While many would like to believe that humans are naturally altruistic, evolutionary psychology says otherwise. With progressively more people influenced by hyper-consumerism in the West, it is increasingly difficult for individuals to feel the need to give to the world’s poor at the loss of their own resources. Cognitive dissonance about poverty may be an innate aspect of human behavior, but that does not mean it cannot be altered or manipulated for the good of others.

According to Merriam Webster, cognitive dissonance is defined as a “psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously.” An individual who experiences cognitive dissonance often feels discomfort and the need to restore a sense of balance to oneself when experiencing this inner conflict, often resulting in compromising either one’s attitude or behavior. This is often demonstrated in the context of ending global poverty; many people have the means to allot portions of their income toward helping the world’s poor but instead use it for personal use such as luxurious commodities.

Have humans psychologically evolved in a way that makes it impossible to be holistically altruistic? While deciding on how one’s money is spent comes down to a conscious choice, the way one’s brain ciphers through priorities to make that choice is a fairly complex process called “psychic numbing.” Ultimately, this process makes humans prioritize resources based on immediacy and the gravity of a need. While some may feel compelled to contribute to local issues of poverty such as homelessness or poor school systems, purifying the drinking water of children overseas surely is not a top priority for most when deciding on how to spend money.

Another psychological obstacle many experience associated with cognitive dissonance about global poverty is the intimidation the problem poses; the threat of global poverty is so expansive many feel that not much can be done to tackle such a substantial issue. In reality, sacrificing nonessential goods and services can save lives.

Although global issues do not carry much weight for individuals on an everyday basis, there are strategies to counter cognitive dissonance about global poverty. For example, using personal anecdotes from those who live in poverty-stricken countries is an effective way to compel people to donate. Real world examples make it harder for people to use denial to rationalize spending $200 on a luxurious evening versus using it toward healing a sick infant from a preventable disease. If one’s attitude towards downsizing global poverty aligns with the behavior of giving, the cognitive dissonance about global poverty one may feel ceases.

Kaitlin Hocker

Photo: Flickr

Social Ecological ModelPeople do not act in isolation, which is why it is important to understand the ways they interact with their communities and environments, in order to determine why they do what they do.

One way of measuring these networks of interactions is the Social Ecological Model. This model, developed by sociologists in the 1970s, studies how behaviors form based on characteristics of individuals, communities, nations and levels in between. In examining these intervals and how they interact and overlap, public health experts can develop strategies to promote wellbeing in the U.S. and abroad.

The Social Ecological Model is broad in scope. Each level overlaps with other levels. This signifies how the best public health strategies are those that encompass and target a wide range of perspectives. A public health organization may struggle to promote healthy habits in a community if it does not take into account how other factors play into the behavior of the community as a whole.

Different organizations use variations of the Social Ecological Model organizational hierarchies in a given society. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sometimes uses a four-level model, while UNICEF’s model has five levels. Here is the layout of UNICEF’s model and its application in a public health context:

  1. Individual: An individual’s various traits and identities make up this level of the Social Ecological Model. These characteristics have the capacity to influence how a person behaves. Age, education level, sexual orientation and economic status are some of the many attributes noted at this interval. These factors are important to consider when constructing public health strategies, as characteristics such as economic status are linked to an individual’s ability to access healthcare.
  2. Interpersonal: The relationships and social networks that a person takes part in also have great potential to impact behaviors. Families, friends and traditions are key players at the interpersonal stage of the model. Using therapy or intervention, one can promote healthy relationships at this interval. Discouraging violence between individuals also comes into play here.
  3. Community: This level of the Social Ecological Model focuses on the networks between organizations and institutions that make up the greater community. These associations include businesses and functions of the “built environment,” such as parks. Community structures are often important in determining how populations behave and what customs they uphold. It is important to understand the community level to determine where health behaviors originate.
  4. Organizational: Organizations are instrumental in the development of behaviors as they often enforce behavior-determining regulations and restrictions. A school, for example, controls the dissemination of knowledge. This influence is significant when it comes to communicating information about safe health practices.
  5. Policy/Enabling Environment: Policies and laws that are instigated at local, national and global levels make up the broadest level of the Social Ecological Model. These policies have the potential to impact large numbers of people. A policy outlining a U.S. malaria aid budget, for example, will have far-reaching global effects for decades.

The Social Ecological Model is useful in the creation of sustainable solutions for at-risk individuals and societies. One approach to public health that considers many of the model’s levels is the practice of social change communication (SCC). Communities use SCC to facilitate discussions about beneficial and harmful practices in societies and to encourage people to speak about individual and communal problems. A health-based SCC discussion could cover anything from strategies developed to reduce pneumonia rates in babies to changing an outdated and potentially harmful social ritual.

SCC allows individuals and communities to influence shaping fairer, healthier societies. Its use of the Social Ecological Model ensures that the strategies it develops are implemented across a society.

Through SCC and other approaches, public health organizations are creating long-term solutions to the problems that plague individuals, societies and countries today. Only in understanding the numerous factors that influence harmful behavior can experts hope to tackle such problems effectively.

Sabine Poux

Photo: Flickr


In honor of Father’s Day, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) celebrated the role that fathers play in a child’s early life, especially fathers raising their children in extreme poverty or armed conflict, with its Super Dads initiative. From June 6 to June 18, UNICEF’s social media spotlighted super dads who ranged from notable celebrities to refugees.

UNICEF encouraged its more than six million Twitter followers and nearly two million Instagram followers to learn more about the important role that fathers play in the first thousand days of a child’s life and to share moments that showed why their dads are super dads.

Idro, a South Sudanese refugee, is one such super dad who tries to improve the quality of life for his family. Idro and his family are currently living in Uganda’s Bidi Bidi refugee settlement, which is the world’s largest. He spoke about playing games with his daughter, saying, “She must feel that I love her. If I can’t fulfill for my family, I am not happy.”

One super dad highlighted on the UNICEF Instagram account was Abraham, a father also living in Uganda. He said that when his newborn is distressed, he rocks him, sings to him and gives him kisses. When his baby boy, Angolere, becomes happy, it makes Abraham happy too.

Celebrity dads also promoted UNICEF’s Super Dads initiative. David Beckham, English soccer star and father of three, talked about the dads he’s met through his work with UNICEF “who…will do anything to give [their children] the support and love they need even when faced with huge challenges.”

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and tennis champion Novak Djokovic, whose foundation supports early childhood education, said that he is participating in the campaign because it encourages fathers to be “the Super Dads their kids desperately need.”

The Super Dads initiative is part of #EarlyMomentsMatter, a UNICEF campaign that educates the public about the importance of a child’s early years emphasizing that a child needs love, play, protection, and nutrition for healthy development. They are especially important in critical situations, and parents are the key individuals who provide these for their children.

UNICEF’s Chief of Early Childhood Development, Pia Britto, noted that good parenting can act as a buffer for youth living in highly stressful situations. This aids in childhood development in spite of poor living conditions.

The goal of #EarlyMomentsMatter is also to encourage the private and public spheres to work together to take down barriers so that parents can have more of those important and special moments with their newborns. The campaign stresses that a father’s role in early cognitive development is not only significant for the child’s present but also for the child’s future development, happiness and welfare.

Sean Newhouse

Photo: Flickr