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Julie Downs - Carnegie Mellon University. Pittsburgh, PA, US

Julie Downs

Professor | Carnegie Mellon University


Julie Downs studies social influences on decisions, particularly the impact of social norms.


Julie S. Downs, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Psychology and Decision Science, and is director of the Center for Risk Perception and Communication. She has served on the editorial board of Psychological Science, as associate editor at Developmental Review, on numerous grant review panels for the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation, and on the institutional review boards at CMU and at Disney Research.

Dr. Downs studies social influences on decisions, particularly the impact of social norms, with the goal of helping people improve their decisions and outcomes. She has created behavioral interventions that have been shown in scientific studies to change behavior and have gained wide use in real-world settings. Her research focuses on domains involving risky behavior, including adolescent sexual decision making, choices about food, behaviors relating to trust and privacy online, vaccination, and other settings. Her research has been published in psychological, economic, public policy and medical journals, and her interventions have won numerous awards including two Platinum Remi Awards at the Houston Worldfest International Film Festival, as well as multiple Aurora Awards, Telly Awards, and others.

Areas of Expertise (5)

Social Norms

Decisions Processes

Public Policy

Social Psychology

Judgement and Decision Making

Media Appearances (5)

Insight: Costs of going unvaccinated in America are mounting for workers and companies

Reuters  online


“The subset of the population that is really anti-COVID vaccine, ready to quit jobs or test in order to go to work, is now pretty hardened,” said Julie Downs, a social psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

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Vaccinating Kids Has Never Been Easy

The Atlantic  online


Still, political polarization doesn’t entirely account for the low COVID vaccination rates in children. A good number of parents whose kids are unvaccinated are not opposed: They are planning to vaccinate their kids, or they want to wait and see. And while mandates can work, they can also push people away. “Once you go down the mandate road, you’re sort of making the persuasion road a little rockier,” says Julie Downs, a psychologist and behavioral scientist at Carnegie Mellon. “So maybe we do want to go down the persuasion road with kids a little bit before we get to the mandate mode.” Perhaps, in time, as COVID fades from the headlines, Landrum told me, vaccines might not provoke the same strong feelings. They might become less politicized, less partisan, and more routine.

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Politicians Say It’s Time to Live With Covid. Are You Ready?

Wired  online


After all, it’s hard to ignore that Covid is still very much here. Life is inherently risky. Common activities—such as crossing the street or driving a car—all carry risk. But the stakes are higher now for many everyday activities. Before the pandemic, the biggest risk of a trip to the pub was the next day’s hangover. Now, it’s catching a virus. “What I think is hard now is that people kind of want to say, ‘Well, when is it safe? When is it going to come back to the point of being safe?’” says Julie Downs, a social psychologist who researches risk perception at Carnegie Mellon University. But 100 percent safety against Covid might never arrive.

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Mixed emotions as Canadians receive their COVID-19 vaccine

Globe and Mail  online


There are also more scientific reasons for a feeling of letdown in vaccine recipients, said Julie Downs, a professor of social psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh (who received her second dose two weeks ago and feels pretty good about it).

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How traffic-light signals could help fight obesity: Red, amber and green warnings on menus 'slash the number of calories a person consumes by 10%'

Daily Mail  online


Dr Julie Downs, associate professor of social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, said:' We are looking for more and better ways to help people make decisions about the food that they eat, to help them better understand the nutritional content so that they can use that information when they make choices.'

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Julie Downs Publication




Dr  Julie S  Downs, Carnegie Mellon University


Industry Expertise (2)



Accomplishments (3)

Platinum Remi Award (professional)

2013 Houston Worldfest (for Seventeen Days)

Silver Telly Award (professional)

2013 Telly Awards (for Seventeen Days)

Gold Award (professional)

2013 Aurora Awards (for Seventeen Days)

Education (3)

Princeton University: Ph.D., Social Psychology 1996

Princeton University: M.A., Social Psychology 1993

University of California at Berkeley: B.A., Psychology 1990

Articles (5)

Choosing the Light Meal: Real-Time Aggregation of Calorie Information Reduces Meal Calories

Journal of Marketing Research

2021 Numeric labeling of calories on restaurant menus has been implemented widely, but scientific studies have generally not found substantial effects on calories ordered. The present research tests the impact of a feedback format that is more targeted at how consumers select and revise their meals: real-time aggregation of calorie content to provide dynamic feedback about meal calories via a traffic light label. Because these labels intuitively signal when a meal shifts from healthy to unhealthy (via the change from green to a yellow or red light), they prompt decision makers to course-correct in real time, before they finalize their choice.

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Your Move, a modification of Seventeen Days Revised for Delivery in Group Settings, Shows Promise in Knowledge and Behavior Outcomes

Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology

2022 A multi-session group-delivered sexual health education program for adolescent females, Your Move is a modification of the evidence-based intervention Seventeen Days. It embeds video content from the original program to be watched and discussed as a group and as individual “personal reflection” activities to practice decision making. To this video content it adds group activities to reinforce lessons and engage adolescents further. This study is a randomized controlled trial evaluating its impact.

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Psychological predictors of prevention behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic

Behavioral Science & Policy

2020 Widespread public adoption of behaviors that can prevent the spread of COVID-19 is key to controlling the infection rate. In a nationally representative survey administered April 24 to May 11, 2020, we identified psychological predictors of three preventive behaviors: social distancing, practicing respiratory hygiene (such as hand washing and coughing into a tissue), and mask wearing. All three behaviors were strongly predicted by their perceived effectiveness and were moderately predicted by anxiety about COVID-19 and by perceived behavioral norms.

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Female adolescents who identify as bisexual or other sexuality categories engage in more sexting compared to both heterosexual and lesbian female peers

Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology

2021 Adolescents who identify as sexual minorities are more likely to exchange in sexually explicit text messages and images (sexting) and more likely to receive unwanted explicit messages. We investigate whether female adolescents identifying as lesbian differ from those who identify as bisexual or other sexual minority categories, and how both groups compare to those identifying as heterosexual.

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Consumption of Health-Related Content on Social Media Among Adolescent Girls: Mixed-Methods Pilot Study

JMIR Formative Research

2019 Consumption of health- and fitness-related social media content is a predominant behavior among teenage girls, which puts them at risk for consuming unreliable health-related information.

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