Traditional health education strategies frequently
depend, to a large extent, on providing information through health
communication campaigns. In the case of substance use, the messages
communicated are almost exclusively focused on the health risks and
the pharmacological dangers of use. Such fear-based communications
essentially seek to frighten the target population into being healthy,
but they can rapidly lose credibility when individuals begin to regard
the negative consequences depicted as relatively improbable.
Whereas many traditional prevention efforts focus
intensively on problems and deficits, the content of social norms
interventions consistently highlights the attitudinal and behavioral
solutions and assets that are the actual norms of a target population.
An example of this dramatic shift in content is that marked difference
between fear-based messages of traditional prevention campaigns ("This
is your brain. This is your brain on drugs!") and the positive,
health-focused messages of the social norms approach ("Most students
choose not to use!).
Some community members and stakeholders may be staunch
defenders of the "scare tactic approach" despite scant evidence
of its effectiveness. Social norms project staff should inform these
individuals that scare and fear-base appeals are rarely effective
(Sutton, 1982; Soames Job, 1988; Goldberg et al., 1991; Worden and
Flynn, 1999; Taubman Ben-Ari, 2000; Shadel et al., 2002;) and that,
by vividly focusing public attention on the problem, they inadvertently
serve to perpetuate the very misperceptions that the social norms
approach is designed to reduce.
Goldberg, L., Bents, R., Bosworth, E., Trevisan,
L., and Elliot, D.L. Anabolic steroid education and adolescents:
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Shadel, W.G., Niaura, R., Abrams, D.B.
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Soames Job, R.F., Effective and ineffective
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Sutton, S. R. Fear-arousing communications:
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Worden, J. and Flynn, B. Shock to
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