Do negative health messages work?
Cornell researchers warn that negative messages about health may be counterproductive. Instead of instilling fear about unhealthy lifestyle practices, people are more likely to be happier and healthier from positive messages.
A new paper published by Cornell Food & Brand Lab in Nutrition Reviews suggests the general public does not respond to health messages designed to cause fear.
Co-author Lizzy Pope, Associate Professor and Director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics at the University of Vermont explains in a press release “a medical doctor would be more influenced by this style of messaging because they have the knowledge base to process the message and feel a duty to maintain a healthy lifestyle." But for the rest of us, more positive health messages are most effective.
Why is the finding important? According to the Cornell lab scientists, the general public is more likely to want to change when they view health messages as a "choice", rather than a "threat". For example, giving the message that we will get skin cancer might do little to promote sunscreen use. A more positive message that our skin will stay youthful and healthy from sunscreen might be a better approach.
Brian Wansink, PhD director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and author of Slim by Design concludes, “Evoking fear may seem like a good way to get your message across but this study shows that, in fact, the opposite is true—telling the public that a behavior will help them be healthier and happier is actually more effective.”
What do you think of the suggestion that doctors and other clinicians give patients positive rather than negative messages to promote health and well-being?