Messages can have the alternative effect to their intended effect – but you’ll be able to avoid communication that backfires

The best commencement speeches impart wisdom that you just return to long after graduation is over. Apply the feel-good advice from Baz Luhrmann's song to a category that graduated 25 years ago. It wasn't until I listened to it again recently that I spotted it was also one in every of the research-based Strategies I teach to avoid backfiring communication.

The tip is hidden within the title of the song: “Everyone can (use sunscreen).” Communication intended to encourage a selected behavior can have the alternative effect if the message is perceived as a threat to individual autonomy.

Woman looks into the camera and holds a bottle of sunscreen in her outstretched hand in the foreground
Here, placed on some sunscreen…or not, the alternative is yours.
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Health campaigns often use strong messages that ultimately backfire. For example, strong messages promoting using dental floss caused people offended and fairly resistant Use dental floss. Mandatory alcohol prevention messages with phrases resembling “any reasonable person must recognize these conclusions”, as a substitute increased alcohol consumption. In contrast, the wording of the title, “Everyone is free (to use sunscreen),” is less prone to be a mistake since it emphasizes freedom of alternative.

Research reveals many explanation why well-intentioned attempts to tell, persuade, or correct misinformation go improper. Although failures are ubiquitous, there are rarely formal instructions on why they occur and how one can avoid them. This failure inspired my latest book: “More than simply a clever man on stage: Communicating science and current issues effectively”, which translates scientific findings from various disciplines into practical strategies that anyone can use to enhance their communication.

If latest information questions your identity

Misfires are sometimes a response to the transmission of unwanted information.

In addition to threatening autonomy, information can also be undesirable since it seems to contradict what one thinks about oneself. Consider a study during which participants were asked to read a news story about genetically modified foods. Participants for whom purity, healthiness, and conscientiousness of their weight loss program were a crucial a part of their self-definition had more negative attitudes after reading a message was designed to refute their views on genetically modified foods. Those who didn’t have strong dietary self-concepts didn’t react negatively to the message.

The same resistance can arise if you find yourself confronted with something that contradicts the beliefs of a bunch to which you are feeling strongly connected. Emotional and identity-based attachment to a bunch resembling a political party could cause people subordinate their very own values ​​to the groupa phenomenon often called cultural cognition. Reactions to messages about climate change illustrate this phenomenon.

Against the backdrop of protests and an upcoming election, communication breakdowns have gotten increasingly more frequent. Political polarization is responsiblewith greater than a touch of fatalism. But the present strong give attention to ideological differences only serves to Vicious circle that reinforces them. To break this vicious cycle, the main focus must shift away from differences. Divides will not be all the time what they appear, and even after they are, there are sometimes ways to bridge them.

Every person comprises a mess

Encouragingly, a recent study by the Pew Research Center found that only 11% of Americans consider it very or extremely vital to get their news by journalists who share their political beliefs. Fewer than 40% of Americans said it was even somewhat vital. The study is a reminder that we’re all complex mixes of identities, and people different identities can provide fruitful starting points for a conversation.

Four uniformed girls sit on the bench while their parents stand around in the background
The shared experience of watching children play football can provide a typical ground for individuals with different political views.
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When different identities inside people interact, the context can bring a selected identity to the fore. For example, a study that Importance of voters’ identity as parents found that folks were more willing to oppose the policies of their very own political party after they were fascinated with their children. “Animal lover” is one other example of an identity where researchers have repeatedly observed that party identity takes a back seat.

Therefore, the appeal to a typical identity is a technique to bridge the gap.

Another strategy is to make it secure to act against the group without damaging the person's connection to it. For example, people can act anonymously, which happened through the pandemic when some people reportedly selected disguises after they receive their COVID-19 vaccine.

Accidentally saying something you don’t mean

As within the case of threats to autonomy, the language chosen can minimize the results of threats to group membership. People may agree that a proposed motion is affordable and consistent with their party's beliefs. but still reject it if it comprises even small polarizing cues. Triggers resembling words related to the opposing party, resembling “taxes” for a conservative or “deregulation” for a liberal, cause people to assume their party would oppose a policy. The solution is to eliminate each real and perceived threats to group identity by utilizing partisan-neutral language.

Surprisingly, communication doesn’t must be threatening or unwanted to backfire. It can occur when communication comprises hidden unintended messages or when it inadvertently makes an undesirable behavior seem normal. For example: News from an energy supplier about reducing energy consumption led to low-energy consumers consuming more energy than others, and anti-litter poster The emphasis on the dimensions of the issue led to a rise in littering.

A sign on the littered coast reads: “Please keep the beach clean :)”
What messages are best for keeping public spaces clean?
Jun/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Another intuitive communication strategy that backfires is presenting information in a myth-versus-fact format. You've probably seen this format in communications aimed toward debunking myths about health, science, technology, culture, and more. But research shows that the state-and-negate format makes it more likely that folks will remember myths than facts. Fact-based approach improves retention the suitable information.

Research shows where instincts lead you astray

“Everyone may use sunscreen”, originally written as a newspaper column by a journalist Maria Schmichdoesn't tell graduates to trust their instincts, but that's advice often given at graduation ceremonies.

Research shows that counting on instinct can lead us astray in terms of effective communication strategies. The same research sheds light on why we instinctively reply to certain messages in certain ways.

So if I were to provide this yr's graduates only one piece of recommendation for the longer term, I might encourage them to examine their communication instincts against evidence-based recommendations. I might call my speech “Everyone is Free (to Avoid Failure).”

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