Seth M. Noar joined the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media in July 2011. He also is a member of UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Noar’s research interests are centered in health communication, particularly how to harness traditional and new media to promote healthy behavioral changes among individuals and communities. This type of research involves understanding and applying behavioral theories that advance our understanding of the behavior change process; testing message design theories and frameworks to best understand what types of messages will be most resonant and persuasive with target audiences; and evaluating interventions in carefully designed randomized and quasi-experimental trials.
For more than a decade, much of Noar’s research was focused in the HIV/AIDS area. He worked on National Institutes of Health (NIH) projects developing and evaluating televised media campaigns to increase safer sexual behaviors.
Noar’s research has recently been more focused on cancer prevention. He has conducted research to advance an understanding of the impact of celebrity cancer diagnoses on media and person outcomes; how a combination of environmental changes and social marketing can impact fruit and vegetable consumption among elementary students; and how various belief systems of adolescent and young adult females affect their decision-making about indoor tanning behavior. Noar is also conducting significant research on anti-tobacco messages, including graphic warning labels on cigarette packs. He is the co-director of the Communication Core for the UNC Center for Regulatory Research on Tobacco Communication, funded by an FDA/NIH grant from 2013-2018.
Noar has co-edited two books, “Communication Perspectives on HIV/AIDS for the 21st Century” (2008) with Drs. Timothy Edgar and Vicki Freimuth, and “eHealth Applications: Promising Strategies for Behavior Change” (2012) with Dr. Nancy Harrington. His work has been published in numerous peer-reviewed outlets, including Human Communication Research, Health Communication, Journal of Health Communication, Health Education Research, Psychological Bulletin, AIDS, Social Science & Medicine, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, and JAMA Dermatology, among others.
Areas of Expertise (12)
Outstanding Health Communication Scholar by the National Communication Association (professional)
Noar was named the 2016 Outstanding Health Communication Scholar by the National Communication Association (NCA).
Lewis Donohew Outstanding Health Communication Scholar Award
Noar was awarded the Lewis Donohew Outstanding Health Communication Scholar Award from the Kentucky Conference on Health Communication. The award recognizes outstanding research contributions to the health communication field.
Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researcher, Social Sciences
Thomson Reuters named Noar a “highly cited” researcher — indicating that he is among the top 1 percent most cited researchers in the social sciences.
University of Rhode Island: Ph.D., Psychology 2001
University of Rhode Island: M.A., Psychology 1998
University of Rhode Island: B.S., Education 1995
Media Appearances (4)
Woman's Selfie of Skin Cancer Went Viral, Sparked Awareness
U.S. News & World Report print
"A growing body of research shows that [personal] stories can be very impactful -- more impactful than [educational] information -- in delivering a health message," said study author Seth Noar. He's a professor at the University of North Carolina's School of Media and Journalism. "This event was really a perfect storm of a compelling story and graphic selfie, which seems to have led this Facebook post to go viral," Noar added in a university news release. If public health researchers and groups identified such events when they occur, they could ramp up messages about medical issues and reach many more people, the study authors suggested. "When this happened, it really captured the public's attention on social media and through national media coverage," Noar said. "That's an opportune time for all of us to get the message out about the dangers of tanning beds."
As With Smoking, Using Disturbing Images To Stop Tanning Bed Use
American Council on Science and Health print
While a separate 2010 survey found that nearly a third of young American women aged 18-to-25 take part in indoor tanning, there has been little research on the effects of advertising to deter participation in this dangerous activity – which spurred these researchers to act. "This study gives us some guidance as to what makes more effective messages targeting young women who use tanning beds or are thinking about using tanning beds," says Seth Noar, Ph.D, researcher and professor in the UNC School of Media and Journalism, in a statement released by the university. Using images, like the ones below which appeared in the published paper, researchers found that health warnings resonated better with the participants as compared to ones containing only text.
Cigarette warnings on packages work better with pictures
(Reuters Health) - Gruesome photographs on cigarette packages may deliver more effective anti-smoking messages than words, a new analysis finds. Researchers reviewed previous studies comparing images to text warnings on cigarette boxes and found pictures commanded more attention, elicited stronger emotional reactions, summoned more negative attitudes and made it more likely that smokers would vow to quit. “They say a picture is worth a thousand words – that really seems to be the case here,” said lead study author Seth Noar, co-director of the interdisciplinary health communication program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Study: Graphic Tobacco Warnings Are More Effective Than Text
The United States is one of the few developed countries that has a decades-old, text-only warning label on cigarette packages. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has tried for years to add warnings with graphic images, but lawsuits from tobacco companies have halted the process. Professor Seth Noar of UNC's Lineberger Cancer Center has analyzed 37 studies comparing people's reactions to text-only warnings versus pictorial ones.
Research Grants (6)
Measure impact of tobacco prevention advertisements
National Cancer Institute
The National Cancer Institute has awarded a three-year, $1.4 million grant to University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researcher Seth M. Noar, PhD, to conduct studies that will help improve the effectiveness of tobacco prevention advertisements for adolescents. Specifically, Noar and his collaborators will develop new metrics to gauge the effectiveness of tobacco prevention advertisements targeted to adolescents. "When we develop tobacco prevention advertisements for young people, how do we know if they will be effective?" said Noar, who is a professor in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media. "The focus of this project is on developing better metrics to tell us if a given advertisement will be effective before we put resources behind it."
Systematic Review of Perceived Message Effectiveness Measures for Anti-Tobacco Communication (Principal Investigator)
National Institute on Drug Abuse $222,600
The goal of this study is to systematically review perceived message effectiveness measures and conduct a meta-analysis of the association between perceived and actual message effectiveness in anti-tobacco communication studies.
Effects of Physical Activity Calorie Expenditure (PACE) Food Labeling (Co-Investigator)
National Cancer Institute $1.86 million
The goal of this study is to test the effects of physical activity calorie labels on point-of-decision food purchasing behavior and physical activity.
Cigarette Warning Labels: Research Synthesis and Impact on Smoking Behavior (Co-Principal Investigator)
National Cancer Institute $2 million
The goal of this study is to systematically review the cigarette graphic warning label literature and conduct a randomized trial testing the efficacy of cigarette warnings in changing smoking behavior.
Communication Core Effective Communication on Tobacco Product Risk and FDA Authority (Co-Investigator and Associate Director)
National Cancer Institute $19.4 million
The Center for Regulatory Research on Tobacco Communications (CRRTC) is conducting 3 integrated projects over 5 years to advance an understanding of effective communication about the harms of cigarettes and other tobacco products across the lifespan and among diverse populations.
Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Core, Center for AIDS Research (Health Communication Specialist)
National Institutes of Health (NIH) $882,419
The Social and Behavioral Sciences core assists HIV/AIDS investigators with measurement, interventions, and accessing vulnerable populations.