If Intentions Are Clear
Attempting to influence the way people think and behave is one of the key driving forces behind communication at every level. Whether we are just trying to convince our friends to come out on the weekend or win an argument, persuasive communication is a part of everyday life.
Everyone seems to have more of a problem with this sort of communication when it comes in the form of marketing as people feel it aims is to brainwash and manipulate people to buy things they don’t need. Although this may be true persuasive communication may have many benefits for the public, especially in the field of health communication where people can be influenced to adopt more healthy behaviours.
In the article The Role of Theory in Developing Effective Health Communications Fishbein and Capella’s analyse the key links between behavioural theory and the formulation of communication strategies that aim to influence specific behaviours. This highlighted the importance of identifying the intentions and skills/abilities of the target audience before formulating a message.
When Will Behaviours Occur
A behaviour is most likely to occur when there is a strong intention to do something, the individual has the necessary skills or abilities, and there are no environmental or other constraints. Behaviour is also influenced by both societal norms as well as an individual’s attitude. This implies that things stopping people from changing their behaviour include the intentions of the individual, their abilities, and popular attitude. This has significant implications for health communication as the specific attribute constraining behavioural change must be identified before a targeted message can be developed.
Why People Behave Differently
Theory is important in identifying why some people perform behaviours and others do not and hence why some change their behaviour in response to a health message and others don’t. The most important thing to determine is the intention of the audience. After this you have to identify whether or not they act on that intention. It is essential for the development of health communication to work out whether the message is targeted for individuals who have an intention to change but are constrained by their ability or environment, or if it is to be targeted to those that do not have an intention to change their behaviour. This clarification is highly important as the messages for the two groups will need to be very different if they are to be effective.
While behavioural theory does not tell us how to best design a communication message it does clearly define our target audience and the specific objective we are trying to achieve with the message.
Following this theory through to the development of the message seems to be a complicated process. Do you think a message that takes all of this theory into consideration is more likely to be effective than one which doesn’t?
Martin Fishbein & Joseph N. Cappella (2006) The Role of Theory in Developing Effective Health Communications. Journal of Communication. Vol 56. pp. s1-s17.