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Did you miss the earlier editions of this Blog? Find them below:

Blog #1: Moving from choices to options here

Blog #2: Use values (not facts) to persuade here


Helping people move beyond fear during the coronavirus pandemic is not just an act of compassion, it’s a necessary first step to effective health promotion.


The challenge with fear

Decades of research from around the world shows that when people are fearful, they become more conservative. They seek comfort in what they know and become more resistant to change.

Since much of health promotion involves helping people do things differently, fear is a serious roadblock to our work.

What’s more, when people are scared they become more self-centred and competitive – prioritising their needs above those of others to a greater degree than normal. Hoarding of supermarket basics is a case in point. People become more likely to take more than they need, even if it means others miss out, when they are feeling scared.

So what does this mean for how we talk about health promotion?

For one, we need to avoid dialling up people’s fear. For example, research suggests people are drinking more in isolation because they are feeling anxious. It may seem counter-intuitive, but now is not the time for a hard-hitting campaign on alcohol’s link to cancer.

Even though this is an important link we need to make (in fact it’s a key recommendation for talking about alcohol in our Healthy Persuasions guide), it’s not appropriate to be dialling up people’s health concerns right now when they are feeling extra vulnerable. There will be time for that conversation later.

Instead, we need to toggle people into a more compassionate and self-directed frame of mind.


Move people from fear to love

Research in social psychology shows that altruistic concern and open-mindedness are the antidotes to fear. Reminding people of the importance they attach to creativity, curiosity and freedom, for example, weakens people’s feelings of insecurity. So too does encouraging people to reflect on the needs of others.

For example, if you want people to drink less alcohol, reminding them of the responsibility they owe to their family and the need to stay healthy for their sake, can be a much more powerful motivator than appealing to self-interest. That’s an example of shifting people’s motivations from fear to love.


Keep using our values-based messaging guide: Healthy Persuasions

When it comes to other messaging around health promotion, the values-based messaging guide we developed with Common Cause Australia late last year, Healthy Persuasions, is just as relevant today as it was when we published it in a pre-coronavirus world.

In that guide, the key values we encourage health promotion practitioners to engage in their audience are those of social justice, equality and honesty. All of these are altruistic values which research shows are effective at countering fear-based motivations.


Remember that fear is not the only response

It’s also worth remembering that while fear is a natural response to crisis, it’s not the only one.

When confronted with a collective challenge, many people naturally turn to altruism and cooperation. It’s no coincidence that during this pandemic, creative new ways of sharing and mutual aid have sprung up around the country. Despite the physical distancing, some people are developing stronger ties with people in their neighbourhood than they’ve ever had before thanks to the creative use of online platforms and our human need for social connections.

As you continue your work throughout this pandemic, try to remember that people are motivated by a range of complex values and motivations. If you want people to be open to change, you first need to move them beyond fear and toggle them into an altruistic and self-directed state of mind.

In other words, step one is to move people from fear to love.


Want more information?

Visit www.commoncause.com.au to learn more about Common Cause Australia’s work and the concept behind values-based messaging.

Contact Mark Chenery on [email protected] if you have further questions about this work.