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Enhancing the effects of a narrative message through experiential information processing: An experimental study

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First-person narratives are becoming a popular means to communicate health risk information. Although studies show they can increase risk perception and motivate health behaviours compared to statistical messages, more research on the conditions in which they are particularly likely to have effects is needed. In this study, we tested a moderator related to how information is processed. Specifically, we hypothesised that thinking in terms of emotions and personal experiences – known as experiential information processing – would increase people’s responsiveness to a narrative. Female college students (N = 138) who reported indoor tanning were randomly assigned to read a first-person narrative message or a statistical message about the risks of skin cancer. Prior to reading the message, the women received instructions that would activate either experiential or rational information processing. Participants then reported their risk perceptions of skin cancer, worry about skin cancer and behaviour intentions related to skin cancer. Analyses showed that message type and information processing interacted to influence risk perceptions and worry. Consistent with hypotheses, participants reported the highest risk perception and worry when they used an experiential information system prior to reading the narrative message. There were no effects on behaviour intentions. Implications of these findings are discussed.
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Keywords: first-person narrative; information processing; risk perceptions; skin cancer

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI, USA

Publication date: July 3, 2015

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