Health Communication 430
 Changing Health Behavior
Spring 2016


Professor:       Daniel O’Keefe

                        Office: 1-148 Frances Searle Building, Evanston

                        Office hours: 9-10 MW, 1:00-3:00 M, & by appt.

                        Office phone: 847.491.3581




Assistants:      Eduardo Europa


                        Charlotte Ward



Course site: or via



Text (supplementary):  D. O’Keefe, Persuasion: Theory and research (3rd ed., paperback, Sage; ISBN 978-1-4522-7667-0).


Brief course description and tentative outline:  This course provides a general introduction to the social-scientific study of health behavior change through persuasive messages (interventions, treatments). The course covers alternative theoretical accounts of processes underlying health behavior change and discusses research findings concerning the effects of various factors on the effectiveness of health behavior-change messages. The larger purpose of the course is to provide a toolkit for thinking about how to effectively influence health behaviors.


      I.  Introduction

     II.  Theoretical frameworks

            A.  Belief-based models

            B.  Elaboration likelihood model

            C.  Reasoned action theory

            D.  Specialized intention models

            E.  Consistency theories

            F.  Stage models

    III.  Factors influencing message effectiveness

            A.  Communicator factors

            B.  Message factors
            C.  Recipient factors

     IV.  Intervention/campaign design

      V.  Health behavior change: Concluding thoughts



Graded assignments:


One’s course grade is based on four in-class examinations (worth collectively 80% of the course grade) and two short application papers (worth collectively 20% of the course grade).


The four in-class examinations will consist of multiple-choice questions. These will be administered in the first hour of class on exam dates (given separately). Each exam counts for 20% of the course grade. Exams are based on material presented in lecture.


The application papers are short papers (not more than three double-spaced pages) describing applications of course material. Students must submit at least two such papers, but may submit as many as three. (If three are submitted, the two with the better grades will count toward the course grade.) The deadlines for these papers are given separately. Each of the two application papers counts for 10% of the course grade.


It is assumed that examinations will be completed when required and that application papers will be submitted on time. If circumstances will require a rescheduled examination or late paper submission, notify Professor O’Keefe at the earliest possible time. In the absence of appropriate arrangements, a missed examination or paper will receive a failing grade (F).



Some tentative dates of interest: 

Exam #1:  2:00 p.m. Saturday 16 April

Exam #2:  2:00 p.m. Saturday 30 April

Exam #3:  2:00 p.m. Saturday 14 May

Exam #4:  2:00 p.m. Saturday 4 June


Application paper #1: due 2:00 p.m. Saturday 23 April

Application paper #2: due 2:00 p.m. Saturday 7 May

Application paper #3: due 2:00 p.m. Saturday 21 May



Course grades:

One’s course grade will be determined by the weighted average of the grades on the individual assignments. Each assignment will receive a letter grade, with the usual Northwestern numerical equivalents (that is, A = 4.0, A- = 3.7, B+ = 3.3, and so forth).


So, for example, a student who received grades of A-, B+, A, and A- on the four exams (20% each) and grades of B and B- on the two application papers (10% each) would have a course average of 3.51.


(3.7 x .20) + (3.3 x .20) + (4.0 x .20) + (3.7 x .20) + (3.0 x .10) +  (2.7 x .10) = 3.51


To convert the course average into a course grade, the following scale will apply:


                                                course average             course grade

                                                 3.850 and up              A

                                                 3.500 and up              A-

                                                 3.150 and up              B+

                                                 2.850 and up              B

                                                 2.500 and up              B-

                                                 2.150 and up              C+

                                                 1.850 and up              C

                                                 1.350 and up              C-

                                                 0.500 and up              D

                                                 below 0.500               F



So a student with a course average of 3.51 would receive a course grade of A-.


However, before course grades are submitted, the raw scores on the exams are reviewed. If the circumstance is such that having answered correctly just one additional question on just one exam would have yielded a higher course grade, then the higher course grade is given.

Academic dishonesty:


Don’t do it. (If uncertain about what constitutes a violation of Northwestern University’s standards of academic integrity, consult the University web site, e.g., p. 22 of:


Bad things will happen if you do. (These can include a failing grade on the assignment—and worse. Again, see the University web site.)



Accommodations for disabilities:


Any student requesting accommodations related to a disability or other condition is required to register with AccessibleNU (; 847-467-5530) and provide professors with an accommodation notification from AccessibleNU, preferably within the first two weeks of class. All information will remain confidential. For details:



Tentative schedule:


Saturday 2 April

            • introduction

                        supplementary reading: pp. 1-18, 176-187.

            belief-based models of attitude

                        supplementary reading: pp. 56-75.

            • elaboration likelihood model

                        supplementary reading: pp. 148-175.


Saturday 9 April

            • elaboration likelihood model (continued)

                        supplementary reading: pp. 148-175.

            • reasoned action theory

                        supplementary reading: pp. 98-131.


Saturday 16 April

            • exam #1

            • protection motivation theory

                        supplementary reading: pp. 228-229.

            • health belief model

            • consistency theories: balance


Saturday 23 April

            • application paper #1 due

            • consistency theories: cognitive dissonance

                        supplementary reading: pp. 76-97.

            • stage models

                        supplementary reading: pp. 132-147.


Saturday 30 April

            • exam #2

            • communicator factors

                        supplementary reading: pp. 188-213.


Saturday 7 May

            • application paper #2 due

            • message factors

                        supplementary reading: pp. 214-251.


Saturday 14 May

            • exam #3

            • message factors (continued)

                        supplementary reading: pp. 214-251.


Saturday 21 May

            • application paper #3 due

            • recipient factors

                        supplementary reading: pp. 252-267.

            • intervention/campaign design


Saturday 28 May:  no classes


Saturday 4 June

            • exam #4

            • concluding thoughts about health behavior change



Health Comm 430 course home page

Daniel J. O’Keefe home page