Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Do the Facts Matter?

Of Course They Do, Of Course They Don't
We receive, provide and use facts all the time. Facts inform our choices. Facts support our points of view. Facts help us find new facts.

Yet we see that facts matter little when it comes to risk and behavior. People can recite the facts but they smoke cigarettes, overeat, abuse drugs, don’t exercise, don’t take their medicine, and don’t wear motorcycle or bicycle helmets.

There are other circumstances where people just refuse to acknowledge a fact as fact. Have you noticed that some arguments are never won despite having solid, unassailable facts? If the facts don’t fit the person’s worldview or “frame,” as the cognitive linguist George Lakoff terms it, the facts bounce off like bullets shot at Superman’s chest. Your opponent deflects all the data while you get blue in the face.

Certainly there are internal and external forces at play. There may be inertia: “That’s the way we’ve always done things.” There may be no consequences: “Who’s going to notice, who’s going to care?” We may feel powerless: “I don’t have the resources, I don’t have the access.”

Still, we pump out what we think are compelling facts in the hope of persuading people to take some sort of desired action. That’s what prompted me to write this entry.

Another public health alarm was sounded this week with the release of a survey that said very nearly everyone (83 percent) at risk for type 2 diabetes in the US is not getting a simple blood glucose test or taking the appropriate actions as a result of their test. This joint effort between The National Changing Diabetes(R) Program, sponsored by Novo Nordisk, and Fleishman-Hillard points to some special concerns in Hispanic and African American populations. “Fifty six percent of Hispanics should be tested and 59 percent of African Americans are at risk for diabetes and should talk to their doctor about being tested.”

Dana Haza, senior director, National Changing Diabetes Program (NCDP), said, “This study clearly demonstrates the need for greater education and awareness, especially among people who are at risk.” And Martha Boudreau, president Mid-Atlantic, Fleishman-Hillard, added, “In working with our National Diabetes Goal partners to release this information and help create awareness about type 2 diabetes, we hope it will serve as a call to action for at-risk Americans to get tested and respond accordingly."

The NCDP is a very worthwhile initiative, don’t get me wrong. But if facts were all that mattered, we’d be done. Insight alone does not produce change. Those who came after Freud quickly discovered this truism. Indeed, a whole new genre of psychotherapy (cognitive) came to life based on the knowledge that knowledge doesn't bring change.

It’s the desire to change that brings change. To the at-risk person we must ask: “Why don’t you care, what don’t you understand, who might help you, what resources do you need, can you imagine what your future would look like if you changed?” Gaining these insights will help us place more effective calls for those desired actions.


BobEye said...

People simply don't act in their own self-interests. That goes for individuals, corporations, governments and other organizations. It's a surprise when they do.

Unknown said...

The refusal to accept facts as behavior-changing input is also clearly evidenced (forgive the unintentional pun)by the continued use of herbal and other "alternative" treatments when randomized controlled trials prove their worthlessness. In fact, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, established to study the validity of such therapies, spends millions of dollars in clinical trials -- all of which have come out negative for usefulness. Nevertheless, the proponents of such therapies -- with monetary investments and agendas, never acknowledge the "facts" that come out of these studies. If believers will believe no matter what, then why should we continue to fund such studies?