Mesfin Bekalu

Research Scientist

Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences

I am a research scientist in the Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. I hold a PhD in Social Sciences from the University of Leuven in Belgium. Broadly, my research area is health communication. I am interested in investigating the intended and unintended effects of media and messages on health-related attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. This involves studying the effects of campaign materials designed and produced for strategic communication purposes and delivered through different media (print, broadcast and the Internet) as well as the unintended harmful and/or beneficial effects of media and messages on health-related outcomes in secular communication contexts. My studies draw on different communication and behavioral theories that advance our understanding of health-related behavior change processes.

Selected Publications:

  1. Bekalu, M.A., McCloud, R.F., Minsky, S., Viswanath, K. (2020) Association of social participation, perception of neighborhood social cohesion, and social media use with happiness: Evidence of trade‐off. Journal of Community Psychology.
  2. Bekalu, M.A., Gundersen, D.A., Viswanath, K. (2020) Beyond Educating the Masses: The Role of Public Health Communication in Addressing Socioeconomic- and Residence-based Disparities in Tobacco Risk Perception. Health Communication.
  3. Lee, E.W.J., Bekalu, M.A., McCloud, R., Vallone, D., Arya M, Osgood, N., Li, X., Minsky, S., Viswanath, K. (2020). The Potential of Smartphone Apps in Informing Pro- and Anti-Tobacco Messaging Efforts Among Underserved Communities. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 21/03/2020:17451 (forthcoming/in press) DOI: 10.2196/17451 URL:
  4. Bekalu, M.A., McCloud, R.F., Viswanath, K. (2019) Association of social media use with social wellbeing, positive mental health and self-rated health: disentangling routine use from emotional connection to use. Health Education & Behavior.
  5. McCloud R.F., Bekalu M.A., Maddox N., Minsky S.J., Viswanath K. (2018) Leveraging Breadth and Depth: Strategies to Characterize Population Diversity to Address Cancer Disparities in the DF/HCC Catchment Area. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 28(3):435-441. PMID: 30341096
  6. Bekalu, M.A., Viswanath, K. (2018) Smoking portrayal in Ethiopian movies: a theory-based content analysis. Health Promotion International. PMID: 29912437
  7. Bekalu, M.A., Ramanadhan, S., Nagler, R., Bigman, C., Viswanath, K. (2018) Graphic and arousing? Emotional and cognitive reactions to tobacco graphic health warnings and associated quit-related outcomes among low SEP populations. Health Communication. PMID: 29388802
  8. Bekalu, M.A., Bigman, C., Lin, L., McCloud, R., Viswanath, K. (2017) The Relative Persuasiveness of Narrative versus Non-Narrative Health Messages in Public Health Emergency Communication: Evidence from a Field Experiment. Preventive Medicine. PMID: 29154794
  9. Bekalu, M.A., Minsky, S., Viswanath, K. (2017) Beliefs about smoking-related lung cancer risk among low socioeconomic individuals: the role of smoking experience and interpersonal communication. Global Health Promotion. DOI:  PMID: 29110569
  10. Bekalu, M.A.,Viswanath, K., Eggermont, S. (2016). HIV/AIDS communication inequalities and associated cognitive and affective outcomes: a call for a socioecological approach to AIDS communication in sub-Saharan Africa. Health Communication. PMID: 27367531
  11. Beyens, I.,Vandenbosch, L., Bekalu, A., Eggermont, S. (2016). Adolescents’ conformity to the television viewing behavior of their classmates: A longitudinal study. Young: the Nordic Journal of Youth Research. 24(4), 290-308. DOI:
  12. Bekalu, A., Eggermont S. (2015). Socioeconomic and socioecological determinants of AIDS stigma and the mediating role of AIDS knowledge and media use. Journal of Communication in Healthcare. 8(4), 316-324. DOI:
  13. Bekalu, A., Eggermont S. (2014). Aligning HIV/AIDS communication with the oral tradition of Africans: A theory-based content analysis of songs’ potential in prevention efforts. Health Communication, PMID: 24945716
  14. Bekalu, A., Eggermont S. (2014). The relative persuasiveness of gain- vs. loss-framed HIV testing message: Evidence from a field experiment in Northwest Ethiopia. Journal of Health Communication, 1-17. PMID: 24498858