"I feel good and happy about the materials. To me a picture is worth 1000 words."
WIC participant

Emotion-Based Materials

Why consider emotion-based approaches?

For years, nutrition education focused on knowledge. We believed that if people knew and understood nutrition, behavior change would follow. If we provided clear, concise and accurate information and transferred knowledge, we were doing our best as educators. We sometimes viewed parents who didn’t act on our advice as unmotivated.

We were wrong. One look at the staggering obesity crisis in America proves it. Most people know what they have to do to lose weight—eat less and move more—but they aren’t doing it. Knowledge alone is unlikely to be persuasive enough to change behaviors.

Nutrition programs are now being held to a new standard: behavior change. It is not enough to transfer knowledge because knowing is not the same as doing. Our challenge is to change behaviors—and that calls for a new approach.

Why consider emotion-based approaches? People make decisions based not on knowledge alone, but on feelings. Emotion-based messages feature emotion-based reasons for taking health-related actions.

How does an emotion-based approach differ from a traditional logic-based approach?

Suppose you want to encourage a mother to feed her child more fruits and vegetables. Which approach is likely to be more persuasive?

  • Logic based reason: Fruits and vegetables are good for your child. They contain vitamins, minerals and fiber that prevent disease. They are also helpful in preventing excess weight gain because they are low in calories.
  • Emotion-based approach: Every mother who loves her children does extraordinary things to make their lives better. She knows her children trust her to provide the very best for them everyday—and she delivers. Offering fruits and vegetables has the power to change the lives of children. They help them maintain a healthy weight—so important to keeping up with friends—and protect them from disease. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every mother could do this for her child?

Making mothers feel good about themselves and what they do for their child every day is more likely to resonate and lead to behavior change than simply providing factual information on fruits and vegetables. Emotion-based approaches represent an effective way to capture attention, “hook” the parent with the benefits of taking action, and change behaviors.

So what motivates WIC mothers?

People can know what to do, how to do it and why they should do it—and still not do it. Our challenge is to increase people’s desire and resolve to change. The first step in creating emotion-based materials is to identify what motivates people.

Motivations are powerful. Rather than trying to motivate WIC mothers by “planting” our motivations into them, we listened to what mothers were saying in focus groups to identify powerful motivators that would likely drive their behaviors. The emotion-based materials featured in this website reflect those motivations:

  • I want to be a good parent
  • I want to be intelligent
  • I want to know that I am powerful and what I do makes a difference in my child’s life
  • I want to be in control
  • I want to feel secure
  • I want to feel successful
  • I want to feel good about myself when I take care of my child
  • I am willing to make sacrifices to care for my child because that is what great moms do
  • I want to believe in my power to change the course of my child’s life by the actions I take
  • I want to have a meaningful impact on my family
  • I want to show that I am worthy of my child’s trust
  • I want my children to know that they can count on me--and I will deliver
  • I want to keep my child safe
  • I want to lead my child towards a successful life

Motivation isn’t a commodity we can buy, shift or transfer. Motivations are buried deep in people’s hearts, not their heads, and are unleashed by emotion-based approaches rather than by knowledge-based approaches.

Why telling people “it’s good for you” doesn’t work

Effective messages make people feel good about themselves. Telling someone to eat something because it is “good for them” does not invoke positive feelings. Logic-based messages that focus solely on health benefits often feel like lectures. They make people feel guilty about what they do, fearful of death and disease and inadequate as parents or individuals. They do not evoke positive feelings that lead to behavior change.

What about parents who want logic and facts, not emotion?

We want to believe that people make decisions based on facts and logic. After all, we’re rational, thoughtful people, right? The truth is that people make decisions based on feelings and justify them with logic. This doesn’t mean that people don’t want facts. Of course they do. But it is more effective to present facts in small doses after you have touched their hearts and tapped into their motivations.

The Touching Hearts, Touching Minds emotion-based materials featured on this website are designed to touch people’s heart first, usually with an engaging visual, and then provide information to act on. Both emotion and facts are needed for behavior change.

Can emotion-based materials work with traditional counseling?

As nutrition educators, it is our job to help parents motivate themselves. To make this experience seamless and congruent for WIC families, we need every contact with WIC to focus on the same thing—the powerful motivators that already exist in our participants. Traditional counseling rarely targets powerful intrinsic motivations, leaving parents unaffected when educators present only logic-based reasons for making changes.

Changing to emotion-based strategies, materials and messages all at once can be overwhelming and frustrating. If you’re interested in feeling the power of emotion-based counseling, incorporate small changes into traditional counseling over time.

Emotion-Based Messages