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Smoking: To Fear or Not To Fear

Posted Dec 23 2008 9:15pm
What about those fear-based anti-smoking campaigns...show people scary images of nicotine-damaged body parts (rotting teeth, limbs, lungs, etc.) - tell them things like "smoking kills" or "smoking causes fatal lung cancer." What do you think happens? They must be turned off of smoking? Right?

Just the opposite. These fear-based messages and images light up "the craving spot" on brain imaging tests. So they might lead to more craving. BTW, the brain regions associated with fear and judgement don't appear to be activated by such messages.

So tells researcher Martin Lindstrom in his NY Times op-ed " Inhaling Fear." Does this mean people rush out and buy a pack of Marlboro's after the experiment? Lindstrom doesn't say but you can bet I'm gonna look into his research. And what about the effects on people who don't smoke? It wasn't clear in the op-ed if Lindstrom's research included this group.

And why do we care on this parenting blog?

Because prevention program aimed at children and teens for the last couple decades (and probably longer) often include a fear component if not outright based on fear. Telling kids all the awful consequences of smoking, drinking, doing drugs, having sex, you name it. And you know what? These fear-based messages have never worked. Add in other components, like how to avoid these behaviors (e.g., how to just say no) and the programs work a little better. But the fear aspects, they could be watering down the effects of other interventions. My friends who have studied such things tell me that peer influence reigns supreme in these no-nos. So some programs now target high profile drinkers, smokers, etc in the schools. My friend and fellow psychologist out in Iowa says it's the male athletes who model the beer fests...
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