|Scooped by Giuseppe Fattori|
Abstract This cross-cultural experiment examined the effectiveness of three health message characteristics to foster or inhibit selective exposure to health information. An online magazine was created with eight articles about various health risks. Four articles were manipulated regarding (1) severity of the described health threat (low versus high), (2) suggested efficacy to avoid or minimize negative consequences (low versus high) and (3) type of evidence presented (statistical information versus exemplar information). Respondents from the U.S. and from Germany (n = 301/298) browsed through the magazine while selective exposure was unobtrusively logged. Findings reveal country-specific exposure patterns. A positive main effect of severity was only found for U.S. respondents. Independent of respondents' country, significantly more time was spent with low-severity/high-efficacy messages and high-severity/low-efficacy messages than with articles featuring the often-recommended high-severity/high-efficacy message combination. Respondents generally read more exemplar messages than those with statistical evidence, especially when high efficacy was suggested. Implications of these exposure patterns for the real-life effectiveness of health messages are discussed and an improved theoretical conceptualization of message effectiveness is proposed.
Attracting the target audience's attention to messages about health risks remains one of the most challenging objectives in health communication (Pease, Brannon, & Pilling, 2006; Rimal & Adkins, 2003). Even though many factors have been established as affecting selective exposure in the contexts of political communication, general news, and entertainment (see overviews byDonsbach, 2009, and Knobloch-Westerwick, 2006, 2008), much less evidence is at hand for the realm of health information. Many health campaigns are hindered by insufficient exposure (Hornik, 2002; Noar, 2008), and very little is known about the potential of health message features to foster or inhibit selective exposure. Building on persuasion theories and research, the current investigation addresses this research gap and focuses on three health message characteristics that have been repeatedly postulated to influence health behavior and are thus frequently used in health message design. As related effects research was often conducted in forced-exposure settings, it is not clear yet to what extent the observed effectiveness patterns also apply to everyday media use: “Although laboratory studies can tell us a great deal about how to develop persuasive appeals that have maximum impact on individuals who are exposed to them, they provide only limited information about the effectiveness of persuasion in a mass media context. In real life, audiences can actively or passively avoid exposure to health messages” (Stroebe, 2000, 64).
Based on a thorough literature review, three frequently incorporated health message characteristics were chosen to be included in this analysis: the severity of a health risk, the efficacy to avoid a threat or to minimize its negative outcome, and finally the type of presented evidence (statistical information versus exemplar information). Drawing on persuasion research, these characteristics and their presumed relationship to health message exposure and avoidance are discussed next. The derived hypotheses are then tested in a cross-cultural experiment.