Eating psychology

Whatever you do, don’t think about an elephant right now. OK, now that I have you thinking about an elephant it is time to think about the psychology of messaging. Of course, marketers and advertising trendsperts sell themselves as mistresses and masters of the message, but advertising campaigns fail all the time. It doesn’t matter if a campaign fails when someone is trying to sell a widget that people don’t need but it becomes important when the campaign is aimed, for instance, at improving public health. On this topic, two new studies have found that for the majority of people telling them what to do, rather than what not to do, is much more effective.

The most recent study involved analysis of 43 published international studies that looked at the effectiveness of nutrition messages. The purpose was to compare the effectiveness of positive messages like, “Eat vegetables because they are healthy” to negative messages like, “Don’t eat sweets or drink chocolate milk because they are unhealthy”.

The results showed that negative health messages did work better with experts such as nutritionists and health practitioners who were highly involved and knowledgeable about the area. However, the majority of people who do not know a lot about nutrition would rather be told what they should eat and why it is good for them.

This fits with a recent study from the journal Nutrition Review. In this study it was found that experts in a field do respond more to fear-based messaging because they process the information in a more holistic (heuristic) way, as opposed to the piecemeal processing that happens when a person is not an expert.

In essence then, for the vast majority of people when it comes to sending healthy food messages it is better to praise broccoli rather than criticise sweets; in other words to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. The takeaway message here is just be positive.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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