How subliminal words affect anti-obesity campaigns

May 4, 2009 by  
Filed under OBESITY

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words-fitter_faster_strongerThe human brain is a complex biological machine that can sometimes act in ways unexpected in response to certain types of stimuli. Researchers have discovered, for example, that subliminal words (words that appeal to the subconscious) can trigger reactions opposite to what is actually desired.

Researchers from the University of Illinois investigated people’s subconscious responses to weight loss campaigns. It seems that when people read posters with messages that promote physical activity (e.g. take a walk, work out, etc.), the triggered reaction is – to eat more!

Study participants exposed to exercise messages ate about 20% more compared to peers exposed to other types of messages which have nothing to do with physical activity.

According to lead researcher Professor Dolores Albarracín

Those designing public health campaigns are in the habit of trying to change one behavior at a time…They should be aware that “whatever they communicate is likely to influence not only the behavior they had in mind but other behaviors that might be somewhat remotely linked,”

These findings are indeed very relevant in creating advertisements campaigns and public service announcement. The current strategy in fighting childhood obesity is curbing on advertisements of unhealthy food stuffs, which are to be replaced by messages encouraging healthy lifestyles that include good nutrition and physical exercise. It would be interesting to know whether the power of subliminal words have been taken into account in these messages.

In addition, it would also be important to know how other public campaign messages affect the target group’s behaviour. Some of the posters (aside from those against obesity) that I often see here in Europe are

  • campaigning for safe sex to fight AIDS
  • campaigning against drug addiction
  • campaigning against racism
  • campaigning against violence, child abuse
  • campaigning for the environment (e.g. global warming, overfishing, pollution, animal cruelty)
  • campaigning against world hunger

I really wonder whether these posters are getting their messages across.

So what goes in your mind when you see posters about weight loss and physical activity? Have you noticed how they affect your behavior?

Photo credit: stock.xchng

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