The science of persuasion


By John DiTraglia - Contributing Columnist



There’s actually a science of persuasion and a new group of professors called the Societal Experts Action Network, or SEAN, that is part of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, recently reported on research-based strategies to encourage COVID-19-mitigating behaviors AKA mask wearing, social distancing and hand sanitizing.

Dominique Brossard is a communications professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a member of this SEAN. She was recently interviewed by The Journal of the American Medical Association’s Jennifer Abbasi. (1)

She says that humans don’t seem respond well to science and people don’t cotton to the fact that science is never absolute and it is constantly evolving. If you want to get people to follow the best science you have to use psychology. Humans are intensely social animals and you have to convey and demonstrate that everybody is doing it. If you show pictures of bad acting on TV or social media, like flocks of people at the beach or indoor crowds not wearing masks, it’s counter productive. Furthermore, persuasion has to be easy and part of the environment, because humans are also creatures of habit and new habits, take some time. In the case of those habits that will help to prevent COVID-19 it’s pretty easy and the good habits are actually increasing despite the unfortunate mixed messaging and a brainless connection with a political stance.

In the case of the campaign to try to get teenagers to not start smoking you had to also overcome rebellion against authority and their drive for autonomy. So showing that the tobacco industry was taking advantage of them was powerful and worked.

But in the cases of smoking once your addicted and obesity where what you have to do involves prolonged physical pain, psychology is not going to work. Sorry.

1. JAMA October 6, 2020 Volume 324, Number 13 p. 1271-2

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By John DiTraglia

Contributing Columnist

This writer’s opinion is their own and not the opinion of this newspaper

John DiTraglia M.D. is a Pediatrician in Portsmouth. He can be reached by e-mail- jditrag@zoomnet.net or phone-354-6605.

This writer’s opinion is their own and not the opinion of this newspaper

John DiTraglia M.D. is a Pediatrician in Portsmouth. He can be reached by e-mail- jditrag@zoomnet.net or phone-354-6605.