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Positive persuasion beats negative when trying to deter harmful, risky behavior
A new scientific study shows that positive persuasion has a far better chance of convincing an addict to avoid risky behavior than negative messages about all the harms and dangers.
Researchers from Wayne State University and Indiana University compared the effects of both types of approach, using volunteers who were both substance dependent and non-substance dependent. The results, published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, clearly showed that substance-dependent people respond more rationally to positive persuasion to avoid risky decisions than they do to negatively framed messages.
The researchers tested both groups of volunteers using the Iowa Gambling Task, which measures the ability to resist making unusually risky decisions while playing a card game.
When the risks involved were posed to the substance-dependent participants in negative terms, their ability to make rational decisions and control risky behavior was markedly reduced. But when positive persuasion was used that emphasized the benefits of avoiding risky decisions, the dependent group made obviously more rational decisions to control risky behavior.
Meanwhile, the non-dependent volunteers made rational, less risky decisions regardless of whether the messages were framed positive or negatively.
To back it all up with physical science, MRI brain scans were taken during the experiments of the areas of the brain which are normally active when people are consciously deciding to limit irrational or impulsive behavior.
When negative persuasion was used, the scans of the dependent individuals revealed a marked reduction of activity, which matched the actual risky decisions the participants were making. But with the positive persuasion, their scans showed normal, rational activity, right while they were making sensible, more rational decisions.
Again, supporting the actual decisions taken during the ‘game,’ the non-dependent group’s brain scans showed completely normal activity whether the messages were couched in positive or negative terms.
Given the life-style that most substance-dependent and addicted people have to endure just to survive, it makes sense that they’re plenty familiar already with all the negative stuff about their addiction – heck, they’re living it every day. And they’ve developed an efficient survival system of their own to deal with all the bad decisions they know they’re making.
Like the airbag in your car, this system is always poised and ready to instantly deploy and absorb any incoming negative energy. Every time you hammer away at them about how bad and wrong they are, how risky and dangerous and harmful their decisions are, how sad and terrible they‘re making everyone else feel – POW! That mental airbag pops open and shields them from the negativity. They’ll say, do or promise anything, and appear any way they think you want them to appear. But it’s just air – it’s the airbag talking, trying to avoid more incoming negativity.
This research proves what the successful addiction treatment experts have been saying for a long time: to persuade someone who’s dependent on drugs or alcohol to stop taking risks with their life, it’s better to be up-beat and positive about the benefits of sobriety. Stressing all the bad things about dependence and addiction just drives the addict further down.
Addicted people are still people, nevertheless. They need to be treated with the same respect and care you’d give anyone – especially someone in trouble. They need to see a hand reaching out to help, not raised to hit. Like everyone else in the world, addicts respond to positive messages; it’s the negative ones they’ve learned, the hard way, not to deal with.
Here at Novus, we don’t just treat substance dependence and then send people on their way. We treat people, helping them find the positive in their lives and eliminate the negative, under their own control. And we often make lifelong friends, too. Don’t hesitate to call Novus if you or someone you love has an addiction problem. We’re always here to help.
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