Friday, 12 February 2010

Too Much Input For Our Own Good?

Be afraid! Be very, very afraid!

Sound familiar? Should do. Government and media pump out an unceasing torrent of doom-laden warnings (do this... don't do that) to the effect that we should be afraid of an increasing number of things - one of which is, apparently, playing dangerous games. Like conkers.

In fact - sandwiched between incredibly scary news items - our newpapers, radios and televisions give us literally hundreds of instructions as to how we should live our lives so as to remain 'safe' from the many, many incredibly scary things that are apparently out to get us.

Daily we are told what - and what not! - to eat. Several times every day - practically every five minutes if you listen to Talksport which happens to be sponsored by Nicorette - we are alerted to the dangers of smoking. Then there's drinking. And of course, sex.

All in all, I sometimes think that the cigarettes, the whisky and the wild, wild women won't get the opportunity to drive me insane, because the constant and oppressive drip, drip, drip of dire warnings will get me first - and that's not altogether a joke, because it seems that those warnings are having some very adverse effects on quite a lot people.

The Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford has found that 'shock tactics' in health promotion campaigns may do more harm than good.

Over a three year period the Centre kept checks as to how the public reacted to media coverage of health issues - and discovered hidden psychological consequences which broke down into three adverse reactions.

Top of the list was 'Warning Fatigue'.

The Centre found that the public had simply become 'desensitised' to high-level health scares - had in fact 'turned off', 'tuned out', and stopped listening.

In particular, incidentally, the public has apparently become 'deaf' to advice on exercise and healthy eating. No surprise, then, that despite a concerted campaign over the past decade, obesity has soared in the UK (according to the NHS Information Centre, one in four UK adults is now obese) and weight loss surgery has doubled over the past two years.

Next came 'Risk Factor Phobia'.

This is a condition which results in people becoming irrationally fearful about perceived health hazards posed by their food, their lifestyle or their environment as a direct consequence of the non-stop warnings we all receive about all three of those things - and it's a particularly adverse 'adverse reaction', because an 'irrational fear' is a phobia, and having one of those isn't anybody's idea of a good time. We wrote about phobias recently in our post 'Do The Thing That Scares You'. Wouldn't hurt to go back and read it.

One tell-tale sign of Risk Factor Phobia, incidentally, is a powerful inclination to read, absorb and inwardly digest the contents of newspapers or health magazines. If you feel this inclination growing in yourself, I strongly urge you to curb it today. Sorry about the advice folks...

Last condition the Centre identified? The 'Forbidden Fruit Effect'.

Guess why so many young people smoke...

A lot of the advice we get every day is very good advice. The problem is that there is too much of it, and (in many cases) it is intended to inspire fear rather than rational thought. People can think for themselves and are, on the whole, capable of recognising that they need to do something about their weight or their smoking or any other problem that confronts them. And of, course, there are horses for courses.

Don't let anything make you so afraid that you 'turn off', or cease to be able to make rational decisions about what is good for YOU, personally.

Bill -

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