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[Irish Medical Times] , Carey, Rachel and Sarma, Kiran Advising young risk-takers against actions. (13 Oct 2010)

External website: http://www.imt.ie/features-opinion/2010/10/advisin...

Rachel Carey and Kiran Sarma examine why ‘fear-appeals’ may not work when it comes to addressing risk-taking behaviour in young people Health service providers are regularly confronted with the aftermath of risk-taking behaviour by Irish youth, including drug and alcohol misuse, unprotected sexual intercourse and dangerous driving. They are also aware that such advice, while often effective in modifying behaviour, can go unheeded and be manifest in repeated presentation with the same problem.

Social scientists have explored the psychological and socio-demographic factors that are believed to predict how young people respond to health-related advice. In recent years attention has focused, in particular, on the efficacy of fear-messages (that you may suffer injury or death) on behaviour and this has been articulated within the theoretical paradigm, Terror Management Theory (TMT).

A wide range of other risk-taking behaviours have also been examined, including binge drinking, intentions to buy a high-factor sunscreen product, risky sexual behaviour and drug abuse and studies have consistently suggested that where self-esteem is linked to the risky behaviour, fear messages are less effective and can be counter-productive.

In the main these studies have been laboratory-based, and it is unclear to what extent the measures of behaviour are valid barometers of actual behaviour in the wake of appeals. Intention to take driving risks is, in reality, a poor measure of risky driving.

Not withstanding the limitations of the growing body of literature in this area, concern is growing that fear-based health promotion advertisements and one-on-one advice may be largely ineffective with some risk-takers, and may actually promote such behaviours. This was the conclusion reached by a group of experts reviewing road safety messages in Australia, where unlike Ireland, messages were unimodal and heavily fear-based....


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