Evaluating the use of social norms in treatment seeking attitudes and preliminary behaviors
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Although there are many evidence-based treatments for mental health issues, fewer than 50% of people who suffer from mental illness seek professional help in the United States (Wang et al., 2005). Outreach programs for depression face additional challenges because some depressive symptoms, including negative biases towards information relevant to oneself, tends to decrease the ability of the individual to apply positive information to one’s one situation (such as hope for successful treatment; (Lienemann, Siegel, & Crano, 2013). Social normative influence has been shown to strongly influence behavior in various settings (Cialdini, 2008), and yet many public outreach efforts use negative social norms to highlight issues with treatment seeking, suggesting that it is abnormal to seek treatment, or something that is not approved of by most people. The effect of social norms in this context has not been examined. The current study aims to determine whether including positive and negative social norms statement in depression Public Service Announcements (PSAs) have an impact on treatment seeking intentions, attitudes, and initial treatment-seeking behaviors. Participants were randomized to one of five norms conditions – descriptive, injunctive, combination (i.e., descriptive and injunctive), anti-norms (i.e., negative normative statement), and the control condition with no norms statement. Results indicated that anti-norms statements and descriptive norm statements were related to lower intentions and attitudes than injunctive norms and the combination norms statements. The results support the idea that commonly used phrases in outreach material supporting negative normative information should be used with caution, and that injunctive normative statements have a powerful effect relative to other norms statements in increasing the effect of outreach PSAs.