4.3.3  Reinforcing Factors

Reinforcing factors are the positive or negative influences or feedback from others that encourage or discourage health-related behaviour change. The most important reinforcing factors are usually related to social influences from family, peers, teachers or employers.

Social influence

Social influence is the positive or negative influence from those influential people around us that might encourage or discourage us from performing certain health-related behaviours. For example a mother who is planning to start family planning (FP) might be influenced by negative attitudes from her peer group and think, ‘Most of my friends do not use FP methods and I may lose friends in the neighbourhood if I use the methods’. She might also be influenced by her family: ‘My family members do not all support the idea of using FP methods, especially my husband and my mother-in-law. They would really be mad at me if I use FP’. She may also be aware that her community society or culture generally may not be supportive: ‘Everyone in our community is against FP and it is seen as a sin in our society’.

An individual’s behaviour and health-related decision making — such as choice of diet, condom use, quitting smoking and drinking, etc. — might very well be dependent on the social networks and organisations they relate to. Peer group, family, school (Figure 4.5) and workplace are all important influences when people make up their minds about their individual health-related behaviour.

Three smiling children.
Figure 4.5  Social influences start at an early age. If children are surrounded by good influences they stand a better chance of making healthy decisions for themselves later in life. (Photo: SOS Children’s Villages)
  • Choose either smoking or alcohol use among young men and think about some of the reinforcing factors, or reinforcing people, that might encourage them to stay smoking or give up smoking or alcohol.

  • Reinforcing factors are the positive or negative influences or feedback from others that encourage or discourage the behaviour change. The most important reinforcers in a given community include family, peers, teachers and employers. In the case of young men, their own peer group may be the strongest reinforcer to stay smoking or using alcohol. They may think they look grown up, or that others will think they look childish if they don’t smoke or drink a lot. But perhaps employers may say that it is not professional to smoke or teachers may say it is childish to smoke.

4.3.2  Enabling factors

Summary of Study Session 4