Emotional Framing in the Health Domain

Many health-related messages use a particular type of framing, known as goal framing. Goal framing emphasizes either receiving a health benefit by performing a particular behavior or avoiding a negative consequence by performing the same behavior. In a recent study, we examined impressions of, and memory for, positively and negatively framed healthcare messages that were presented in pamphlets to older and younger adults (Shamaskin, Mikels, & Reed, 2010). Older adults relative to younger adults rated positive pamphlets as more informative than negative pamphlets and remembered a higher proportion of positive to negative messages. These findings demonstrate the age-related positivity effect in healthcare messages via the persuasive and lingering effects of positive messages.

In our most recent work in this domain, we have extended positive and negative framing to exercise and nutrition messages and initiatives. Some of this work is in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Illinois at Chicago utilizing the Fit & Strong! exercise education program for older adults. We are starting to find that older adults are more impacted by positively framed messages encouraging increased physical activity and healthier nutritional choices. The practical impact of this line of work is especially exciting to us.