers received an honorarium of $10 for agreeing to view the websites and for completing two post-viewing surveys.

The videos, which were produced by the researchers, included a 30-second spot located on the website’s home page in which a mother discussed her concerns about PFOA. The three other videos included interviews with scientists and footage of the same mother checking items in her household to see if they contained the chemical.

Results from the study indicated that those who viewed the website containing the videos were more inclined to believe their families were susceptible to the effects of PFOA. They also suggested that they could easily make lifestyle changes to avoid exposure to the chemical. In follow-up surveys two weeks after examining the website, those who were shown the video-enhanced website were more likely than those who had viewed the website with only text to have taken a greater number of actions to eliminate PFOA-containing materials from their homes.

"Something as simple as throwing out an old frying pan could potentially have long-lasting benefits for young girls in this window of susceptibility," said Perrault. "Scientists believe that dangerous environmental exposures as young girls may lead to an increased risk of developing breast cancer decades later."

The study also suggested that the most important placement for a video is on a website’s homepage, because audiences are less likely to click through and view materials located further into a site. This is potentially valuable knowledge for public health proponents who want to achieve the greatest impact for their prevention messages.

"Videos can add significant cost to public health campaigns," says Perrault. "Our study indicates that videos are worth it if done right and are properly placed within a website."

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