I am a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University in the Department of Psychology. My research lies at the intersection of social psychology and health. I study the sociocultural forces that shape individuals’ health beliefs and use those insights to inform strategies that encourage healthy behaviors.
I explore these questions in the context of healthy eating and health risk communication. For example, why do many people believe that healthy foods are unappealing, and can we counteract such beliefs to increase healthy choices? Does receiving personalized genetic information actually motivate healthy behaviors, and what are the psychological, behavioral, and physiological consequences of learning one’s risk?
I use diverse methods to answer these questions, including analysis of naturally-occurring language (e.g,. restaurant menu language, social media), field experiments measuring human behavior in real-world dining settings, and randomized experiments in clinical settings measuring physiological processes and blood biomarkers. Take a look at my research and publications pages to learn more about the work that my colleagues and I are doing.
My research has won awards such as the NIH Matilda White Riley Early Stage Investigator Award and the Social Personality Health Network Outstanding Research Award. My findings are published in leading peer-reviewed journals, including Nature Human Behaviour, Psychological Science, JAMA Internal Medicine, and Health Psychology, and featured in popular press outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and NPR.
I earned my PhD in Social Psychology from Stanford University in 2019, where I was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and a Regina Casper Stanford Graduate Fellow. Prior to that, I earned my MS in Biology from Stanford University in 2015 and my BA in Zoology from Ohio Wesleyan University in 2013, where I was a Goldwater Scholar.
Honors & Awards
NIH Matilda White Riley Early Stage Investigator Award, National Institutes of Health (2020)
Outstanding Research Award, Social Personality Health Network (2020)
Graduate Travel Award, Society for Personality & Social Psychology (2018)
Excellence in Teaching Award, Stanford University (2014)
NSF GRFP, National Science Foundation (2014)
Stanford Graduate Fellowship, Stanford University (2013)
Doctor of Philosophy, Stanford University, PSYCH-PHD (2019)
M.S., Stanford University, Biology (2015)
B.A., Ohio Wesleyan University, Zoology (2013)
Alia Crum, Postdoctoral Research Mentor
Current Research and Scholarly Interests
My research lies at the intersection of social psychology and health and is focused on understanding sociocultural forces that shape individuals’ health beliefs and behaviors.
One line of my research explores how we can better motivate healthy eating. I use large, naturally occurring language data (e.g., restaurant menus, social media) to test whether the ways in which healthy foods are portrayed in American culture actually motivate people to want to eat them. I use these insights to design and test novel interventions for increasing peoples’ healthy food choices in real-world settings, such as whether labeling healthy foods with an emphasis on taste and enjoyment increases consumption and enjoyment.
Ongoing and future work in this area includes testing whether popular cultural influences, like movies and celebrity Instagram accounts, depict healthy diets as normative and desirable, and whether restaurant price impacts the extent to which healthy foods are described with appealing words.
Learn more about what my colleagues and I found on my website (bradleyturnwald.com), and why those findings are changing how we think about promoting healthy choices. Also see our Edgy Veggies Toolkit (sparqtools.org/edgyveggies/) for putting these findings into practice in your dining setting.
A second line of my research explores the effects of conveying health risk information such as personal genetic risk information. People now learn about their genetic risks for diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer, and obesity from the comfort of their homes, but does this information actually motivate health behaviors? I use lab experiments in clinical settings to test the psychological, behavioral, and physiological consequences of receiving genetic risk information.
Ongoing work includes investigating affective and acute stress responses to receiving genetic risk information and how processes unfold over time.
Five-Star Prices, Appealing Healthy Item Descriptions? Expensive Restaurants' Descriptive Menu Language
2020; 39 (11): 975–85
Objective: Prior research shows that America's top-selling inexpensive casual dining restaurants use less appealing language to describe healthy menu items than standard items. This may suggest to diners that healthy options are less tasty and enjoyable. The present research asked whether expensive restaurants also use less appealing language to describe healthy items, or whether healthy items are described with equally appealing language as standard items in high status dining contexts. Method: Using Yelp, the name and description of every food item were recorded from the menus of 160 top-rated expensive restaurants across 8 U.S. cities (Nitems = 3,295; Nwords = 32,516). Healthy menu items were defined as salads and side vegetables, and standard items as all other dishes (excluding desserts), with high interrater reliability (K = .89). Descriptive words were categorized into 22 predefined themes, and log likelihood analyses compared normalized theme frequencies from standard item and healthy item descriptions. Results: Healthy items were described with 4.8-times fewer American region words, 2.7-times fewer exciting words, 1.4-times fewer tasty words, and significantly fewer portion size, spicy, artisanal, and foreign region words. Unlike inexpensive restaurants, however, expensive restaurants did not use any health-focused themes to promote healthy items and used several appealing themes more frequently in healthy item descriptions. Conclusions: Like inexpensive restaurants, expensive American restaurants described healthy items as less appealing and less authentically American than standard foods, but to a lesser extent. Implications for ordering behavior and solutions for improving the appeal of healthy menu items are discussed. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).
View details for DOI 10.1037/hea0001025
View details for Web of Science ID 000582383700004
View details for PubMedID 32940527
Increasing Vegetable Intake by Emphasizing Tasty and Enjoyable Attributes: A Randomized Controlled Multisite Intervention for Taste-Focused Labeling.
