[Press release] A simple intervention can make your brain more receptive to health advice
Emily Falk, Ph.D.
A new discovery shows how a simple intervention—self-affirmation – can open our brains to accept advice that is hard to hear.
“Self-affirmation involves reflecting on core values,” explained Emily Falk, the study’s lead author and director of the Communication Neuroscience Laboratory at University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication. Has your doctor ever told you to get more exercise? Has your spouse ever suggested you eat healthier? Even though the advice comes from good intentions, most people feel defensive when confronted with suggestions that point out their weaknesses. Reflecting on values that bring us meaning can help people see otherwise threatening messages as valuable and self-relevant. “Our work shows that when people are affirmed, their brains process subsequent messages differently.”
Past studies have shown that brain activity in VMPFC during health messages can predict behavior change better than individuals’ own intentions, and this study sheds new light on why. VMPFC is the brain region most commonly activated when participants think about themselves and when they ascribe value to ideas. The new results show that opening the brain in this way is a key pathway to behavior change. “Understanding the brain opens the door to new health interventions that target this same pathway,” Falk noted.
“We were particularly interested in using self-affirmation to help people become more active because sedentary behavior is one of the biggest health threats faced by both Americans and people around the world,” said Falk. Overly sedentary lifestyles are becoming a big problem; in some regions nearly 85 percent of an adult population leads an inactive lifestyle. This can cause multiple health problems, including poor heart health, diabetes, and cancer, just to name three. Increasing activity even small amount can have an important impact on both mental and physical health.
Psychologists have used self-affirmation as a technique to improve outcomes ranging from health behaviors in high risk patients to increasing academic performance in at risk youth, suggesting that the findings may be applicable across a wide range of interventions. “Our findings highlight that something as simple as reflecting on core values can fundamentally change the way our brains respond to the kinds of messages we encounter every day,” Falk noted. “Over time, that makes the potential impact huge.”
No comments yet.