Assistant Professor Hannah Ball and Assistant Dean Sara LaBelle of the School of Communication were awarded the Eastern Communication Association’s 2019 Article of the Year for their study published in Communication Quarterly entitled “College Student Goals in the Context of Prescription Stimulant Misuse: An Application of Goals-Plans-Action Theory.”

Dr. Sara LaBelle

Dr. Ball and Dr. LaBelle’s research focused on peer to peer messaging around prescription stimulant misuse on college campuses. Something they found, in their other research on the topic of prescription stimulant misuse, to be missing. Both have backgrounds in health communication research and interpersonal communication, particularly among college students.

In her research on prescription stimulant misuse, Dr. Ball was working specifically on persuasion research related to mitigating misuse among college students. While Dr. LaBelle had been conducting focus groups about the prevalence and acceptability of misuse among students at Chapman. “No one had investigated college students as a potential messenger in anti-misuse efforts; this is important because peer interventions have been successfully used in other health contexts, like high-risk drinking or substance misuse” Dr. LaBelle noted. And so, a research study was born.

Dr. Hannah Ball

The study was designed to understand the goals college students would have in talking to their peers about misuse and the specific messaging strategies they would use to achieve those goals.
The results of their study revealed that not only were college students a little hesitant about these conversations, but they also would unknowingly share problematic alternatives in conversations about misuse. Dr. LaBelle teaches SCC 400, the Message Design II course that runs the annual Rethink campaign, which seeks to de-normalize the misuse of prescription stimulants across campus. Thanks to her research with Dr. Ball, their study has subsequently had a huge influence on the Rethink campaign’s approach to this topic on campus.

Acting Dean Jennifer Waldeck had this to say about the article, “…LaBelle and Ball’s study of the goals and strategic message plans peers use to intervene when their friends misuse these drugs is a critical step in undoing the acceptability of this type of drug abuse. This study represents significant progress in understanding ways we can change the culture on college campuses as it relates to buying, selling, exchanging, and misusing dangerous and powerful drugs like Adderall—and promote safe paths to academic excellence and wellness.”

When asked about the significance of this award, Dr. Ball said, “For me, the award means an opportunity for greater recognition about a topic that has important implications for our students. The article uncovers some problematic conversations that students are having with each other (or not having – which is problematic in and of itself) about Adderall misuse, and results can be used to inform campaigns/interventions on the topic. I can only hope that the recognition of this article gets more researchers thinking about where we can take this research next. I am also extremely humbled by the recognition because ECA was my first professional membership (about 10 years ago now) as an undergraduate student working on research.”