For many people, these messages trigger our natural defenses. They make us feel bad about ourselves and our choices, leading our subconscious to reject the healthy encouragement.
However, a new study published in PNAS found that a simple priming exercise in which sedentary people think beyond themselves before viewing health messages can make those messages more effective. Not only did participants' brain activity show that they were more receptive to the messages, but they actually became more physically active in the weeks that followed.
Study - Adults - People - Lack - Activity
The study involved 220 sedentary adults who were either overweight or obese -- people whose lack of physical activity puts them at increased risk for a variety of negative health outcomes.
"One of the things that gets in the way of people changing their behavior is defensiveness," explains senior author Emily Falk, Associate Professor of Communication, Psychology, and Marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication. "When people are reminded that it's better to park the car further away and get in a few more steps, or to get up and move around at work to lower their risk for heart disease, they often come up with reasons why these suggestions might be relevant for somebody else, but not for them."
Feelings - Researchers - Participants - Self-transcendence - Tasks
To combat those defensive feelings, researchers engaged the participants in one of two self-transcendence tasks and compared their responses to those in a non-transcendent control group. Self-transcendence tasks required participants to think about values bigger than themselves -- such as people they loved and cared about -- and did so while the subjects were in an fMRI machine, allowing researchers to see their brain activity in real time.
The first self-transcendence group reflected on things that mattered most to them. If they chose "friends and family," they might be asked to think about times in the future when...
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"Tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive." C.S. Lewis