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Exploring ‘possible selves’ and communication effects

Neither threats no pleadings can move a man unless they touch some one of his potential or actual selves.” (William James, 1890)

Nori Comello is on a quest to seek that which touches a person’s potential or actual self, and that which may affect health outcomes. Her research focuses on communication, identity and health, and she studies the potential for messages to frame health in terms of valued identities. She also researches the effects of activated identities on behavioral decision-making.

Through her grant-funded tobacco prevention research among Mexican-American youth audiences, Nori studied how anti-drug messages might operate through their impact on social identities. She looked at identity not only as a psychological construct but also as a cultural construct. Both adolescence and identifying as Mexican-American offer different ways of understanding biculturalism. She found that bicultural audiences could present challenges for prevention researchers because of potentially competing views about issues that might be tied to each culture.

After years of studying substance abuse and tobacco prevention, Nori is turning her research gaze in a new direction. A friend’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis led her to participate as an ally in the game SuperBetter, and furthered her interest in health games. She realized she might be able to apply her research on identity to better understand the game experience and the process of working towards health goals. She is again on a quest. This time she hopes her research will inform guidelines for designing games that harness individualized identities.

Nori Comello, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill, and is affiliated with the Interdisciplinary Health Communication program.