Healthy food labels tout health benefits, yet most people prioritize tastiness in the moment of food choice. In a preregistered intervention, we tested whether taste-focused labels compared with health-focused labels increased vegetable intake at five university dining halls throughout the United States. Across 137,842 diner decisions, 185 days, and 24 vegetable types, taste-focused labels increased vegetable selection by 29% compared with health-focused labels and by 14% compared with basic labels. Vegetable consumption also increased. Supplementary studies further probed the mediators, moderators, and boundaries of these effects. Increased expectations of a positive taste experience mediated the effect of taste-focused labels on vegetable selection. Moderation tests revealed greater effects in settings that served tastier vegetable recipes. Taste-focused labels outperformed labels that merely contained positive words, fancy words, or lists of ingredients. Together, these studies show that emphasizing tasty and enjoyable attributes increases vegetable intake in real-world settings in which vegetables compete with less healthy options.
View details for DOI 10.1177/0956797619872191
View details for PubMedID 31577177
Learning one's genetic risk changes physiology independent of actual genetic risk
Nature Human Behaviour
2019; 3: 48-56
View details for DOI 10.1038/s41562-018-0483-4
Smart food policy for healthy food labeling: Leading with taste, not healthiness, to shift consumption and enjoyment of healthy foods.
Smart food policy models for improving dietary intake recommend tailoring interventions to people's food preferences. Yet, despite people citing tastiness as their leading concern when making food choices, healthy food labels overwhelmingly emphasize health attributes (e.g., low caloric content, reductions in fat or sugar) rather than tastiness. Here we compared the effects of this traditional health-focused labeling approach to a taste-focused labeling approach on adults' selection and enjoyment of healthy foods. Four field studies (total N = 4273) across several dining settings in northern California in 2016-2017 tested whether changing healthy food labels to emphasize taste and satisfaction rather than nutritional properties would encourage more people to choose them (Studies 1-2), sustain healthy purchases over the long-term (Study 3), and improve both the perceived taste of and mindsets about healthy foods (Study 4). Compared to health-focused labeling, taste-focused labeling increased choice of vegetables (OR = 1.73, 95% CI: 1.32, 2.26), salads (OR = 2.06, 95% CI: 1.06, 4.06), and vegetable wraps (OR = 3.09, 95% CI: 1.73, 5.65) in Studies 1-2. In Study 3, taste-focused labeling sustained vegetarian entree purchases over a two-month period, while health-focused labeling led to a 45.1% decrease. In Study 4, taste-focused labeling significantly enhanced post-consumption ratings of vegetable deliciousness and improved mindsets about the deliciousness of healthy foods compared to health-focused labeling. These studies demonstrate that taste-focused labeling is a low-cost strategy that increased healthy food selection by 38% and outperforms health-focused labeling on multiple smart food policy mechanisms.
View details for PubMedID 30508553
Catechol-O-Methyltransferase moderates effect of stress mindset on affect and cognition
2018; 13 (4): e0195883
There is evidence that altering stress mindset-the belief that stress is enhancing vs. debilitating-can change cognitive, affective and physiological responses to stress. However individual differences in responsiveness to stress mindset manipulations have not been explored. Given the previously established role of catecholamines in both placebo effects and stress, we hypothesized that genetic variation in catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT), an enzyme that metabolizes catecholamines, would moderate responses to an intervention intended to alter participants' mindsets about stress. Participants (N = 107) were exposed to a stress mindset manipulation (videos highlighting either the enhancing or debilitating effects of stress) prior to engaging in a Trier Social Stress task and subsequent cognitive tasks. The associations of the COMT rs4680 polymorphism with the effect of stress mindset video manipulations on cognitive and affective responses were examined. Genetic variation at rs4680 modified the effects of stress mindset on affective and cognitive responses to stress. Individuals homozygous for rs4680 low-activity allele (met/met) were responsive to the stress-is-enhancing mindset manipulation as indicated by greater increases in positive affect, improved cognitive functioning, and happiness bias in response to stress. Conversely, individuals homozygous for the high-activity allele (val/val) were not as responsive to the stress mindset manipulation. These results suggest that responses to stress mindset intervention may vary with COMT genotype. These findings contribute to the understanding of gene by environment interactions for mindset interventions and stress reactivity and therefore warrant further investigations.
View details for PubMedID 29677196
- Selection Does Not Equate Consumption Reply JAMA INTERNAL MEDICINE 2017; 177 (12): 1875–76
Association Between Indulgent Descriptions and Vegetable Consumption: Twisted Carrots and Dynamite Beets.
JAMA internal medicine
View details for PubMedID 28604924
Reading Between the Menu Lines: Are Restaurants' Descriptions of "Healthy" Foods Unappealing?
Health psychology : official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association
As obesity rates continue to climb in America, much of the blame has fallen on the high-calorie meals at popular chain restaurants. Many restaurants have responded by offering "healthy" menu options. Yet menus' descriptions of healthy options may be less attractive than their descriptions of less healthy, standard options. This study examined the hypothesis that the words describing items in healthy menu sections are less appealing than the words describing items in standard menu sections.Menus from the top-selling American casual-dining chain restaurants with dedicated healthy submenus (N = 26) were examined, and the library of words from health-labeled items (N = 5,873) was compared to that from standard menu items (N = 38,343) across 22 qualitative themes (e.g., taste, texture).Log-likelihood ratios revealed that restaurants described healthy items with significantly less appealing themes and significantly more health-related themes. Specifically, healthy items were described as less exciting, fun, traditional, American regional, textured, provocative, spicy hot, artisanal, tasty, and indulgent than standard menu items, but were described with significantly more foreign, fresh, simple, macronutrient, deprivation, thinness, and nutritious words.Describing the most nutritious menu options in less appealing terms may perpetuate beliefs that healthy foods are not flavorful or indulgent, and may undermine customers' choice of healthier dining options. From a public health perspective, incorporating more appealing descriptive language to boost the appeal of nutritious foods may be one avenue to improve dietary health. (PsycINFO Database Record
View details for PubMedID 28541069