New Pitt Center to Advance Research On Media, Technology, and Health

Issue Date: 
September 22, 2014

WouldTechnology celebratory music and a thousand “points” per pill encourage a patient with heart disease to take her medication? If social media friends congratulate an overweight person for skipping dessert, will it help him shed pounds? 

Conversely, do song lyrics glorifying alcohol use inspire binge drinking in teens? Does continuous exposure to images of negative TV news footage influence depression or anxiety?

The University of Pittsburgh schools of the health sciences announced the creation of the Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health to tackle questions like these across a broad range of disciplines. 

“Technological innovation has proceeded so rapidly that youths ages 8 to 18 are now exposed to more than eight hours a day of electronic media messages outside of school,” said Arthur S. Levine, Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of the School of Medicine. “While these emerging exposures pose risks to health, they also may be leveraged to improve health.”

BrianBrian Primack A. Primack, the recently appointed assistant vice chancellor for health and society in the schools of the health sciences, will direct the new center, which is funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.

“Internet, social media, television, films, music, and video games are all examples of media and technology that can affect our health and wellness,” said Primack, an associate professor of medicine, pediatrics, and clinical and translational science in Pitt’s School of Medicine. “These exposures may have positive or negative influences, and educational and policy-related interventions may be effective at buffering negative influences and bolstering positive ones.”

Primack recently delivered a related talk in San Francisco at “TEDMED 2014: Unlocking Imagination,” a Sept. 10-12 gathering designed to drive innovation in health and medicine. The event featured short talks by speakers who were invited based on their expertise, innovation, and passion in their field.

Primack, also a practicing family physician, gave a 12-minute presentation to spur ideas about how to mitigate the negative effects of video games while also harnessing their potential to improve health.

The Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health faculty and staff will explore this concept and others via collaborations with numerous Pitt schools and centers, including the Schools of Nursing, Pharmacy, Dental Medicine, Public Health, Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and Social Work, as well as Pitt’s Health Policy Institute.

“U.S. and international health policy needs to embrace the development of technology and recognize its impacts on human health,” said Everette James, director of Pitt’s Health Policy Institute and the M. Allen Pond Professor of Health Policy and Management in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health. “While technological advancement and the influence of media present challenges, research from our new center will provide important scientific evidence and help inform policymaking in this emerging field.”

The center is funded by NIH, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, ABMRF/The Alcohol Research Foundation, and pilot grants from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and the Pitt Health Policy Institute.