A Prescription for Action

2 Feb

In health communication, the first step is to get people to start listening. Once you have done this, congratulations, you’ve got an audience. But now that you’ve got them what do you say? How do you create health messages that will actually cause change? It is often found that people may listen to health promoting messages, but rarely do they actually change their behavior, and this is why so many health communicators fall short.

                What is getting in the way of people taking the step from information to action? Joye C. Gordon has identified four factors that are likely to influence health behavior adoptions in her Beyond Knowledge Guidelines. By identifying these factors, it will allow health communicators to develop more effective messages that will inspire behavior change.

1. Perception of self: Also known as self-efficacy, this is the extent to which people believe that they can successfully execute the behavior required to produce outcomes. Generally, higher evaluation of one’s own efficacy to perform an action correlates with increased likelihood of taking on that action. 

2. Perception of risk: This is the extent to which people perceive that they are at risk. Usually, when risk perceptions are low, people are unmotivated to change their behavior, resulting in rejection of your health message. Risk perception also correlates with perception of self. A  high level of perceived risk in combination with low perceptions of self can lead to a person rejecting the recommended behavior. Finding the right balance in the message is important. Ultimately, risk perceptions and feelings of concern are needed to motivate change, but you need to keep in mind your audience’s feelings about themselves.

3. Environmental conditions: This includes both physical and social conditions. Clearly, the physical environment a person is in affects his or her availability of health services, the costs they have, and transportation needs. The social environment comes into play in that the methods of interpersonal communication an audiences uses are a crucial link in achieving compliance. Therefore, messages should acknowledge social and physical restraints and provide motivations and ideas for overcoming them.

4. Perception of costs and benefits: This refers to how an individual assesses the advantages versus disadvantages of a recommended course of action. In short, if one expect the benefits to exceed the costs, they are more likely to change their behavior, and vice versa. Bottom line, health promotion messages should heighten perceived benefits of the recommendation while discounting the costs of adoption.

So there they are; the four most common factors that influence the adoption of healthful behavioral change. Using these in your health communication can lead to you effectively promoting and prompting behavior changes, so that once people listen, you can give them a reason to act.

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