Try and Make Me Change.
We have all seen the ads telling people to quit smoking, but do they actually work or are they a waste of money?
Theory says that if by changing a behaviour you increase ‘good’ consequences and decrease ‘bad’ ones then you are more likely to change; which raises the question why are people still smoking? There are two main concepts that health promoters use to try and change behaviour. Firstly, behavioural theory can tell us why someone hasn’t altered their behaviour already and secondly, communication theory can tell us how to change behaviours. Let’s use smoking as an example:
There two main categories of smokers a) people who don’t intend to quit and b) people who intend to quit but have something stopping them from doing so. Group (a) is without a doubt the most difficult to change as it is harder to alter someone’s actions rather than encouraging them. With most of the cases of ‘non-intenders’ the best way to try and effect change is not to give new facts about smoking but to ‘prime’ their current beliefs about it. What I mean by this is instead of forcing new beliefs onto smokers, develop the ones they already have but may not be paying attention to. In this case, reinforcing the knowledge that their smoking has a harmful effect on others or that quitting shows their independence from cigarettes and the tobacco company may be two good strategies to try and affect change.
Contrasting this there is the group of smokers who intend to quit, but for some reason they can’t. To deal with these you need to work out what is stopping them and change that. For example, if it is cravings that are keeping them smoking there are plenty of gums, patches etc that can deal with this.
But what about communication strategies?
“A message is more likely to be accepted if it produces more positive than negative thoughts or if it leads to relatively little counter arguing” [Fishbein pp.13]
This means that you are better to promote the positive effects than the negative ones and that if you have a strong message it will be more difficult to counter argue with.
Framing describes the way in which you send your message. People are more likely to avoid risks if the benefits are emphasised eg. ‘You will increase your fitness if you stop smoking’. Conversely they are more likely to accept risks if the losses are emphasised eg. Smoking increases your risk of lung cancer. This is why you should promote the positive effects of not smoking.
Effective health communication doesn’t concern only communication theories but it is important to understand why people haven’t improved their health before. After you have figured this out it’s possible to determine how best to communicate your message and what frame to use. This makes me question why ad campaigns haven’t used this research and why people to continue to smoke?
Fishbein, M & Cappella, J (2006). The Role of Theory in Developing Effective Health Communications. Journal of Communications, 56, 1-17.