Researcher Examines the Effectiveness of Tailored Health Messages

Jul 11, 2007

Advertisers have long understood the benefits of tailoring their messages to match the personality characteristics of their target audiences. A social psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara has now determined that the same concept applies to health communications delivered by medical professionals.

In an article published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, David K. Sherman, assistant professor of psychology, and his colleagues examine how messages regarding health behaviors—in this case, dental flossing—can be crafted so that people receiving them are more likely to pay attention and respond favorably.

"Our previous research has shown that messages are most effective when they're framed in a way that's congruent with an individual's underlying disposition," said Sherman, who co-authored the article with John A. Updegraff, an assistant professor of psychology at Kent State University, and Traci L. Mann, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota. That work was described in an article published last year in the psychology journal Motivation and Emotion.

"In our current research we're looking at how people process the health information differently depending on whether or not it is tailored to their personality type," he said.

The earlier research conducted by Sherman, Updegraff, and Mann examined individuals with approach-oriented and avoidance-oriented personality dispositions and identified what the social psychologists refer to as the congruency effect. Approach-oriented individuals are motivated by gain-frame messages, which emphasize the benefits—or gains—associated with adopting a particular behavior. Avoidance-oriented people respond better to loss-frame messages, which highlight the risks—or losses—inherent in not adopting that behavior.

"People are more receptive to messages that match their personalities," said Sherman. "They're more likely to listen to and evaluate the merits of changing their behavior."

To conduct their most recent study, the researchers recruited 136 undergraduate students and separated them into two groups. Using guidelines provided by the American Dental Association, the researchers created health messages expressing the importance of dental flossing.

"One group received the message that positive things can happen when they do floss," said Sherman. "For the other group, the message focused on the negative things that can happen when they don't floss. The results showed that more approach-oriented people responded to the gain-frame message and those who were more avoidance-oriented responded to the loss-frame."

The researchers also discovered that the effectiveness of these tailored messages depended on how much attention the participants paid to them.

"We varied how convincing the messages were, and found this congruency effect only when the message was a strong one," Updegraff said. "That tells us when someone reads a message that is congruent with his disposition, he's really paying attention to it. It changes the way people process health messages."

According to Sherman, the team's findings could have a dramatic effect on how health practitioners share information with their patients.

"A doctor could include dispositional measures along with intake forms, for example, and he or she could be aware of how best to frame a health message, " he said. "It presents a potentially low-cost way of boosting efficacy and improving health behaviors."

Source: UCSB

Explore further: Religious music brings benefit to seniors' mental health

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Cost of fighting warming 'modest,' says UN panel

Apr 13, 2014

The cost of keeping global warming in check is "relatively modest," but only if the world acts quickly to reverse the buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, the head of the U.N.'s expert panel ...

Once-soaring tech stocks sink in sobering comedown

Apr 12, 2014

The stock market's laws of gravity are ravaging its highest fliers. Just look at the list of technology trailblazers whose values have plummeted from record highs during the past few weeks. Investors have re-focused on safer ...

How 'social contagion' begins and escalates

Apr 11, 2014

Understanding the roots of a global, contagious spread of online information may help better predict political revolutions, consumer behavior, box office revenues, public policy debates, and even public health ...

Recommended for you

Religious music brings benefit to seniors' mental health

Apr 18, 2014

A new article published online in The Gerontologist reports that among older Christians, listening to religious music is associated with a decrease in anxiety about death and increases in life satisfaction, self-e ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Less-schooled whites lose longevity, study finds

Barbara Gentry slowly shifts her heavy frame out of a chair and uses a walker to move the dozen feet to a chair not far from the pool table at the Buford Senior Center. Her hair is white and a cough sometimes interrupts her ...

How to keep your fitness goals on track

(HealthDay)—The New Year's resolutions many made to get fit have stalled by now. And one expert thinks that's because many people set their goals too high.

Low tolerance for pain? The reason may be in your genes

Researchers may have identified key genes linked to why some people have a higher tolerance for pain than others, according to a study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 66th Annual ...

Growing app industry has developers racing to keep up

Smartphone application developers say they are challenged by the glut of apps as well as the need to update their software to keep up with evolving phone technology, making creative pricing strategies essential to finding ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.