New Study by Kent State Professor Examines Effectiveness of Tailored Health Messages
Each day, people are bombarded with hundreds of messages through television, e-mail, the Internet and radio. So how does a person choose which messages deserve attention and why?
Dr. John Updegraff, Kent State assistant professor of psychology, worked with colleagues Dr. David Sherman, assistant professor of psychology at University of California, Santa Barbara, and Dr. Traci L. Mann, associate professor of psychology at University of Minnesota, to examine whether the strength of health messages regarding the importance of dental flossing had any effect on the recipient’s attitude or behavior.
With messages relating to health, prior research has demonstrated that the message is more effective if matched to important characteristics of the recipient, an idea known by psychologists as the congruency effect. For example, loss-framed messages, which highlight the risks in not engaging in a health behavior, are more effective in promoting health behavior change for avoidance-oriented people, or those who avoid negative outcomes.
Conversely, gain-framed messages, which communicate the benefits of engaging in a particular health behavior, are more effective for approach-oriented people, or those who are motivated by positive outcomes.
In Updegraff’s study, which was recently published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, recipients received messages that either emphasized the potential benefits of regular flossing (gain-framed) or messages that reviewed the potential dangers of not flossing (loss-framed). Both strong and weak versions of each message type were used.
“When we varied how convincing the messages were, we found that only those who received messages matching their motivational orientation were paying enough attention to notice the difference between strong and weak messages,” says Updegraff.
Specifically, strong messages created more favorable attitudes towards flossing than weak messages and were more effective in changing behavior. When messages were relatively weak or contained anecdotal evidence, tailoring the message seemed to have little effect.
“That tells us when someone reads a message that is congruent with his disposition, he’s really paying attention to it,” says Updegraff. “It changes the way people process health messages. These findings can help health practitioners improve their communications with patients.”For more information about his research efforts, visit Dr. John Updegraff's Web site.