Risk Communication: Where Logic Does NOT Rule

I serve on an FDA panel called the Risk Communication Advisory Council, and just got back from a two-day session on medication warning labels, drug addiction, and pregnancy. The key issue was how to effectively communicate warnings about side effects that won’t also scare off providers from prescribing the medication.

One point I made that applies to most health-related communicators is to NOT assume the target audience will engage in thorough information-processing and rational decision-making. Do NOT assume that if you just give people correct information, logical consequences will ensue.

Rather, plan for people to take mental shortcuts, make assumptions, interpret with bias, and react emotionally.  By creating messages that meet people where they’re at instead of requiring them to follow your agenda, you get engaged consumers who feel understood and are open to taking in what you want to tell them.