Julie Downs: From Sexual Health to the Sahel

Julie Downs, PhD is an associate professor of psychology in the Social and Decision Sciences department at Carnegie Mellon’s Dietrich College and fits perfectly into the cross-disciplinary culture of the group. Her interests have spanned anthropology to healthcare to economics and her zest for each of them is undeniable.

Our discussion with Julie started with some of her latest research on how to help women make the proper vaginal insertion of an HIV-prevention drug. While scientists at the University of Pittsburgh are developing the medicine, Julie is focused on the behavioral aspects including the proper way to apply it because the efficacy of the drug relies on proper application. The drug is extremely low-cost, doesn’t require refrigeration, and can be kept private in otherwise touchy situations with sexual partners.

We also discussed making decisions in an increasingly complex world of what to eat. Fast food is readily available, it’s cheap and easy to acquire for working parents with a hungry family. However, recent research on fast food consumption reveals the calorie counters on the food menus are not having a positive effect on what gets ordered. Julie is working to figure out solutions that make the calorie counts salient with an online ordering app.

In our grooving session, we chat about the concept of friction and how that applies to product development and communications AND we talk about insights we can take from a food ordering app that has a special calorie counter built into it and use those insights in our work.

So, sit back and enjoy another episode in our Carnegie Mellon series with professor Julie Downs.