Fear and hope may work together to create more persuasive messages
While fear about health concerns may grip people, adding a little hope to a message might make people more willing to take preventative action, according to a study. The findings showed that hope and self-efficacy - the belief that a person can help themselves - significantly predicted intentions to take actions against skin cancer, such as wearing sunscreen or protective clothing.
"With health messages, it's not enough just to tell people, or merely educate them, you need to motivate them, and emotions are really good motivators," said Jessica Myrick from Pennsylvania State University in the US. "We often think of emotions as irrational, but what our research is pointing to is that emotions can help us do the things that will keep us healthy and safe, so it's important to understand the broad scope of emotional responses to different type of messages and messaging components," Myrick said.
According to the researchers, previous work indicated that while fear can grab attention and create awareness about a health problem, it might not necessarily lead to behaviours that could help people tackle the problem. Fear and hope may work together to create more persuasive messages, Myrick said.
In the study, published in the journal Health Communication, 341 people reacted to an article about skin cancer. The article was divided into three sections with the subheads: "How susceptible are most of us to skin cancer?," "How severe is skin cancer?" and "What actions can we take to prevent skin cancer and how effective are those measures?"
The subsections of the message reflect factors that can drive persuasive health messaging results, including whether a person feels susceptible to the condition, whether they believe the condition is serious - severity - and whether they believe that help exists and that they have access to that help, according to the researchers.
Self-efficacy and hope did serve as significant predictors of sun safety intentions, they said.