A new study by Wellcome Trust researchers shows that warnings about the negative effects of using substances may be less effective in convincing teens to abstain than talking about the positive benefits of choosing to say no. Researchers believe that people have a natural tendency to ignore negative information they have been exposed to when making decisions, and feel this trait may be more prevalent in younger people. From Science Daily

Researchers at UCL asked volunteers aged between nine and 26 to estimate how likely they think they are to personally experience a range of adverse life events, such as being involved in a car accident or getting lung disease. They then showed the participants the actual statistics for such events and noted how each adjusted his or her beliefs after learning that the risk was higher or lower than their own estimate.

The results show that younger participants were less likely to learn from information that shows them that the future is bleaker than expected. In other words, even when they know the risks, they have difficulties using that information if it’s worse than they thought it would be. By contrast, the ability to learn from good news remained stable across all ages.

“The findings could help to explain the limited impact of campaigns targeted at young people to highlight the dangers of careless driving, unprotected sex, alcohol and drug abuse, and other risky behaviors,” said leading author, Dr Christina Moutsiana. The authors suggest that re-framing information to highlight beneficial outcomes of desired behaviors, such as the positive effect of reduced alcohol consumption on sports performance, rather than the dangers of undesired ones, could have a greater impact.

Original article – https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130909172058.htm

This absolutely makes sense to me. When negative information is flowing in my direction, I notice that I have a much more difficult time listening and taking it in than if someone is sharing some success stories or positive information. I also know that as a young person, I had to make my own mistakes, so hearing the failure stories of others didn’t necessarily impact my decisions when it came to things that could harm me, but knowing of positive outcomes that I wanted to achieve stuck with me in a much more convincing way.

I think the idea of sending messages about abstaining from substance abuse by talking about the benefits of not using as opposed to the potential negatives that could occur if the other choice is made should be more thoroughly explored. Any way we may be able to reach more people, especially teens, about not using substances in a convincing and successful way is worth a try, in my opinion.