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Nov. 9: CMU's Julie Downs Receives $7.4M Grant To Create New Video Aimed at Reducing Risky Sexual Behavior Among Teens

Contact: Shilo Raube / 412-268-6094 /

CMU's Julie Downs Receives $7.4M Grant To Create New Video
Aimed at Reducing Risky Sexual Behavior Among Teens

Julie DownsPITTSBURGH—The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded Carnegie Mellon's Julie Downs a five-year, $7.4 million grant to create a sequel DVD aimed at reducing risky sexual behavior, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies among adolescent females. Downs' first interactive video, "What Could You Do?" was shown to increase abstinence for teenage girls. 
"Our goal is to create a tool that will help teenagers make better decisions for themselves," Downs said. "For the most part they don't want to get pregnant. They definitely don't want to contract a disease. By building on our research about what goes into their decisions, we can craft something that will be exactly what they need to avoid these negative outcomes."
Downs, an assistant research professor of social and decision sciences, studies how social influences affect decision-making and how people can make better decisions by understanding these influences. Her "What Could You Do?" DVD not only resulted in previously sexually active teenage girls choosing to abstain from sex in the future, but it also showed that the behavior changes reduced occurrences of Chlamydia, the most common reportable disease in the U.S.
The grant will allow Downs and her collaborators, including Pamela Murray, a professor of pediatrics at West Virginia University School of Medicine, to update the video content and make it compatible with current technology formats. 
"I'm delighted to see such a strong funding endorsement of the application of quality behavioral decision research to the design and testing of key interventions," said John Miller, head of CMU's Department of Social and Decision Sciences. "This grant will help our department maintain its leadership in the area of behavioral decision research applied to public policy."
After creating the new video, Downs will lead a study at health clinics in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio to evaluate its effectiveness on teenage girls' behavior as well as pregnancy and disease rates. The results will be compared to a control group, which will view other sexual education videos that are widely used but have not been found to affect behavior. 
The new video is intended to help teenage girls as well as lower the costs of teen pregnancies and disease treatment for private and public health care agencies.
"Once the video has been tested, if it is found to be effective, it will be made available at a very low or no cost on DVD and online so that adolescents across the country can benefit from its effects," Downs said.

Pictured above is Julie Downs.