Public health messages often tell people things they don’t want to hear: Smokers should stop smoking. Sedentary people need to get moving. Trade your pizza and hot dogs for a salad with lean protein.
For many people, these messages trigger our natural defenses. They make us feel bad about ourselves and our choices, leading our subconscious to reject the healthy encouragement.
However, a new study published in PNAS found that a simple priming exercise in which sedentary people think beyond themselves before viewing health messages can make those messages more effective. Not only did participants’ brain activity show that they were more receptive to the messages, but they actually became more physically active in the weeks that followed.