The conservatism of behavior change: The limits of health communication as persuasion

poverty The bulwark of health communication is built on the premise of communication as a tool of behavior change. Since the invention of film, communication scholars, practitioners, and policy makers have been obsessed with the power of media technologies to transform behaviors of audiences that can be targeted through messages. Mass media as tools of propaganda are invested with miraculous powers of transformation. The power of communication to bring about magical transformations in the behaviors of those it touches forms the mainspring of the lay obsession with magic bullet theories of the media. The media effects literature over the last four decades has robustly debunked the magic bullet ideology. These magic bullet theories have been witnessing a catalytic return since the advent of social media in the form of the renewed interest in behavior change theories, now packaged in big data analytics, nudge, and behavioral insights. What these renewed fascinations with media technologies (in this case, with the latest version, digital media) often overlook is the empirical evidence that aptly captures the limited effects of communication technologies in bringing about behavioral transformations. Why then this ongoing obsession with health communication as persuasion? Amid the large scale global inequalities and the effects of these inequalities on human health, policy makers and academics in the status quo find in the premise of behavior change the hope for improving health while keeping the status quo intact. As long as communication technologies can nudge individuals to change their behaviors, large scale inequities and the structures that constitute these inequities can be left intact. In other words, the system can be left to perpetuate itself, maintaining the status quo to the extent that health outcomes can be framed in the premises of behavior change. Hence, the growing interest in these age old communication-driven persuasive processes in economics and business schools. Essential to the logic of behavior change is an overarching conservatism that reproduces the inequities in existing structural configurations. The moral question of inequalities in health outcomes is shaped by an emphasis on individual responsibility, placing the onus of health on the individual. Behavior change reifies the neoliberal ideology of health, where policymakers and health communicators continue to see health as a product of individual behavior. The neoliberal ideology of health communication fundamentally limits conversations with empirical evidence, with the body of work on media effects that is humbling in terms of the degree of faith we ought to put on the promises of behavior change. Economists and business researchers jumping into behavioral insights and nudge theories with gusto would do well to begin with the vast body of media effects literature instead of clinging to the seductions of an ideology that has largely proven detrimental to human health and wellbeing. By Prof Mohan J. Dutta

[Respect Our Rights Campaign] Documentary Screening, Panel Discussion and Photovoice Exhibition

The screening of our first documentary for the "RESPECT OUR RIGHTS" campaign was recently held earlier last month on the 5th February at the Ngee Ann Kongsi Auditorium. The documentary was collaboratively produced with 27 foreign domestic workers who shared their stories during their terms of employment here in Singapore. The aim of this documentary is to raise awareness on the various issues and challenges experienced by these workers. A panel discussion followed after the screening which consists of: Mr Jolovan Wham - Executive Director of H.O.M.E. Ms Celine Dermine - Legal Consultant for H.O.M.E. Prof. Mohan Dutta - Head of CNM & Director of CARE Ms Juvy Lavarias - Ex Domestic Worker & Advisory Board participant A Photovoice exhibition was also held outside the venue to showcase the photographs that were taken by a group of foreign domestic workers. This participatory image-making workshops have given them opportunities to represent themselves and empowering them through visual literacy and image-gathering skills. These photos were also aimed to raise public awareness about their plight working here in Singapore.

[CNM-CARE RESEARCH TALK] Ms. Beverly Wellman on “Why Do Patients Seek Out Integrative Health Care? Expectations, Experiences, and Networks.”

Ms Beverly Wellman is a medical sociologist (M.Sc.) at the Dalla Lana Faculty of Public Health at the University of Toronto who has been researching and writing on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). In this talk, Ms Wellman shares about her investigation with her research colleague, Dr. Merrily Kelner, regarding the patients' decisions on turning to integrative health care clinics that combine biomedicine and CAM for their health problems.

[CNM-CARE RESEARCH TALK] Prof. Barry Wellman on "How the Technical and the Social Are Leading to Networked Individualism in North America - But What about Singapore?"

Prof Barry Wellman, the Co-Director of the NetLab Network at the iSchool, University of Toronto, delivered his talk on Networked Individualism and discussed about the "triple revolution" that is happening in North America and how it has transformed the way people interact there. He extended the conversation to explore whether this holds true in the Singaporean context.

Prof Mohan on "Civility and Listening"

In this video, Prof Mohan talks about the relationship between civility and listening as discussed in the Culture-Centred Approach (CCA) and addresses how civility actually removes the possibilities of listening to the subaltern communities' voices in the dominant structures.