Saturday, June 1, 2013

SATURDAY REWIND: Why those egg-in-the-frying-pan anti-substance-abuse ads were flawed

"Just say no" means "Just say NOW" especially when it comes to alcoholics.  This article from my news archive looks at how neuroimaging reveals that negative anti-drinking messages are received and processed differently by drinkers.

In November, neuroscientists released a study on brain wiring that shows why negative messages about alcohol fail to discourage drinking among people who abuse alcohol or have the disease of alcoholism. Negatively framed messages don’t reach people with alcohol use disorders, “the ones most in need of persuasion,” suggests a new study in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors by researchers from Indiana University and Wayne State University, near Detroit, Michigan.

The study revealed that the region of the brain assessing risk is different in alcoholics and they process the message differently than those who are not. Using neuroimaging techniques, the researchers examined the impact of different messages on the brains of substance-dependent individuals and compared them to their effects on non-substance-dependent individuals. The substance-dependent group showed less brain activity in that region in response to the “booze-is-bad” messages that also led to significantly worse and riskier decisions in the alcoholic group than in the non-user group.

"The findings are somewhat ironic because a whole lot of public service announcements say, 'Drugs are bad for you,' 'Just say no,' or 'This is your brain on drugs' with an image of an egg frying," said principal investigator Joshua Brown, associate professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in Indiana University-Bloomington's College of Arts and Sciences. "What we're seeing is that negative messages are not having the same impact on the brain."

The findings suggest that the level of brain activity in regions of the brain that assess risk is lower in substance-dependent individuals than those who are not alcohol-dependent. These two groups process the messages differently, particularly those messages that emphasize what the alcoholic can lose or what he or she will fail to gain.

Social and medical expenses and lost productivity associated with alcohol-related problems cost $223 billion annually, so the messaging may need to adjust, this study indicates. “The government spends millions every year trying to discourage drug use, and a lot of the ads highlight the dangers of drinking and drugs," Brown said. "Should we spend more to highlight the benefits of staying clean instead?"
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