Emily Falk receives NIH Director’s New Innovator Award

September 13, 2012
Emily Falk

Emily Falk. Photo by Martin Vloet/Michigan Photography

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Emily Falk, a faculty associate at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR), has received the 2012 National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award. This prestigious honor, which awards up to $1.5 million for five years, stimulates innovative research and supports promising new investigators.

Falk’s research uses brain activity to forecast the success of large-scale health campaigns.  She is one of two U-M researchers and among 51 total to receive the award, which was established in 2007.  It supports investigators who are within 10 years of their terminal degree or clinical residency, but who have not yet received a Research Project Grant (R01) or equivalent NIH grant, to conduct exceptionally innovative research.

Falk, who is also an assistant professor of communication studies at the U-M College of Literature, Science and the Arts, said her goal is to design communications that improve population health. Poor diet, lack of exercise, and tobacco and alcohol consumption are leading causes of morbidity and mortality, both in the United States and throughout the developed world. Falk’s lab has found that the brain can predict behaviors better than people’s own intentions.  She will now use neuroscience methods to improve the design and selection of large-scale health campaigns targeting these kinds of behaviors.

The lab’s research will identify the neural patterns triggered by health campaigns that are successful at changing people’s behavior and will use these maps to forecast the success of new campaigns before they are launched. People are notoriously bad at knowing what will persuade them, but the brain may be able to pick out winning messages much more accurately than has been possible in the past. This could ultimately lead to less cancer, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.

“Mass communication has profound effects on society — the next five years will unlock new insights about how we can maximize the impact of health campaigns,” Falk said. “This honor validates our lab’s core mission.”

Watch a video about Falk’s research below:

— Contributed by Jared Wadley, U-M News Service.

Contact: Jared Wadley, jwadley@umich.edu, (734) 936-7819