For more powerful safety messages, focus on adverse outcomes not risk factors


Cross Fertilising British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM) and Injury Prevention (IP)


An interesting paper, by Morrongiello et al., in the most recent issue of the Injury Prevention Journal (Volume 20, Issue 1) presents the results of a study that investigated the nature of images that should be used for powerful safety messages. The context was safety messages aimed at parents of young children. For each message, two images were provided – one that depicted the risky scenario itself (i.e. focussed on the injury risk factors) and the other on type of injury that would occur (i.e. the adverse health outcome). For example, one image showed a toddler near a flight of stairs, the other showed a head injury resulting from a fall down those stairs. The study concluded that images depicting negative consequences, which then evoked negative emotions, were considered much more powerful safety messages than comparable injuries just alerting viewers to the presence of hazards and risk factors.

These findings of are in accordance with the principles of maximising consumer value and understanding consumer motivations as outlined in our editorial in the BJSM on the need for social marketing for injury prevention messages.

Whether or not such findings would also apply to athletic populations is unknown. Intuitively, parents of child athletes could well be influenced by such negative messages. But would negative outcomes also apply to adults who govern their own injury prevention behaviours during the sport they play and have prevailing beliefs that injury would not happen to them?

Some of our recent research into the attitudes of coaches and sports trainers in relation to concussion management in Australian football and Rugby League, has highlighted the dimension of concept of“moral regret” as a key motivator for change. Essentially, this means that coaches and sport trainers who feel that they would be letting down players by compromising their health/playing futures if they did not use concussion management guidelines are more likely to use them. We recommend capitalising on this regret aspect to promote correct concussion management in the future – a strategy that implicitly builds on messages relating to the chances of negative adverse outcomes, not injury risk per se.


Caroline Finch is an injury prevention researcher and Head of the Australian Centre for Research into Injury in Sport and its Prevention (ACRISP) within the Federation University Australia located in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia. She specialises in two areas: (1) sports injury surveillance and research methodologies and (2) implementation and dissemination science applications for sports injury prevention. She is the Senior Associate Editor for Implementation & Dissemination for the British Journal of Sports Medicine and the Statistical Editor for Injury Prevention; both journals are published by the BMJ Group. Caroline can be followed on Twitter @CarolineFinch.

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