“If you want people to choose healthier foods, emphasize the positive.”
– Cornell University Study
Cornell University recently published research in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics indicating that healthy eating education and policies are most effective when framed in positive terms. In other words, “dos” work better than “don’ts.”
The researchers — David R. Just, professor in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University and Andrew S. Hanks, assistant professor in the Department of Human Sciences at Ohio State University — analyzed outcomes of past nutrition-focused public policies. They found the policies that were framed in positive terms and supported a person’s freedom of choice were more successful than those framed in negative terms.
Here’s an example: One study involved 173 adults making lunch selections with varying pricing characteristics. When price differences were described as taxations on unhealthy choices, people tended to choose those unhealthy items anyway. But when differences were framed positively — as discounts for making healthier choices — people were more likely to choose the healthy items over unhealthy ones.
This research underscores the importance of emotion in influencing behaviors. When consumers are faced with policies that make them feel attacked or restricted, they react with resistance, while in the face of policies that validate consumers positively, they react in kind to make the desired (better) choices. This information has the potential to help educators and policy-makers develop more successful, cost-effective approaches to influencing health behaviors.
It might also make you reconsider how you teach your children to make healthier choices. What do you think?
For more information, read about the study at Science Daily.
Research Study: D. R. Just, A. S. Hanks. The Hidden Cost of Regulation: Emotional Responses to Command and Control. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 2015; DOI: 10.1093/ajae/aav016
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