Fear can indeed be a motivator. But can we really be scared into being healthier? The Surgeon General’s warning on cigarette packets doesn’t inspire peace of mind in the smoker, but most do not quit on the basis of that ad. Admonitions regarding better choices for meals based on calorie intake and photos featuring obese diners might inspire momentary guilt in the overeater, but do they have the desired impact: reformation of poor habits. My colleague, Eric Nelson, writing for the April 27, 2015 edition of Communities Digital News, suggests that the answer lies in following ‘our natural inclination to do and be good.’ Hmm…could that be YOUR answer? Here’s Eric:
Anyone over 40 likely remembers the TV ad.
A man standing next to a kitchen stove picks up an egg.
“This is your brain,” he says. “This is drugs,” he continues, pointing to the piping hot skillet in front of him.
Then, after cracking the egg into the skillet, he says, “This is your brain on drugs.”
The message couldn’t have been clearer. But was it effective? Yes. And no. Although drug use among adolescents in the U.S. dropped from 3.2 million to 1.3 million between 1985 and 1992 (this particular ad began running in 1987), just a year later the number went back up to 2.1 million.
Although the jury is still out as to whether such scare tactics provide any lasting benefit – not just in terms of drug use, but also for other health-related choices we make – the scales appear to be tilting in favor of an approach that involves fewer sticks and more carrots.