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Nudging the Public’s Health: The Political Psychology of Public Health Law Intervention

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From menu calorie counts to counting youth concussions, in recent years lawmakers have designed new public health law interventions that attempt to nudge individuals toward better health outcomes by limiting choice, providing information and education, and changing norms and values. But why do we expect the general public to adopt and be informed by these new interventions, and pursuant to what theoretical framework?

Utilizing a nationwide 2,000 participant survey sample that was developed and deployed by the author to evaluate socio-demographic differences within public support for recent public health law interventions, the Article engages recent interventions (from coercion to nudging) across food-diet, smoking, and youth sports TBI law domains, arguing that such interventions and their impacts are best understood through the lens of political-psychology. Particular attention is paid to race, gender, and ideological differences in public perception of public health law interventions and the role that such differences play in the transmission of legal norms and the adoption of such norms in sub-populations. To further explore the intersection of socio-demographic variables in the transmission and adoption of new public health law interventions, experiments were conducted to vary the advocate for such interventions (the messenger) and the reasoning behind the interventions (the message). Although it was expected that both the messenger and message would result in substantial variance in public support for various interventions, this is not uniformly true. While the messenger, at first glance, does not seem to matter, socio-demographic group membership does. In particular, individuals who identify as politically conservative consistently resist all identified forms of public health law intervention. Smokers and conservatives also resist public health law interventions focused on the transmission of information and education as primary methods to influence the public’s adoption of desired behaviors and norms.

The results suggest that to achieve optimal public support and behavioral change at the individual level, substantially more attention must be paid to the communication and messaging function of lawmaking – bringing innovation to intervention. Because some segments of the population may prove increasingly resistant to a variety of messengers and messages further attention is needed to creating new and multi-stratified approaches to intervention – rooted in socio-demographic differences within the population.

Download the Article from SSRN

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