Bettinghaus Endowed Lecture welcomes Jeff Niederdeppe

There are potential health risks to political advertising, according to research and an accompanying talk from Jeff Niederdeppe, professor and director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Communication at Cornell University.

He spoke at the annual Bettinghaus Endowed Lecture on Nov. 12.

The lecture, which is held each year and is co-sponsored with the Department of Communication, was part of the Health & Risk Communication Center’s, second annual Day of Innovation at the College of Communication Arts and Sciences.

“Dr. Niederdeppe was a natural choice for the Bettinghaus Endowed Lecture,” said Maria Lapinski, HRCC director and professor in the Department of Communication and Michigan AgBioResearch. “He does cutting-edge research on health, environment, and risk communication and persuasion. Importantly, he finds ways to move that work into the hands of people who can use it. Dr. Niederdeppe epitomizes the spirit of the lecture which honors former ComArtSci Dean Erv Bettinghaus -- a phenomenal researcher and leader who influenced generations of scholars.”

Niederdeppe gave the talk, “Exploring the (Many) Ways that Political Communication May Be Making Us Sick.” 

“In this talk, I tried to call attention to less understood ways that political advertising, as a ubiquitous form of political communication, may have consequences for health and well-being,” Niederdeppe said, who also is the director of Cornell’s Health Communication Research Initiative and co-director of the Cornell Center for Health Equity.

He focuses on three key areas: the way political candidates talk about (or ignore) problems that influence health in the U.S.; if targeted political ads actually address the health concerns of communities in which they are located; and the negative effects of “meta” messaging in political advertising.

“So, all of those things accumulate, and each have potential to make us sick,” he said.

He highlights research that says in the last 12 months, the more political advertising one sees, the more likely they are to visit a doctor for depression or anxiety, no matter their political affiliation or the political party of the candidates featured in the ads.

What can be done to help curb these negative effects?

Niederdeppe points to encouraging the general public to be aware of these kinds of political advertising messages, but more importantly, change can happen with policy, he says. Things like FCC regulation of the messaging, revisiting campaign finance reform, and working with health care providers to ensure staffing and awareness of effective coping strategies during the political seasons.

Niederdeppe says he appreciates that studying political advertising and its health impacts utilizes different disciplines – beyond just health communication – because it strengthens the research.

“Our [research] team has people with expertise in health and political communication, but also economics, psychology, sociology, political science, health policy. Looking at this issue from a broad interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary lens has certainly made the work better,” he said.

By Jennifer Trenkamp