Behavior Change

Experiential Approach: Learning from Driver's Ed

(Prochaska, 1970)

  • Stages of Change: what happens

  • Processes of Change: how it happens

  • Decisional Balance: weighing pro vs cons

  • Self-efficacy: confidence in making change

Twenty percent of Americans get news from social media and they are less knowledgeable (Pew Research Center, 2020) and more misinformed than others. Young people get news from social media (45%) than than television or print (UNICEF, 2021), though they say they do not trust social.

Behavioral goals of misinformation education could include:

  1. Beware social media, which has a business model that amplifies misinformation.

  2. Engage "System 2" before accepting any significant new facts shared on social media.

  3. Independently investigate hearsay, even from family, and be willing to share findings with them.

It is possible to agree with these goals in theory, but then make different personal decisions. If teachers use Prochaska's model of behavior change, we find our students at precontemplation (they trust what they read online and use social for news) and provide experiences to lead them to contemplation of new habits. If we are successful, they begin preparation to take those steps during our course, and then, on their own, decide to make them.

Perhaps effective media literacy courses and integrations should resemble drivers education programs, where students not only learn what to do and why, but are also imprinted with experiences that motivate them to resist harmful behaviors later, from drunk driving or driving while texting.

Research finds that drivers education programs that are both “interactive” (driving simulations) and “reality-based” (gory accident photos) can increase young people's awareness of risks and consequences to improve their decision-making and help them negotiate peer influence later on. Often these include follow-up or "booster" programs, re-activating the skills, knowledge and attitudes that slip from awareness or practice. That compares with media literacy in middle school, then high school.

But we use social media to "relax and float downstream" sometimes, just as we may driving. In that carefree state, we are more likely to do things that we would not do if System 2 were online, like pick up a phone to read a text while driving, or believe and forward a news story while scrolling. But we can decide to do things (turn off phone notifications while driving, read mainstream news sources) that help us behave better, once we understand the impacts of behaving worse.

Driver's Ed Scare Films: A History